Grand Jury Indicts State Trooper For Negligent Homicide In
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
April 17, 2006
SPRINGDALE, ARKANSAS--An Arkansas State Police trooper, disregarding instructions from a fellow officer, shot and killed an innocent man with disabilities as the man was possibly following the trooper's orders, a grand jury has concluded.
The Benton County special grand jury indicted Corporal Larry Norman last Thursday for misdemeanor negligent homicide in the March 7 shooting death of 21-year-old Joseph Erin Hamley. Prosecutor Robin Green followed the panel's recommendations and charged Norman with the crime.
The grand jury was not instructed to decide whether the officer is guilty. Instead, it was asked to determine whether he should be charged with breaking the law.
Local news sources reported that Trooper Norman was arrested and then released on citation. His next hearing is set for May 22. The trooper is currently on paid leave from the department pending the outcome of the case. If convicted, he could spend up to a year behind bars. One expert hinted that Norman's attorneys might try to work out an agreement that would spare the officer any jail time.
Before making its decision, the panel of 16 jurors viewed videotaped interviews with officers who were at the scene of the shooting, including Norman, and viewed recordings from cameras installed on the squad cars. They also went to the site itself, along Highway 142, where cars were placed in the same positions and locations as the patrol cars were at the time of the shooting. A mannequin placed at the site represented Hamley's body.
According to the grand jury's report, Norman was several miles away on the morning of March 7 when he heard a radio dispatch from fellow State Trooper Wilson Short, who was trying to determine the identity of a man that matched the description of a Michigan prison escapee. Officer Short instructed Norman to block the westbound lanes of the highway in order to secure the scene and to protect motorists. Norman sped to the site, sometimes going over 100 mph, with his AM/FM radio blasting so loud he could not hear his police radio.
When Norman arrived at the scene, Trooper Short and four Washington County Sheriff's deputies had surrounded Hamley. They had their guns drawn and were taking defensive positions behind their cars. One officer mentioned that if he could get close enough to Hamley, he would use his Taser stun gun.
Instead of blocking traffic, Norman pulled up about 30 yards from the young man, pulled out his shotgun, and took a defensive position behind his car.
Hamley, who had cerebral palsy, an intellectual disability, and mental illness, followed officers' instructions to get down on the ground, but laid down on his back instead of his stomach. When the officers told him to put his hands up where they could see them, Hamley raised his hands briefly three times.
When Norman directed him to turn over, Hamley reached across his body with one hand toward his pocket, possibly in an effort to comply with the trooper's instructions to roll over. That's when Norman shot one time, the slug hitting the pavement, then striking Hamley's arm and going into his body.
When officers approached him, Hamley moaned, saying, "I'm sorry". He then asked, "Why did you shoot me?" He died a short time later.
The grand jury made special note of the fact that Trooper Norman was on the scene for less than one minute when he shot Hamley, and that he "made no attempt to communicate with State Trooper Wilson Short or the Washington County Sheriff's deputies."
"We will note that we are extremely troubled by the lack of communication between the officers from the Arkansas State Police themselves and, too, with the Washington County Sheriff's Deputies, who were on a scrambled radio frequency," the grand jury concluded. "As a result of their lack of communication, there was no coordinated plan of action between them."
"We will also note that we are disturbed by the fact that there was no attempt to positively identify the subject prior to the shooting."
The grand jury also was concerned that the officers' microphones were either turned off or nonexistent, preventing recordings to be made of their conversations during and after the incident.
Members of Hamley's family told reporters after his death that he had trouble communicating verbally because of his disabilities, and often put his hands in his pockets when he was nervous.
The grand jury viewed several toy balls that were taken from Hamley's pockets after he was fatally shot.
"Complete text of the grand jurys report" (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)
"Public Reaction Next Up" (The Morning News)
"Sheriff: Deputy didnt break rule in quieting audio" (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)
"Erin Hamley: Innocent Man Shot By State Trooper" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)