LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Little Rock settled a lawsuit Friday with relatives of a 67-year-old black man who was killed after a struggle with two white, off-duty police officers who entered his home without a warrant in 2010, marking what the family’s attorney said was a record settlement of about $1.5 million.
The lawsuit was filed after the death of Eugene Ellison, whose children include a Little Rock police lieutenant and a former Little Rock officer. The city agreed to settle the years-old case, which was scheduled to go to trial on Monday, in part because of years of possible appeals, City Attorney Tom Carpenter told The Associated Press.
The city agreed to pay $900,000 and formally apologize. The family also came to an agreement for an undisclosed amount in April with the apartment complex where the two officers were working as security guards when the shooting occurred.
Ellison family attorney Mike Laux said the total amounts to about $1.5 million, which he said was the largest settlement for a police shooting in Little Rock history.
But he said the apology was more important for Ellison’s sons, noting that one of them, Troy Ellison, still works for the Little Rock Police Department.
“The strength and the poise and the grace this guy has shown over the last five years is remarkable,” Laux told the AP. “For these particular guys, the upstanding men that they are, this was about… accountability.”
The suit alleged that Officer Donna Lesher and Detective Tabitha McCrillis unlawfully entered Ellison’s home while the two officers were working as private security guards on Dec. 9, 2010. The suit argued that Lesher improperly used deadly force following an argument and scuffle.
Prosecutors declined to press charges, saying the officers’ attempts to use non-lethal means to subdue Ellison failed. Both officers are still employed with the Little Rock Police Department.
The settlement also includes the dedication of a memorial bench in the park of the family’s choosing. Carpenter noted that the apology letter from the city will not admit liability.
Lesher and McCrillis have said they noticed through an open door that Ellison’s apartment was in disarray, and that when they asked if he was OK, Ellison responded with an ambiguous “What does it look like?” The city has said the apartment was disheveled, with a glass-topped table shattered in an area in front of Ellison, and the manner in which he spoke left the officers wondering if he was really OK.
As the officers checked on Ellison, according to city attorneys, he became “mouthy.” After a struggle, Lesher fired twice, believing Ellison was reaching for a cane that he could have used to strike her after refusing her commands to lie down.
On Friday, Carpenter said the decision to settle the lawsuit was brought on by several factors, including a discussion during a pre-trial conference last week with a federal judge. The judge noted that the case would likely be in litigation for years because of unique constitutional questions that could be raised on appeals, Carpenter said.
City Manager Bruce Moore said both parties agreed that the settlement would be in their best interest.
“There is no doubt that this incident is a tragedy that has deeply affected many in our city. Today’s agreement allows the community, the families, and the Little Rock Police Department to move forward and begin to heal,” he wrote in an emailed statement.
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