Questions Persist Around Hamley's Shooting Death
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
March 14, 2006
SPRINGDALE, ARKANSAS--Family and friends of Joseph Erin Hamley are asking why an Arkansas State Trooper shot and killed the 21-year-old man -- who had cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities, and a mental illness -- along a rural stretch of highway last week.
Those questions persisted Monday, as more than 150 people reportedly packed the chapel during Hamley's funeral service.
"If he saw you and saw you crying, he was there for you," said his older brother, Bud Hamley, who serves with the Arkansas National Guard, which was mobilized last month to prepare to go to Iraq. Erin, who had trouble communicating because of his disabilities, had asked his mother to shave his head so he would look more like his brother.
"(Hamley) had a kind heart," said one man who attended the funeral.
Some friends have started a petition to require law enforcement officers to undergo more training in how to deal with people who have physical and mental disabilities.
"We just want police officers to be more educated on dealing with these situations," said Karissa Cunningham of Springdale, a friend of the family.
Early last Tuesday, officers were on the trail of 18-year-old Michigan prison inmate Adam Lee Leadford, who had escaped the previous Friday, and had been seen in the area. Following up on reports of a man matching Leadford's description, officers spotted Erin Hamley walking near a highway about 12 miles from his home in Springdale.
What happened next is the subject of a state investigation and many of the family's unanswered questions.
According to several local news sources quoting police accounts and witnesses, five officers drew their guns as they approached Hamley, told him to get down on the ground and put his hands up where the officers could see them. Hamley got on the ground and rolled onto his back, but kept one hand in his pocket.
After Hamley failed to follow the instructions -- about four minutes from the time officers approached him -- Trooper Larry Norman shot him in the stomach once with a blast from a shotgun from about 75 feet away.
Several people close to the family have told reporters that Hamley often put his hands in his pockets when he was nervous or afraid.
During a news conference last Friday, State Police officials express sympathy and apologized to Hamley's family. They said, however, that nothing in his behavior that morning gave the officers reason to believe he had disabilities.
Trooper Norman is on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.
Governor Mike Huckabee and state Representative Doug Matayo expressed confidence last Thursday that state police would conduct a proper investigation. Matayo added that, if officers followed procedures correctly, authorities might need to evaluate the procedure for possible changes.
The Morning News noted that Arkansas law allows officers to use deadly force to prevent the escape of a person believed to have committed a felony and is armed and dangerous. The State Police policy and procedure manual states that officers may use lethal force "only when they reasonably believe that such action is in defense of human life (including the officer's own life) or in defense of any person in immediate danger of serious physical injury."
"I've had to speak up for him all his life," said Erin's mother, Mary. "The truth needs to come out. I'm going to fight to make sure it does."
"'Beautiful Young Man' Killed In Case Of Mistaken Identity" (The Morning News)
"Fugitive Focus Of Police Response In Shooting Of Disabled Man" (The Morning News)
"Motorists give details in shooting by trooper" (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)
"State police offer prayers, sympathy for mother of shooting victim" (KFSM-TV)
"Family waits for answers from state on sons death" (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)
"Hamley remembered during funeral" (The Morning News)