In June, at 3 a.m. on a dark stretch of a highway in rural Arkansas, 17-year-old Hunter Brittain was shot and killed by a sergeant from the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office.
The white teen’s death prompted protests in a region of the state not known for speaking out against police violence. It also attracted the attention of Black civil rights leaders like attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing Brittain’s family, and has stood alongside them as they’ve called for justice.
On Friday, Jeff Phillips, a special prosecutor assigned to the case, announced that Michael Davis, the sergeant who shot Brittain, will be charged with manslaughter for “recklessly” shooting at Brittain.
According to an affidavit read by Phillips at a press conference, Brittain was test-driving a pickup truck with his cousin that the two spent the night tinkering on at a local repair shop. The car, which had transmission issues, began smoking and was pulled over by Davis as it neared the repair shop.
In an interview with investigators, Davis said that before he could put his own car in park, Brittain jumped out and moved to the rear of the truck and began reaching into the bed as it slowly rolled backward. Davis said he gave commands to Brittain to show his hands that were ignored. When Brittain was about to remove his hands from the back of the truck, Davis said he shot once before he could see what Brittain was holding.
Davis’ attorney, Robert Newcomb, previously told The Daily Beast that Davis feared the worst when Brittain hopped out and reached into the bed of his truck.
But it turned out to just be a jug of antifreeze.
Jordan King, Brittain’s cousin who was in the car with him at the time, said Brittain hopped out with the jug to place it behind the truck’s tires—which is something the teen always did to help stop the old truck. But King said Davis never gave any commands to Brittain before he shot him.
The two conflicting narratives were hampered by the fact that Davis’ body camera was never turned on during the quick encounter. Shortly after the shooting, Davis was fired by the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office for breaking their body-camera policy.
The investigation of the shooting was quickly turned over to the Arkansas State Police. In July, Phillips, a prosecutor from a district on the other side of the state, was assigned to handle the case.
His press conference on Friday was brief and he refused to take questions. “I don’t want to jeopardize this case, it’s too important,” he said.
Crump, in a statement, said the charges were the first step “in the pursuit of justice” for Brittain, adding that his shooting was the “latest example of law enforcement shooting first and asking questions later.”
After Phillips’ announcement that a warrant would be issued for Davis’ arrest on Friday, the courtroom burst into cheers.
If convicted of manslaughter, Davis could be sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in prison.
His attorney, Newcomb, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Wendy Lindsey, Hunter’s cousin, said in an interview shortly after the announcement on Friday that she was happy “at least something was done.” But she added that she didn’t think the manslaughter charge for Davis was enough.
“I think it’s murder,” she said. “He took a life.”