The death of
a mentally retarded Springdale man this week has law enforcement experts
wondering if police should have tried nonlethal weapons before shooting
Joseph Erin Hamley, 21, was shot Tuesday morning after police stopped
him as he walked along U. S. 412 west of Tontitown. Police suspected
Hamley was Adam Lee Leadford, an 18-year-old escapee from a Michigan
prison boot camp. Hamley, who also suffered from cerebral palsy, didn’t
obey officers’ commands and repeatedly put his hands in his pockets, a
witness and police said.
Arkansas State Police Trooper Larry Norman fired once with a shotgun.
Hamley died two hours later at Northwest Medical Center of Washington
County in Springdale. Four other officers — another trooper and three
Washington County sheriff’s deputies — were present but didn’t fire.
Doug Norwood, a criminaldefense attorney from Rogers with experience in
filing civil rights lawsuits against police, said he is surprised that
whatever prompted Norman to fire his weapon didn’t prompt the four other
officers to fire.
“I just can’t imagine five trained police officers couldn’t find any
other way to arrest one, skinny handicapped guy,” said Norwood, a former
prison guard with a criminology degree.
Siloam Springs resident Don Clark, who said he witnessed the incident,
counts himself among those who believe Norman did nothing wrong.
It was Clark who first saw Hamley, who had a shaved head, walking along
U. S. 412 west of Tontitown and called 911. Clark believed Hamley was
Leadford, who also has a shaved head.
“If I was in his shoes, I probably would have shot, too,” said Clark, a
fleet manager at J. B. Hunt Transport Services, Inc. in Lowell. “I think
maybe [Hamley ] just didn’t understand. It would have been a tough
situation had I been a trooper, looking at it from a civilian’s
perspective. “ If I would have thought this trooper was gung-ho, I would
have seen it, but he was shook. He was shook like I was. Who would be OK
after shooting somebody ?”
State troopers, as
well officers in other Arkansas police agencies, fill out “use-of-force”
reports every time they use pepper spray, twist the arm of a suspect,
fire a gun or use other means to deal with an unruly person. Those
reports are kept by the individual agencies. There’s no central location
where the reports are sent for analysis. Instead, it’s often police
lieutenants, captains or chiefs who review their officers’ actions.
Among the 232 use-of-force reports turned into the Arkansas State Police
central office in Little Rock since Jan. 1, 2002, 13 were instances in
which troopers fired a gun intending to hit a person, said Bill Sadler,
spokesman for the state police.
The general guidelines within the agency’s Policy and Procedure Manual
gives troopers specific instructions about how to deal with use-of-force
“When feasible, officers should attempt to obtain voluntary compliance
with lawful commands through verbal communications and other nonforceful
means,” the policy reads. “When the use of force is necessary, officers
should use only such force as is reasonably necessary under the
circumstances to carry out their duties.”
Sadler wouldn’t say Thursday whether Norman should have used nonlethal
options before firing his gun or whether he carried any of those
nonlethal options. He wouldn’t say whether Norman violated any policy
when he fired the shot that killed Hamley.
Springdale’s use-of-force policy is more specific, offering a scale of
options that has “increasing severity.” It suggests an officer identify
himself to a suspect, followed by verbal commands, hand control of a
suspect, chemical sprays or electronic restraint devices, more harsh
hand control, a baton and then deadly force.
Tom Aveni, founder of the national Police Policy Studies Council and
an expert in what he describes as “questionable shootings,” said police
policies on use of force are fairly standard nationwide.
The general rule is officers are allowed to fire their guns to protect
the public or themselves.
Departments typically encourage an appropriate response to each
incident, Aveni said. For example, pepper spray or a Taser would be the
appropriate weapon to use on a man who’s only raised his fists, Aveni
“You could ask that question as to whether use of impact weapons or
pepper spray would have been more appropriate,” Aveni said. “If an
officer thinks deadly force is appropriate and already has his handgun
drawn, he’s under no obligation to use a Taser. But what we’ve found is
that agencies who issue Tasers have seen dramatic drops in the use of
NO TROOPER TASERS
Police officers don’t carry Tasers, but the agency is studying their
usefulness, Sadler said. State troopers carry pepper spray, collapsible
batons and flashlights, and they are trained to use each as non-lethal
weapons. It’s unknown whether the three Washington County sheriff’s
office deputies at the U. S. 412 scene with Norman had Tasers. The
department owns eight Tasers, and deputies have the option of checking
them out before they start their shifts. Non-lethal weapons don’t
always work, Aveni said. One of his research projects showed that 12
percent of all shootings in Los Angeles County, Calif., were preceded by
officers’ attempts to use non-lethal force.
That’s exactly what the Washington County sheriff’s office said happened
Sunday when Sgt. Brian Comstock shot a man in Prairie Grove. Comstock
tried to restrain Paul Isaac Monroe, 29, with his police baton,
according to a department release, but that didn’t work.
When Monroe broke a mirror and used a piece of it to make aggressive
actions toward Comstock, the lawman fired his gun, striking Monroe in
Peter Scharf, a criminologist at the University of New Orleans, said
police dealing with suspects should rely on a practice of “sitting,
waiting and talking” before taking action against a person who isn’t
following verbal instructions.
Clark said he saw the officers talking to Hamley, and he saw Hamley
continually move his hands in and out of his pockets as he stood facing
Norman. Clark said he was too far away to hear what was being said, but
he knew Hamley wasn’t following their instructions.
Nationwide, there are what experts call furtive-movement shootings,
Aveni said. Those are instances in which individuals do such things as
reach in their pockets, open a glove compartment in a vehicle or do
something else that gives officers reason to believe someone may be
reaching for a weapon.
“People get shot because they go to put their cell phone in their
pocket,” Aveni said.
Scharf, author of The Badge and the Bullet, a book about useof-force
options, said hands in the pockets alone shouldn’t be a reason to shoot
“The theory in The Badge and the Bullet is that most shootings are
[avoidable ] early in the sequence of decisions, but then later when
guns are drawn, it may not be as [avoidable ],” Scharf said.
“Some of these less-lethal technologies may have [been ] options. You
don’t know what the circumstances were yet. In fairness to the cops, you
can’t make a post-hoc judgment.”
Aveni reasoned that officers might have responded more strongly if
they believed Hamley was Leadford, the prison escapee. Leadford was
convicted in Michigan for resisting and obstructing police, malicious
destruction of a building, 11 counts of intentional damage to a school
bus and breaking or entering. He had fled to Arkansas and was believed
to be armed.
Clark said he remembers referring to the Michigan escapee when he called
911, and he remembers a dispatcher mentioning it back to him in the
When told that the man had a shaved head and that Leadford had a
shaved head, Aveni said that would have been another clue to lead police
to believe they were confronting Leadford.
Officers working for police agencies not involved in the U. S. 412
shooting declined to comment on it, saying the actions of one police
agency shouldn’t be questioned by another before all the facts are
“I wouldn’t want to second guess anybody at this point,” said
Bentonville Police Chief James Allen.
The Arkansas State Police have not yet completed an administrative
review of the shooting, Sadler said.