Lethal use of force against man who killed police K-9 justified: prosecutor

Photo by Stan Morris | NEA Report
Photo by Stan Morris | NEA Report

JONESBORO, Ark. – The Second Judicial District prosecutor has ruled a lethal use of force by police against a man who killed a police K-9 was justified.

The investigation is still open, pending results from ballistic testing and autopsy reports. However, Prosecutor Scott Ellington indicated the evidence pointed to a justified use of force against a suspect by police during a pursuit that left the police K-9 Hemi dead.

Here is the letter in its entirety.


Re: Mississippi County Officer Involved Shooting

Dear Col. Bryant:

On July 30, 2018, Arkansas State Police Company F was called upon to investigate a fatal officer involved shooting involving the Arkansas State Police and the Mississippi County Sheriff’s Department. After reviewing the Investigative File provided me and having discussions with your investigators, I find the facts of the case are as follows:

At approximately 6:30 p.m., Pemiscot County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Torrance Akins, while traveling south along Interstate 55, observed a dark-colored Chevrolet with Missouri Dealer plate D2354-AC driving erratically and at an unsafe speed. While keeping pace with the vehicle, the Pemiscot Deputy noted the Chevrolet accelerated further to a high rate of speed, so Deputy Akins activated his emergency lights and siren to stop the vehicle. Deputy Akins continued this pursuit, reaching speeds exceeding 106 miles per hour, until he reached the Arkansas State line, where he terminated the pursuit and the Pemiscot County Sheriff’s Office contacted the Mississippi County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) and the Arkansas State Police (ASP).

ASP Troopers Cpl. Brandon Bennett and Cpl. Rockey Rapert were working on Interstate 55 when ASP Troop C Dispatch broadcast that a black Chevrolet Malibu with Missouri Dealer plates was in Arkansas at 6:46 p.m. Cpl. Rapert traveled north on I-55 and parked at the 57-mile marker to wait for the suspect vehicle, while Cpl. Bennett and MCSO Deputy Harrison Hughes waited at the 53-mile marker with spike strips ready to deploy. Shortly afterwards, Cpl. Rapert pulled out onto the Interstate behind the black Malibu at 6:56 p.m. Cpl. Rapert attempted to stop the Chevrolet by activating his blue lights. The vehicle then sped up until it was travelling at 115 miles per hour. Cpl. Rapert advised Deputy Hughes which lane to deploy the spike strip in, and at 6:59 p.m. the Malibu ran over the spike strip causing the car to enter the grass median.

The Chevrolet Malibu came to a final stop in the grass median next to the cables at the 51-mile marker, and the driver then exited his vehicle and ran east across the northbound traffic on I-55. Cpl. Rapert stopped his patrol vehicle behind the Malibu and retrieved his K-9, Hemi, from the unit. Cpl. Rapert then crossed northbound traffic into an adjacent road ditch with the K-9 in pursuit of the suspect. Rapert gave verbal commands to the suspect to stop or he would release the K-9 and the K-9 would bite him, but the suspect ignored these commands and crossed the wire fence which separated the road ditch from a soybean field east of the northbound lanes of Interstate 55. Cpl. Bennett had parked his unit south of the suspect’s vehicle and crossed northbound traffic before staging further south in the northbound road ditch. Cpl. Rapert released his K-9 to engage the suspect, but the K-9 did not see the suspect cross over the fence and was searching toward the south. Cpl. Bennett made a movement near the shoulder, causing the K-9 to alert on him. Due to traffic noise, the K-9 did not hear Cpl. Rapert give the “off” command and the dog bit Cpl. Bennett. Cpl. Rapert made his way closer, had the K-9 release, and advised Troop C that Cpl. Bennett needed medical attention.

Cpl. Rapert continued the pursuit of the suspect with the K-9 and entered the soybean field. Cpl. Rapert gave the command for his K-9 to engage the suspect in the field, which the K-9 did; Cpl. Rapert then realized the suspect was armed with a handgun. He observed the suspect shoot the K-9 then started to run away. Cpl. Rapert stated that he gave commands for the suspect to drop his weapon, and at that point, the suspect turned his torso towards Cpl. Rapert as he was running and pointed his firearm at Cpl. Rapert and fired. Cpl. Rapert then returned fire. MCSO Deputy Hughes followed Cpl. Rapert in pursuit of the suspect. While he was crossing the fence into the soybean field, Deputy Hughes stated that he heard gunshots. Deputy Hughes then drew his service weapon and made his way to Cpl. Rapert’s location, where Cpl. Rapert advised him that the suspect had shot the K-9 and fired shots at him. At that time, they observed the suspect running northeast and saw him lay down in the soybeans ahead them.

Corporal Bennett heard the gunshots and advised Troop C that shots had been fired. He then made his way to Rapert and Hughes. All three then approached the suspect with weapons drawn, giving the suspect continued verbal commands to show his hands. As they approached, the suspect then quickly raised and pointed the handgun at the officers. At that point all three officers fired at the suspect. The suspect then fell back on the ground, but his hands were still not visible. Troop C was advised that shots were fired. The officers gave numerous commands for the suspect to drop his weapon and show both of his hands. When the suspect showed both of his hands, Cpl. Bennett and Deputy Hughes approached and began administering first aid to the suspect. An ambulance arrived a short time later.

Corporal Rapert left the suspect’s location at that time to search for his K-9. After a short search, he found his K-9, Hemi, dead in the soybean field.

hemi.5b60af061357a

The inside of the black Chevrolet Malibu was searched. In a small utility compartment by the steering wheel, two plastic baggies of a green leafy substance and one plastic baggie containing unknown pills of assorted colors was found.

The suspect in this case was identified as James Edward Blackmon. Blackmon was airlifted to the Regional Medical Center in Memphis, Tennessee. It was learned that on the morning of July 31, 2018, James Blackmon died at approximately 1:30 a.m. An autopsy was completed on James Blackmon on August 1, 2018 at the Arkansas State Crime Lab, performed by Chief Medical Examiner Doctor Charles Kokes. He documented seven gunshot wounds in the body of Blackmon and three bullets were recovered.

Arkansas State Police Troop C Telecommunications Operators researched a Facebook account held by James Blackmon. On July 30, 2018, Blackmon posted live videos describing his journey from St. Louis, Missouri to Memphis, Tennessee on Interstate 55. Blackmon can be seen drinking Budweiser beer and smoking what appears to be marijuana cigars in the video. At some point, he turned the cell phone camera to view his speedometer, which revealed that he was traveling at 100 miles per hour during the recorded segment.

blackmon
James Blackmon pictured in video referenced by press release. Photo/video source: Facebook.

Arkansas Code Annotated Section 5-2-601(b)(2) allows the use of deadly force if the officer reasonably believes that the use of deadly force is necessary to defend himself or a third person from what he reasonably believes to be the use – or imminent use – of deadly force. The investigation revealed that officers were confronted with circumstances justifying the use of deadly force the night James Blackmon was shot. Specifically, Cpl. Bennett, Cpl. Rapert, and Deputy Hughes were justified in firing their service weapons at James Blackmon, as they knew he had a handgun, and believed their lives were in danger. Not only did Cpl. Rapert had observe Blackmon shoot his K-9 Hemi, Blackmon pointed his weapon at Rapert and fired at him as he ran from the location where the canine was killed. Cpl. Brandon Bennett stated that as the three officers had pursued the suspect in the soybeans, the suspect was in a crouching or sitting position, then sat up forward with the gun in his hand. Bennett and the other officers were close enough to tell that the suspect held a silver and black handgun. Bennett stated that the suspect pointed the gun in his direction, and he felt immediate fear for his life, that he was going to die because the suspect was going to kill him. Bennett said that immediately, all three officers fired upon the suspect. MCSO Deputy Harrison Hughes stated that he believed the suspect was lying on his side and that the suspect rolled up and forward then pointed the pistol right at him. Hughes said that at that point he was sure that all of them fired at the suspect. Hughes added that he knew if he did not fire, he would have been shot, and he absolutely feared for his life when he fired his service weapon the last time.

In summary, I find that Arkansas State Police Cpl. Rockey Rapert, Cpl. Brandon Bennett, and Mississippi County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Harrison Hughes were justified in using deadly force against James Blackmon in defense of their own lives. It is my understanding that there are still outstanding ballistic and autopsy reports, as well as other follow-up reports. Until those reports are finished, this investigation remains open, and my finding may be subject to change.

Sincerely,

Scott Ellington
Second Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney


 



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