Originally published for Arkansas Times by David Koon
The family of Eugene Ellison, the 67-year-old African-American man shot and killed by a Little Rock Police Department officer in Ellison’s apartment near the corner of Col. Glenn and University Ave. in Dec. 2010, held a press conference today to discuss yesterday’s announcement of a landmark settlement in the federal civil rights case arising from the shooting. The settlement will see the City of Little Rock pay $900,000 — an amount Ellison attorney Mike Laux said will swell to well over a million when combined with a settlement reached with Big Country Chateau Apartments, where Eugene Ellison lived — plus issue a formal apology. Under the terms of the agreement, the city will also pay to erect a memorial bench in a location chosen by Ellison’s sons.
On Dec. 9, 2010, LRPD officers Donna Lesher and Tabitha McCrillis were working off-duty security at Big Country Chateau when they noticed Eugene Ellison’s door ajar. According to their account, after going in to check on Ellison’s welfare, Ellison told them to leave and then became combative, struggling with Lesher and McCrillis them before Lesher shot him in the chest. At the time Lesher shot, she was on the balcony outside Ellison’s door, standing with McCrillis and two male officers who had arrived as backup. The Ellison family filed a federal lawsuit in the case in Oct. 2011, with the discovery phase uncovering many damning aspects of the investigation that followed the shooting, including that surveillance video from a camera pointed in the direction of Ellison’s door was mysteriously damaged while in LRPD custody, and deposition testimony from officers on the scene who said that Ellison didn’t appear to pose a threat to the lives of the officers at the time he was shot. The Washington Post reported on the case yesterday.
Laux, a Chicago attorney, appeared today with Eugene Ellison’s sons, Troy and Spencer Ellison, and attorneys Flint Taylor and Doris Cheng, who worked on the case. Laux, at times fighting back tears, said that he has come to love Spencer and Troy Ellison “like brothers,” and said they were very satisfied with the settlement. Laux said that Eugene Ellison was impugned by the Little Rock Police Department since day one, even though he was only sitting in his apartment, minding his own business, prior to McCrillis and Lesher entering and refusing to leave. Though he called the settlement historic, the largest ever paid in a civil rights case in the state’s history, he said the case was never been about money. “It’s always been about some modicum of accountability,” he said. The Ellison family couldn’t move on, Laux said, until an apology was made, but noted that in the years since the lawsuit was filed, LRPD use-of-force complaints have steadily dropped.
“When they know eyes are watching them, they’re more cautious,” Laux said. “People don’t get shot. People don’t die.”
Both Troy and Spencer Ellison addressed the crowd, with Troy, a Detective with the Little Rock Police Department, fighting back tears before saying: “The apology was something that was long waited for that we thought would never happen.”
Speaking after the press conference, Troy Ellison said that he plans to continue serving the city and department he fought in court over his father’s death since 2011. “Even based on everything that’s gone on in the last five years,” he said, “I still feel like I have a duty to continue what I’ve started. That’s my career with the police department. I enjoy what I do. I’ve always enjoyed what I do. And I don’t think anything or anyone should take that away from me. I still feel like I have a lot of good work ahead of me that I can do for this community.”