LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The family of an unarmed Arkansas teenager fatally shot by a sheriff’s deputy during a traffic stop filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against the deputy and a county sheriff over the teen’s death.
The family of Hunter Brittain filed the lawsuit against Michael Davis, a former sergeant with the Lonoke County sheriff’s office, and Lonoke County Sheriff John Staley on the one-year anniversary of the 17-year-old’s killing. Davis was convicted in March of negligent homicide, a misdemeanor, and sentenced to a year in jail in Brittain’s death. He has appealed that ruling.
The lawsuit accuses Davis and Staley of violating the teen’s constitutional rights and seeks unspecified damages.
Robert Newcomb, an attorney for Davis, said he had not seen the lawsuit but did not believe there was a strong case that Brittain’s civil rights had been violated.
The sheriff’s office did not immediately return a message seeking comment on Thursday.
Brittain was killed outside an auto repair shop near Cabot, a city of about 26,000 people roughly 30 miles (48 kilometers) northeast of Little Rock.
Davis testified earlier this year that he fired at Brittain after the teen didn’t comply with his commands to show his hands as he exited his truck and reached into the bed of the pickup. Brittain was holding a container — which his family members have said held antifreeze — and no evidence of firearms were found in or near the truck, investigators said.
A passenger who was with Brittain and another witness have testified they didn’t hear any commands from the deputy before he shot the teen. Brittain’s family members have said he was grabbing the container to place behind the truck’s wheel to stop it from rolling backward and hitting Davis’ vehicle.
“The failures of former deputy Davis and the Lonoke County Sheriff are extensive, disturbing, and directly caused the tragic and preventable death of Hunter Brittain,” Ben Crump and Devon Jacob, attorneys for the family, said in a statement.
Davis was fired by Staley in July for not turning on his body camera until after the shooting. During his trial, Davis emotionally recounted the fatal shooting.
“I didn’t get into this job to kill people,” he testified in March.
The fatal shooting of the white teenager had drawn the attention of civil rights activists nationally who said the killing highlighted the need for interracial support for police reforms. Davis is white. Brittain was eulogized last year by the Rev. Al Sharpton, as well as Crump and Jacob, who represented the family of George Floyd.
The plaintiffs in the case also include the father of the teenage passenger who was with Brittain the night of the shooting. The lawsuit accuses another deputy who responded of violating the teen’s rights by holding him in custody in handcuffs for three hours.