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Former Lonoke County Sheriff’s Deputy sentenced for the death of unarmed teen

By not being charged with felony manslaughter but rather negligent homicide, Michael Davis could again become a law enforcement officer once his sentence is served.

CABOT, Ark. — On June 23, 2021, 17-year-old Hunter Brittain was working on his truck when he was stopped by former Lonoke County Sheriff Sergeant Michael Davis. Brittain never made it home.

The teen, unarmed, was shot in the lower right side of his neck. Brittain was transferred to a nearby hospital where he died.

On Tuesday, March 15, 2022, the trial for Michael Davis began. In November 2021, Davis plead not guilty to felony manslaughter charges in the death of Brittain.

The trial was moved to the Cabot Readiness Center in an effort to shield the jury of nine women and three men from outside influences. Evidence and testimony were shown to the jurors before closing arguments were heard on Thursday.

The prosecution called Jordan King to the stand to give his testimony during the trial. King was with Brittain at the time of the early morning traffic stop. The two had been working on the vehicle at a repair shop and were out test driving the truck and on their way back to the shop when they were stopped by Davis and another deputy.

According to an affidavit, Brittain exited the vehicle and was near the tailgate reaching down when he was shot.

Jurors were shown an hour-long portion of an interview with Davis five days after the shooting. In the emotional interview, Davis recounted the events leading up to the shooting. The interview indicated Davis yelled for Brittain to “put your hands up” but that Brittain failed to listen to the command. King stated during his testimony that he never heard the commands being given.

In the interview, Davis was questioned about his body cam. The body cam was off during the incident and only turned on after Brittain had been shot.

Prosecutors called Davis’ former boss, Lonoke County Sheriff John Staley, who testified that this was not the first time Davis had issues with his body cam.

As the defense rounded out their case, Davis took the stand himself. His character, history as a volunteer firefighter, and being a father were discussed for jurors to hear. In his testimony, Davis got emotional multiple times and said that due to the truck being loud and smoking, the time of day, Brittain not listening to his commands, and not being able to see Brittain’s hands were the reason why Davis feared for his life and fired his weapon.

On Thursday, March 17, the trial was sent to the jury for deliberation. The trial resumed on Friday, March 18 and after two hours a verdict was reached.

Davis was found guilty of negligent homicide and was sentenced to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Davis was facing a potential sentence of three to 10 years in prison.

Following the verdict, prosecuting attorney Devon Jacob said, “What the jury said is that a law enforcement officer in uniform committed a crime, and the jury has said that Hunter Brittain was unlawfully killed by Michael Davis. That’s what this jury says…that’s a strong finding.”

By not being charged with felony manslaughter but rather negligent homicide, Davis could once again seek employment as a law enforcement officer once his sentence is served. A possibility that Brittain’s grandmother, Rebecca Payne was not pleased with.

“Now what’s going to happen? Are people gonna have to fear for their life again? Once he gets back, you know, he’ll go back to the force,” Payne said.

Davis’ attorney, Robert Newcomb, and his team were looking for their client to be found not guilty on both charges, but noted juries often go with lesser charges. 

“I was hoping for a not guilty verdict on both charges. I’ll say I’m not necessarily surprised by that burden,” Newcomb said.

Moving forward, both Brittain’s family and Michael Davis will be involved in separate civil lawsuits against the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office. The family of Hunter Brittain says they will continue to tell his story to keep his memory alive.

RELATED: Arkansas deputy found guilty of negligent homicide in the death of Hunter Brittain

RELATED: Civil rights activist rally for Arkansas teen fatally shot by deputy

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