Po­lice cleared in slay­ing of teen near youth cen­ter

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - KEN­NETH HEARD

Two Mar­ion po­lice of­fi­cers in­volved in the fa­tal shoot­ing of a 16-year-old in front of a shel­ter for ju­ve­nile of­fend­ers in July were jus­ti­fied in us­ing deadly force, a pros­e­cu­tor said Wed­nes­day.

Of­fi­cer Wes­ley Smith shot Aries Clark of Crit­ten­den County out­side the East Arkansas Youth Ser­vices fa­cil­ity on July 25 af­ter Clark pointed what Smith thought was a hand­gun, ac­cord­ing to re­ports. Of­fi­cials later de­ter­mined that Clark was armed with a BB pis­tol that looked sim­i­lar to a semi-au­to­matic hand­gun, said 2nd Ju­di­cial District Prose­cut­ing At­tor­ney Scott Elling­ton of Jones­boro.

Smith shot his .40-cal­iber hand­gun four times, ac­cord­ing to a let­ter Elling­ton wrote to Arkansas State Po­lice Di­rec­tor Col. Bill Bryant, strik­ing Clark three times. Mar­ion po­lice of­fi­cer Bran­non Hin­kle shot at Clark twice with a .223-cal­iber Rem­ing­ton semi-au­to­matic ri­fle but missed both times.

Clark was taken to a Mem­phis hos­pi­tal where he died.

Smith and Hin­kle were placed on paid leave while the state po­lice con­ducted an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the shoot­ing. Lt. Freddy Wil­liams of the Mar­ion Po­lice Depart­ment said the two of­fi­cers could re­turn to duty as soon as to­day.

Elling­ton said sev­eral of­fi­cers and wit­nesses agreed that Clark raised a pis­tol to­ward of­fi­cers. Video taken from a body cam­era on Smith also showed Clark point­ing the weapon af­ter of­fi­cers told him nu­mer­ous times to drop it.

“Clark’s ac­tions that day brought about the cir­cum­stances that threat­ened the lives of at least four law en­force­ment of­fi­cers had the gun he bran­dished been a firearm as was per­ceived by the re­spond­ing of­fi­cers,” Elling­ton wrote in his let­ter to Bryant.

“I can­not find that the of­fi­cers acted crim­i­nally,” he wrote. “There­fore, I find the of­fi­cers were jus­ti­fied un­der these cir­cum­stances and no crim­i­nal charges will be filed in this mat­ter.”

Po­lice ar­rived at East Arkansas Youth Ser­vices about 7 p.m. July 25 af­ter the cen­ter’s em­ploy­ees called to re­port that Clark was try­ing to get in­side.

The fa­cil­ity serves ju­ve­nile of­fend­ers and foster chil­dren for seven eastern Arkansas coun­ties. The Arkansas Depart­ment of Hu­man Ser­vices con­tracts with the cen­ter to pro­vide res­i­den­tial care for some chil­dren in foster care and for oth­ers who are in the Youth Ser­vices Divi­sion’s af­ter-care pro­gram.

The cen­ter is li­censed to pro­vide ser­vices to 20 youths. Twelve youths were liv­ing in the cen­ter when the shoot­ing oc­curred, Depart­ment of Hu­man Ser­vices spokesman Amy Webb said.

East Arkansas Youth Ser­vices Di­rec­tor Made­lyn Keith did not re­turn tele­phone mes­sages Wed­nes­day.

Clark was a res­i­dent of the fa­cil­ity who left with­out per­mis­sion or court ap­proval on July 23 and was con­sid­ered “ab­sent with­out leave,” Elling­ton said. The cen­ter is not a “locked-down” fa­cil­ity, mean­ing youths are not locked in­side and are not pre­vented from leav­ing.

The cen­ter is locked, how­ever, to pre­vent peo­ple from en­ter­ing the build­ing be­fore po­lice can search them and to pre­vent them from pos­si­bly car­ry­ing in drugs or weapons, the pros­e­cu­tor said.

Elling­ton said Clark re­turned to the fa­cil­ity at 7:06 p.m. July 25, and work­ers in­side called po­lice, as is cus­tom­ary.

Of­fi­cers ar­rived at the cen­ter at 7:11 p.m., Elling­ton said.

Four of­fi­cers were wear­ing body cam­eras and cap­tured au­dio of Clark’s con­fronta­tion with po­lice. The views of three cam­eras were ob­structed, but Smith’s cam­era cap­tured Clark stand­ing out­side the cen­ter hold­ing a gun by his side.

Smith re­peat­edly asked Clark to drop the weapon.

“Hey, I’m your buddy,” Smith can be heard say­ing to Clark on the video. “I’ve talked to you of­ten. I’m here to help you.”

Smith called Clark by name sev­eral times.

At one point, Clark took off his shirt and T-shirt and faced of­fi­cers. He rubbed his face of­ten and ap­peared ag­i­tated, Elling­ton said.

Af­ter about 10 min­utes, Clark raised his BB hand­gun to­ward of­fi­cers.

Hin­kle, stand­ing on the south­west side of the build­ing, shot his .223-cal­iber ri­fle twice but missed Clark.

Smith was stand­ing be­hind a tree on the north­west side of the build­ing. He stepped away from the tree and shot four times, hit­ting Clark in the head, back and but­tocks.

It was get­ting dark at the time of the shoot­ing, and in the video pro­vided by the pros­e­cu­tor, Clark’s BB gun, a 1911 model pis­tol, looked like a real firearm, Elling­ton said.

“I am sure it looked like a gun from the busi­ness end of that,” Elling­ton said.

He said of­fi­cers dis­cussed us­ing Tasers on Clark, but he was too far away to be reached with the de­vice.

While urg­ing Clark to drop his weapon, Smith also gave di­rec­tions to other of­fi­cers to en­sure that they would not be in the cross­fire if any­one fired their weapons.

“He did what he was trained to do,” Wil­liams said. “It’s al­ways tough. We can’t call a time­out while it’s go­ing on. You try to de-es­ca­late the sit­u­a­tion the best you can.”

Be­fore July 25, Wil­liams was the last Mar­ion po­lice of­fi­cer to fa­tally shoot some­one. In Jan­uary 2003, he stopped a speed­ing mo­torist on a ser­vice road of In­ter­state 55 in the Crit­ten­den County town. As he neared the car, the driver shot at Wil­liams eight times with a .45-cal­iber hand­gun. One bul­let hit Wil­liams in the face.

He re­turned fire and killed the driver.

“You have to rely on your train­ing in sit­u­a­tions like that,” Wil­liams said.

Wil­liams said he has talked with Smith and Hin­kle nearly ev­ery day since the July shoot­ing.

“It’s hard,” he said. “I want to make sure they don’t go through some of the things I did, if I am able.”

Elling­ton said he has asked the state Crime Lab­o­ra­tory in Lit­tle Rock to pro­vide tox­i­col­ogy re­sults from sam­ples taken from Clark to de­ter­mine whether Clark had con­sumed drugs or al­co­hol be­fore the shoot­ing.

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