LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) – The family of a man shot and killed by Little Rock police sued the city and the police department Monday, claiming officers conducted an illegal search that led to a fatal confrontation.
An attorney for Troy Ellison filed the lawsuit in federal court in Little Rock. It accuses officers Donna Lesher and Tabitha McCrillis of entering the home of Eugene Ellison without his permission last December and then using excessive force when Lesher shot Ellison.
The lawsuit also targets the city of Little Rock, the police department and the apartment complex where Eugene Ellison, 67, lived.
Troy Ellison is currently a detective in the department, and his brother, Spencer Ellison, is a former Little Rock officer who now teaches at Tyler Junior College in Texas.
The lawsuit accuses Lesher and McCrillis of entering the open door to Ellison’s apartment at the Big Country Chateau Apartments without a proper reason. It accuses McCrillis of making the first physical contact by shoving Ellison, starting a “physical struggle” between the three. When two officers arrived for backup, Ellison was crouched in a corner, the lawsuit alleges. It accuses Lesher of shooting Ellison while he tried to retrieve his cane.
Pulaski County prosecutor Larry Jegley has ruled the shooting to be justified, saying the two officers had no choice because Ellison attacked them with his cane and could not be subdued. Mike Laux, an attorney for the Ellisons, says authorities did not properly investigate the incident and disputed that Eugene Ellison had tried to attack the officers.
“This was a most reckless and callous act by Officer Lesher,” Laux said at a press conference Monday.
Laux described Troy Ellison, who plans to continue working for the department, as “conflicted,” but said both sons wanted justice for their father.
Though the lawsuit doesn’t ask for a specific amount in damages, Laux said he would request “significant sums of money.” It accuses the city of permitting a “widespread custom and practice of permitting warrantless entries and acts of excessive force” by police.
The family also filed a civil rights complaint with the FBI earlier this year. FBI spokesman Steve Frazier did not return a request for comment Monday. Police spokesman Lt. Terry Hastings and city spokeswoman Meg Matthews also did not respond to requests for comment. Ellison’s apartment complex did not have a phone number listed.
Statement from LRPD Chief Stuart Thomas, Oct. 17:
The Department has received a copy of the complaint filed today by Troy Ellison, plaintiff, against Officer Donna Lesher, Detective Tabitha McGrillis, myself, the City of Little Rock, and Big Country Chateau, LLC. While a response on behalf of the City and its named employees will be filed in the proper venue in a timely manner, I will at this time state that this incident has undergone intense Departmental review and that the actions of the officers were exonerated by both the Prosecuting Attorney and the Department. Further, I do not believe that the proof will ultimately support the allegations of unlawful customs or practices by this Department, and I have been assured of a vigorous defense by the City Attorney’s Office.