Suit against Josh Hastings and city alleges LRPD’s ‘custom of acquiescence to police misconduct’

June 1, 2015 Press Conference. Federal civil rights lawsuit filed over the shooting death of Bobby Moore. Mike Laux appears with Moore’s mother, Sylvia Perkins

This morning, lawyers filed a federal civil rights lawsuit over the shooting death of Bobby Moore, the African-American teenager killed by former Little Rock Police Department officer Josh Hastings at a West Little Rock apartment complex almost three years ago. The suit — brought by Moore’s mother, Sylvia Perkins — names as defendants Hastings, former LRPD chief Stuart Thomas and the City of Little Rock.

Hastings confronted Moore after an apparent break-in on August 12, 2012 and shot the 15-year-old as he attempted to flee the scene in a car. The officer claimed at the time that Moore was trying to run him down with the vehicle. It was later determined by the police that Hastings’ version of events was untruthful, and he was fired from the force. However, two criminal trials against Hastings ended in mistrials after juries failed to reach an agreement over whether to convict him for manslaughter.

Michael Laux, an attorney for Perkins, said today at a press conference held at the Capital Hotel that “the responsibility for [Hasting’s] actions are absolutely shared by Stuart Thomas and the City of Little Rock, because they permitted this to occur. It could not have occurred … without them turning a blind eye towards what was by all accounts a problematic and dangerous officer.”

“To the casual observer, it might seem that while this was a tragic shooting, the LRPD stepped in and did the right thing,” Laux acknowledged. “After all, they performed an objective investigation, they determined that one of their own unjustifiably shot and killed a 15-year-old boy, and then they terminated the offending officer.” But, he argued, Hastings should never have been hired in the first place — at the time of his hiring, a fellow officer objected to the fact that Hastings had once attended a Ku Klux Klan rally in his youth — and his conduct while on the force showed that he should have been dismissed long before his fateful encounter with Moore.

“Hastings was hired and retained in the face of overwhelming evidence that he was not a fit candidate for such an important job — especially in a city where 40 percent of the population consists of African-American folks,” said Laux. The attorney alleged that the LRPD’s long history of clearing officers of wrongdoing has created a “custom of acquiescence to police misconduct and toleration of excessive force, over years and years, one that causes officers like Hastings to act with impunity in the field, knowing that their discipline would be nonexistent or disproportionately light.

“That Josh Hastings would be involved in a police shooting of an African-American Little Rock citizen was as predictable as the sun coming up tomorrow. This was not a matter of if — this was a matter of when. The only variable that was uncertain here was who the unlucky victim was going to be. On August 12, 2012, that victim turned out to be Bobby Moore. … If a well-trained, reasonably prudent officer had encountered Bobby that August morning, and not Josh Hastings, there’s no doubt that Bobby would be alive today.”

A spokesman for the LRPD said that the department had no comment, but that it may release a statement at a later time.

Perkins, seated beside her lawyer, spoke briefly to reporters. “This loss that my family has suffered has been a nightmare. Bobby was my youngest child, and I loved him dearly. … I cannot bring my son back, but I can make sure that everyone who was responsible for his death is held accountable. Most of all, we want to make sure that this doesn’t happen to anyone else,” she said.

There are six separate counts in the suit, three against Hastings and three against Thomas and the city. U.S. District Judge Brian Miller is assigned to the case. Here’s the filing:
Perkins v. Hastings et al

Laux elaborated later on the allegations that the LRPD has created a culture in which officer misconduct is tolerated.

“Prior to the Bobby Moore shooting, the LRPD had never determined that a police-involved shooting was unjustified. There are officers on the force right now that have rap sheets that are very long and consist of very serious violations … and yet they remain on the force.

The department, he said, exhibits a “pattern of not just excessive force … but also patterns of untruthfulness, of disengaging and altering video devices. What I’ve come to learn is that if an officer in the LRPD plans on committing any misconduct, he or she is well served to disable their mobile video recorder and then engage in the misconduct, because the worst discipline they’re going to face is for the violation on the video recorder being off, and they will more likely than not be exonerated.”

He also criticized the LRPD’s policy of handling misconduct through internal investigations. “The problem with internal investigation is that it creates a system where favors are given and where preferences are shown, and leverage can be exerted. … Regardless of the facts, these things have historically been pretty much rubber stamped.” Laux said the LRPD’s failure to address problematic officers has resulted in a less effective police force. “The cost in terms of money, time and personnel that is spent reviewing and ultimately exonerating these officers — it makes the claims that there aren’t enough officers on the street somewhat laughable. It’s a misallocation of resources.”

Laux said he was confident the suit will yield a different result than the two criminal trials, both because of the different burden of proof involved in civil cases and because it will include evidence that was inadmissible in the criminal trials. He said he’s not yet sure of the damages his client will be seeking. “We don’t have a set amount in mind at this point. … I’d be remiss to speculate on that.”

IN A RELATED MATTER: Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen has scheduled a hearing on Hastings’ motion to seal the investigative record in his case, which the statute allows unless it could present harm to the public or not serve the interests of justice. Seems to me the facts of a police shooting are always a matter of public interest.

by Benjamin Hardy | June 01, 2015
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Civil-rights lawsuit filed in LR police killing of teen

Attorneys Michael Laux, right, Michael A. Kelly stand beside a large photograph of Bobby Moore before a news conference about a federal civil rights lawsuit they filed Monday, June 1, 2015, in Moore's death.

An attorney says he has filed a six-count federal civil-rights lawsuit in the death of a 15-year-old boy fatally shot by a Little Rock police officer in 2012.

Attorney Michael J. Laux said the lawsuit in the death of 15-year-old Bobby Moore III contends that Officer Josh Hastings acted with excessive force and that the city of Little Rock and the Little Rock Police Department are responsible for hiring him despite warning signs of trouble.

An attorney who previously represented Hastings questioned the merits of the suit. A spokesman for the Little Rock Police Department said she could not comment “on active legal matters.”

Laux alleged Hastings before the shooting had been untruthful and had deliberately disobeyed policy. He said Hastings was hired because of connections he had to the agency and despite the department knowing he had previously attended a Ku Klux Klan meeting.

Laux said the department should not be absolved because it fired and sought charges against Hastings after the shooting of Moore.

“It would appear that the system works,” Laux said at a news conference Monday in Little Rock. “But any conclusion that this set of facts reflects a properly functioning and accountable police department would be very inaccurate. The truth of the matter is simply this: That Josh Hastings would be involved in a police-involved shooting of an African-American citizen is as predictable as the sun coming up tomorrow. This was not a matter of if, it was a matter of when. The only variable that was uncertain here was who the unlucky victim was going to be.”

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, notes several allegations made against Hastings prior to the shooting including failing to write and submit reports, missing court dates and not submitting a use-of-force report.

Bill James, a Little Rock defense attorney who represented Hastings in two criminal trials tied to the shooting, said he believes Hastings has qualified immunity from the suit and that the case will never make it as far as a jury trial. But if it did, the fact that Hastings “didn’t have a perfect record” hardly indicts him as someone likely to kill a teen suspect, James said.

“That’s all fun stuff to talk about, the stuff that is in his prior disciplinary record,” James said. “But they have nothing to do with this case. There’s nothing in this case that indicates he was capable of doing something like they’re accusing him of.”

James said he had not reviewed the full lawsuit. He said he would be meeting with Hastings soon to determine if he would represent him on it as well.

Laux said he couldn’t speculate on the monetary damages that could be awarded if a jury sides with the plaintiffs. He said he is hopeful that the lawsuit will also spur adjustments within the Little Rock agency, including having it change its practice of conducting internal investigations when an officer fatally shoots a suspect. He said the Moore shooting was the first time the Little Rock Police Department had ever ruled such a shooting unjustified.

Hastings, whose father, Terry Hastings, retired as a captain after a long career with the Little Rock Department, was fired from the force and charged after the early morning shooting on Aug. 12, 2012. Two separate trials ended in hung juries, and prosecutors announced after the second that they would not try him a third time.

Attorney Michael A. Kelly, a second attorney also representing Moore’s family, noted that civil juries have a different burden of proof than criminal ones and that additional evidence that wasn’t admissible in the trials can be considered.

“We expect that a civil jury evaluating what happened to Bobby and the denial of his constitutional rights will have no such difficulty,” Kelly said.

But James said the different burden will also allow the defendants to focus on the criminal activity Moore was accused of engaging in and the items in the car when he was fatally shot, which included a gun.

“More information would be given to a jury about what was actually happening that night, which I think will only help Josh,” James said. “The more they know about what was going on and the realities of what they were facing that night will convince them even more so than the jury in the criminal case.”

Hastings had been dispatched to investigate a report Moore and two teens with him were breaking into vehicles on the lot of a Little Rock apartment complex.

Laux acknowledged that Moore “made some mistakes,” but said those don’t justify the shooting.

“He was 15 years old,” Laux said at the news conference, which was also attended by members of Moore’s family. “He did not deserve to die. If a well-trained, reasonably prudent officer had encountered Bobby on that August morning, and not Josh Hastings, there’s no doubt that Bobby would be alive today.”

Moore’s mother, Sylvia Perkins, read a statement, calling Moore’s loss a “nightmare.”

Hastings contended he opened fire as the vehicle driven by Moore came at him in the dark parking lot. Prosecutors maintained the vehicle was stopped or moving backward when Hastings opened fire and that his decision to shoot amounted to “reckless” behavior.

The federal lawsuit was assigned to U.S. District Judge Brian Miller.