North Little Rock police release dash cam video of fatal officer-involved shooting

North Little Rock police say Charles Smith Jr. was fatally shot after firing a weapon during an encounter with officers on Sunday morning. (Photo courtesy: North Little Rock Police Dept.)

The North Little Rock Police Department has released dash cam video of a fatal encounter between police and 17-year-old Charles Smith, Jr.

Chief Mike Davis says the prosecuting attorney's office and police department felt that the video, which was shown to Smith's family earlier Wednesday, needed to be released to clear up misinformation spreading on social media.

Police report the shooting occurred after officers stopped a vehicle for excessive speed and a non-functioning headlight about 1 a.m. Sunday at West 52nd Street and Camp Robinson Road. The vehicle was occupied by the driver, the front passenger, and Smith, who was the right, rear passenger.

In the video, officers note the driver's nervousness during a patdown and are granted permission to search the vehicle. The driver and front passenger then exit the car and sit on the sidewalk.

Police say Smith also exited the vehicle and, during a patdown for weapons, was told three times to stop reaching in his waistband. Davis says police found a small bag of marijuana in his pocket, but as officer's continued the patdown, authorities say Smith attempted to gain control of a handgun and flee, at which point he was taken to the ground.

During the struggle with police, Smith can be heard saying, "I can't go to jail."

The police chief says one officer attempted to deploy a Taser but was unsuccessful.

An officer is then heard saying, "It's a ****ing gun."

According to the police chief, the video then shows Smith pulling a handgun from his waistband and firing a shot that almost hit the two people sitting on the sidewalk and a second shot that almost struck an officer in the face.

Davis says an officer near Smith returned fire as other officers also fired at "very close range."

Smith died at the scene from his injuries.

Davis says officers later recovered a stolen gun located on the driver's side floorboard of the vehicle.

"I want to offer my condolences to the Smith family and my prayers as well," said Chief Davis. "I also want to ask for continued support for not only the officers involved in this tragic incident but to all officers who are out serving and protecting our city each and every day."

At this time, the police department has not released the names of the officers who fired shots as it takes steps to make sure they are safe. According to the chief, the department and officers have both received death threats.

"I want our people to feel comfortable. I want our young people to feel comfortable as well and not be fearful," said Davis, saying he hopes releasing the video will help get the truth out and allow authorities to continue with their investigation.

The prosecuting attorney will be given a case file to determine if the use of deadly force used was justified. The police department will also conduct an internal investigation to determine if any department policies were violated.

Smith's family has hired attorney Lee Merritt out of Philadelphia. He released this statement Wednesday afternoon:

On Sunday January 7, 2018, seventeen-year-old Charles Smith, Jr. was fatally shot by North Little Rock Police officers following a traffic stop that occurred at approximately 1 a.m. The family of the slain teenager is now calling for law enforcement and the District Attorney’s office to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into the traffic stop, subsequent search, use of deadly force and treatment of the decedent immediately after the shooting.
Our office has been retained to gather evidence concerning incident and evaluate the constitutionality of the use of force and subsequent actions and/or inaction by law enforcement.
Whenever a life is taken under the color of state authority it is a tragedy. Justice demands that the family of the decedent be treated with the utmost respect and be provided access to all available evidence in order to ensure accountability. At a minimal, the family and there representatives must be granted access to all available body and dashcam footage as well as the employment files of the officers involved in the deadly shooting. Evidence that appears to be exculpatory to the officers has already been released to the media, along with the unrelated criminal records of the decedent. The Smith family encourages local officials not to follow a common pattern of character assassination and obscurity concerning important facts.

Merrit spoke to Channel 7 by phone, after being asked if he felt the shooting was justified after viewing the video.

"It's too soon to draw that conclusion," said Merritt. "I think there's too much evidence still not made available. So--what we saw today, what media was given today, what general public was given today, we saw and hear what law enforcement wants us to see."

Merritt is expected to be in North Little Rock on Thursday morning.

*Disclaimer: The dash cam video has been edited by KATV to exclude footage of the 17-year-old being shot and expletives. It has also been edited by KATV to not include an officer's name and video that clearly identifies the officers, as they have not been named by the North Little Rock Police Department. The police department slowed down and put red circles on parts of the video.

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