Little Rock officer's gunshots ruled fatal to driver in struggle that ended in vehicle crash

Posted: February 9, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.
Updated: February 9, 2018 at 11:16 a.m.

Investigators collect evidence at the scene of an officer-involved shooting on Oct. 7, 2017 outside the Prospect Building at 1501 N. University Ave. in Little Rock.

A 28-year-old man was killed by gunfire from a Little Rock police officer last fall and not from a vehicle crash that followed the shooting, an agency spokesman said this week.

An off-duty officer shot James Hartsfield on Oct. 7 as he sped toward a brick wall outside the Prospect Building at 1501 N. University Ave, according to the department.

Initial police accounts released days after the shooting did not specify how Hartsfield died, and Police Chief Kenton Buckner, speaking at the scene of the October incident, reported it was unclear whether the man died from the crash or from the gunfire.

Lt. Michael Ford, an agency spokesman, said Wednesday that Hartsfield died from bullets fired from the weapon of officer Brittany Gunn, who was also injured during the incident.

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Photos by Mitchell Pe Masilun

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John Johnson, chief deputy prosecutor, said the Pulaski County prosecuting attorney's office has received the case file on the shooting and is reviewing the file. By the end of the review, he said the case file will have been seen by at least five attorneys in the office.

The lead-up to the shooting began about 4:15 a.m. when a person leaving a bar in the Prospect Building requested a "transportation service" to the location and saw a Mercedes-Benz pull onto the lot, according to the statement from the Police Department.

The person got in after the driver indicated that he was with the transportation service, police said.

According to the department, Gunn saw that the driver, later identified as Hartsfield, appeared to be drinking from a bottle of liquor. During the encounter, she ordered Hartsfield out of the vehicle, but police said he refused and a "physical altercation" ensued.

Gunn called for assistance on her police radio, and officer Nicholas Smith arrived to find Gunn in the passenger side of the car struggling with the driver, according to the statement.

"Officer Smith went to the driver's side and the two officers attempted to remove the driver who continued to resist," the statement read.

Hartsfield put the car in drive and sped forward, causing Smith to fall onto the pavement, police said. Gunn remained inside the car -- on the passenger side -- as the vehicle continued to accelerate toward a brick retaining wall.

Police said Gunn fired at Hartsfield multiple times before the vehicle crashed through the wall and landed on North University Avenue, according to the statement.

Gunn was thrown out and other officers found her and Hartsfield unresponsive.

Hartsfield, who had been shot multiple times, died at the scene. The department said Gunn was treated for multiple "contusions and abrasions" at a hospital.

Ford said Gunn has recovered from her injuries and is a detective at the agency.

The October shooting was the sixth involving Little Rock police last year.

At least two of those shootings have been cleared by prosecutors. In one of those shootings, officer Angela Everett fatally shot Gregory Childress after Childress tried to rob her at gunpoint last February, police said. Everett, who has since been promoted to sergeant, had been working off-duty and was wearing her police uniform at the time.

The second of those shootings came in March of last year, when officers Brian Osmundson and Samuel Hill fired at Michael Hornibrook in a downtown Little Rock alley. Police said Hornibrook, who was killed in the shooting, had raised a gun toward the officers.

Metro on 02/09/2018