Prosecutor finds Trumann police chief justified in use of deadly force

The sign at the door of the Trumann police chief. Photo by Stan Morris | NEA Report.

TRUMANN, Ark. – In a letter released Saturday afternoon, August 25, Second Judicial District Prosecutor Scott Ellington found that Trumann Police Chief Chad Henson was justified in the regrettably necessary use of lethal force against Johnny Kelley earlier this month.

Click here to see the story about the incident.

Here is the letter in its entirety.

On August 3, 2018, Arkansas State Police Company F Criminal Investigation Division was requested to investigate an officer involved shooting involving Trumann Police Department Chief Chadwick Henson. After reviewing the investigative file and several discussions with your investigators, I find the facts of the case are as follows:

Before Trumann Police Chief Chad Henson began getting dressed for work on the morning of Friday, August 6, 2018, he opened the front door of his apartment to pitch out a pot of coffee to find Johnny Kelley standing next to his police department vehicle. Chief Henson estimates Kelley was about four and a half to five (4.5 – 5) feet from his apartment door. Chief Henson recognized Kelley immediately because Kelley had in the past few months numerous contacts with his department, the mayor’s office, the Poinsett County Sheriff’s Department and other local, state and federal governmental offices.  Kelley was known for being confrontational in these instances. When Chief Henson opened the door, Kelley asked him, “Are you going to shake my hand now, Chief?” Chief Henson was startled by Kelley’s uninvited presence, and then issued a directive for Kelley to leave his property and not return. Chief Henson was not wearing his uniform nor his service weapon at the time. Kelley left without further incident and Chief Henson dressed for work then began his regular routine.

At approximately 10:00 a.m., Chief Henson decided to return home to take his mid-morning constitutional. As he traveled toward his apartment on North Ozark, he heard radio traffic that Captain Gary Henry had made a traffic stop. Because Chief Henson would be driving past the traffic stop, he pulled over and put on his body armor vest since he knew he would backup Captain Henry and assist if necessary. By the time he arrived at the traffic stop location, it had cleared and neither car was present. Chief Henson then continued on North Ozark Street toward his apartment. As he neared Cash Road, Chief Henson saw a dark SUV sitting in the middle of Cash Road where it intersects North Ozark. Chief Henson recognized Johnny Kelley as the driver of the vehicle, and decided then was as good as any time to have a conversation with Kelley regarding Kelley’s showing up at Henson’s apartment – or any other police officer’s residence – uninvited.

Chief Henson pulled up near Kelley’s vehicle, front-driver-side window to front-driver-side window. As he rolled his window down, Kelley initiated the conversation by saying, “I need to talk to you.”  Kelley then put his vehicle in reverse and began backing up Cash Road driving east. Chief Henson followed Kelley. When Kelley reached Kisinger Lane, he stayed in reverse as he drove north. Kelley then pulled in beside a camper trailer situated on Kisinger Lane.  Kelley parked and got out of his vehicle calmly. Chief Henson also got out of his vehicle. He was still wearing the ballistic vest which was clearly marked with police identifiers.

Kelley began making outlandish allegations that some Trumann Police officers were identifying themselves as U.S. Marshalls who had been coming onto his property, criminally trespassing. He also alleged a Trumann officer had raped and impregnated a fourteen (14) year old child. As he was talking, Kelley began walking away from Chief Henson. As he walked toward the camper, Kelley was slapping at his forearms and said, “Man these mosquitoes are killing me, I’ve got to get some OFF, do you want some OFF?” Chief Henson was observing his surroundings as Kelley was unlocking the camper. When Kelley opened the camper door and went inside, a black mesh screen fell over the doorway, impairing Chief Henson’s vision inside the camper. Chief Henson stepped closer to the camper, approximately 18 inches from the front door, when he saw a black gun coming through the mesh screen. He doesn’t recall hearing anything but remembers being hit by a force that felt “like a Mack truck hitting [him] in the chest.” He knew it was a gun, he knew Kelley had fired and that he had been shot. Chief Henson instinctively drew his service weapon and returned fire. He remembers hearing Kelley moan once and the sound of him hitting the floor. After gathering himself, Chief Henson went into the camper to render first aid until help could arrive. Chief Henson first began searching for a pulse. When he found none, he knew Kelley had died immediately. Chief Henson then notified Trumann Police Department dispatch of the incident and requested medical assistance.

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 Chief Chad Henson was confronted with circumstances justifying the use of deadly force the day Johnny Kelley was shot. Specifically, Chief Henson feared for his life after having been shot. Chief Henson was certainly justified in using deadly force in returning fire before Kelley could get off a second shot which, in all likelihood, would have been fatal.

In summary, I find Trumann Police Department Chief Chad Henson was justified when he used deadly force against Johnny Kelley in defense of his own life. 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.


Scott Ellington


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