2 fatal shootings by Arkansas officers ruled justified

Posted: August 31, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

The Trumann police chief who fatally shot a man earlier this month, and the three other law enforcement officers who shot and killed a Missouri man during an interstate shootout last month were all justified in using deadly force, a prosecutor has decided.

Second Judicial Circuit Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington has reviewed the state police investigation of Trumann Police Chief Chadwick Henson's shooting of 49-year-old John Kelley on Aug. 3 and found that Henson's actions were justified to defend his own life.

Ellington also has determined that Mississippi County sheriff's office Deputy Harrison Hughes and Arkansas State Police Cpls. Rockey Rapert and Brandon Bennett were justified in the fatal shooting of James Edward Blackmon, 35, during a July 30 shootout in which a police dog was killed.

Trumann Assistant Chief Jonathan Redman said Tuesday that the department's internal investigation into Henson's use of deadly force is ongoing pending the results of an autopsy and ballistics report.

Authorities said Kelley showed up outside Henson's apartment on the morning of Aug. 3 and asked, "Are you going to shake my hand now, chief?"

Henson recognized Kelley because he had encountered him previously and the man had been "confrontational" in the past, Ellington said in a letter released Saturday.

Henson told Kelley to leave, but later that day Henson saw Kelley sitting in an SUV in the middle of Cash Road near his home, authorities said.

Henson told investigators that he pulled up next to Kelley's vehicle, and Kelley said through the open window, "I need to talk to you," before pulling away. Henson followed Kelley, and the two drove to a camper trailer on Kasinger Lane and got out of their vehicles, according to Ellington.

Kelley "began making outlandish allegations," according to Ellington's letter, saying that police were trespassing on his property, and that an officer had raped and impregnated a teen. Kelley walked toward the camper, saying he was going to get some bug spray, according to the prosecutor's letter. Henson stepped closer to the camper, and then saw a black gun coming through the screen door, the letter said.

Kelley shot Henson in the chest, and the chief fired back, killing Kelley, the letter said. Henson suffered minor bruising from the gunshot, which struck his body armor.

"Chief Henson was certainly justified in using deadly force in returning fire before Kelley could get off a second shot which, in all likelihood, would have been fatal," Ellington wrote.

Redman said Henson did not tell other officers that Kelley had been at his house early that morning before work or that he had found Kelley sitting in a vehicle on his road later in the day.

Redman said police officers -- especially chiefs -- are approached often by members of the community who wish to air grievances or talk.

"He'd been wanting to talk to the chief several times before, and they never had an opportunity to talk," Redman said. "I think [Henson thought] this was just an opportunity for them to talk. Obviously [Kelley] had something else in mind."

Criminal records show that Kelley had been arrested previously on complaints of drug possession, disturbances, noise, and once for making threats against public officials, including police.

Redman said each of the claims that Kelley made to Henson had been investigated and found to be unsubstantiated.

Ellington said the investigation remains active, pending autopsy and ballistics results, and his finding is subject to change.

Ellington also said in another letter Saturday that Hughes, Rapert and Bennett were justified in defending their lives in their fatal shootout with Blackmon on Interstate 55 in Mississippi County.

Before the shooting, Blackmon had posted live videos on his Facebook account in which he was seen drinking beer, smoking what appeared to be marijuana and driving more than 100 mph, Ellington's letter said.

Blackmon's speed reached 115 mph as he fled from police before driving over a spike strip and crashing his vehicle near Luxora.

The troopers released a police dog after Blackmon ran into a soybean field. Blackmon shot the 6-year-old Dutch shepherd and then began firing at law enforcement officers, who returned fire, authorities said.

Blackmon was struck several times and died at 1:30 a.m. July 31 in a Memphis hospital.

"Cpl. Bennett, Cpl. Rapert and Deputy Hughes were justified in firing their service weapons at James Blackmon as they knew he had a handgun and believed their lives were in danger," Ellington wrote. "Not only did Cpl. Rapert observe Blackmon shoot his K-9, Hemi, Blackmon pointed his weapon at Rapert and fired at him as he ran from the location where the canine was killed."

Ellington said the investigation into Blackmon's death also remains active because of outstanding reports and that his finding may be subject to change.

Information for this article was contributed by Jaime Dunaway of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

State Desk on 08/31/2018