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During a traffic stop last week, an Arkansas sheriff’s deputy shot and killed a teenage boy who was only armed with a neon-blue jug of antifreeze, family members told VICE News.
Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Michael Davis stopped 17-year-old Hunter Brittain near Cabot, Arkansas, at about 3 a.m. last Wednesday, and it’s still unclear why. Hunter had been having trouble with his truck when Davis pulled in behind him outside of a local auto repair shop and flashed his emergency lights, according to the account of a 16-year-old riding with Hunter at the time. When Hunter went to put the antifreeze behind his back tire so his vehicle wouldn’t roll into the officer’s, Davis allegedly fired at him.
“Before he could get there, he was shot in the neck,” Hunter’s uncle, Jesse Brittain, told VICE News. “We can’t begin to understand why he would take a shot at that boy.”
“We’re not going to stop until we have some answers, some justice,” he added.
The boy’s death has since sparked protests outside the sheriff’s office located near Little Rock. A Twitter post briefly detailing the shooting also went hugely viral over the weekend.
Early on June 23, before Davis stopped Hunter, an aspiring NASCAR driver from McRae, Arkansas, the teen had been fixing up his truck so he could make it to work on time, Jesse Brittain said.
Hunter had just fixed his transmission and taken the truck out for a test drive when Davis pulled him over, according to the teen riding with Hunter and his uncle’s knowledge of the incident.
“The shifting linkage in the truck was messed up, so when they pulled up, the truck was rolling back,” Jesse Brittain told VICE News.
That’s why Hunter went to get the antifreeze.
After Davis fired, Hunter “sustained a gunshot wound and was transported to a North Little Rock hospital, where he later died,” the Arkansas State Police said in a short statement last week.
Jordan King, the teen with Hunter the night of the incident, told local ABC affiliate KATV that Davis didn’t say anything to Hunter before shooting him. Another deputy showed up and handcuffed King for hours, though Jesse Brittain said the teen, who’s also a family member, was never charged with any crime.
“All they were doing was working on the truck,” Jesse Brittain said.
Rebecca Payne, Hunter’s grandmother and his guardian at the time, told VICE News that authorities have told her little about what happened to her grandson. It wasn’t even the sheriff’s office that told her Hunter had been shot, but other people who were at the property where he was killed, she said.
“I guess I don’t trust any police right now,” Payne said. “Won’t nobody tell us anything. The body hasn’t been released. None of the information has been released to us. We’ve been told a lot of different things.”
Lonoke County Sheriff John Staley said in a video statement posted to his office’s Facebook page last week that “like everyone, I want to know exactly what happened.” He added that Arkansas State Police will investigate and that his office has provided the agency with body-cam footage, though it’s unclear how much of the incident was captured. The family has not seen any body-cam video.
“In potentially dangerous situations, deputies are often forced to make split-second decisions,” Staley said. “Second-guessing those decisions, especially when the facts are still unclear, is dangerous and unfair.”
But Staley also pledged to hold any deputy who broke the law or his office’s policies accountable. Davis is currently on administrative leave.
“We all want the truth. We all want justice. But I humbly ask everyone to avoid rushing to judgment until the investigation is over,” Staley said. “Sadly, on social media, some people are demanding I take action without waiting for evidence. That’s irresponsible, and I won’t do it.”
The Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment.
A spokesperson for the state police said in a statement to VICE News Monday that the agency would not send out further statements “until the prosecuting attorney receives the completed investigative file and determines whether the use of deadly force by a law enforcement officer was or was not consistent with Arkansas laws.”