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Former Officer Tells Jury Use Of Force Was Necessary For Arrest

Chris Erwin in 2011 after his arrest.

Former Little Rock police Lt. David Hudson told a federal jury Tuesday that he took the only safe option available. That, he said, is why he repeatedly punched a man he asked to leave a Little Rock restaurant in 2011.

“After the seventh punch, I felt from his body, and his body language, that he was ready to submit to arrest,” said Hudson.

The trial, which began Monday before U.S. District Judge James Moody, is expected to wrap up by Wednesday. 

Chris Erwin is suing Hudson for damages. He suffered a cut on the side of his face, along with bruising and what he says is post-traumatic distress, after the officer hit him seven times outside Ferneau, then a restaurant in the Hillcrest neighborhood of the city.

Erwin, his friend T. Blake Mitchell, and two women, say they unknowingly entered what turned out to be a private party in the restaurant after attending a fundraising event at Little Rock Catholic High School and stopping by Ciao Baci, a bar in the neighborhood.

At Ferneau, they ordered drinks and the women danced for about 30-45 minutes before a bartender asked them to leave. Officer Hudson later asked them to leave the bar.

The altercation occurred minutes later, outside the restaurant, when Hudson attempted to arrest Erwin. The men tell disputing narratives about the scene outside.

Hudson testified Tuesday that Erwin approached him in an combative manner, repeatedly asking why his group been asked to leave the party. He said that he told Erwin to leave, and then, when he refused, he put him under arrest. He said he tried to restrain Erwin and was unable to. He said Erwin moved toward him while he radioed for help, which he called a red flag.

“It was not normal behavior,” he said. A video taken at the scene shows the officer tried to pushed him against the building and punched him at least seven times after being unable to turn Erwin toward the wall.

The "goal of the punches was to get him to submit to arrest,” said Hudson.

Erwin testified on Monday that he only asked the question once before he was put under arrest, without warning, and pushed against a wall. He said he suffered a blow to his head that disoriented and confused him making it harder to follow the officer’s commands.

“He charged at me,” said Erwin. “I did not resist arrest."

He was, he said, “trying to follow his commands,” and “didn’t know what to do.”

Maria Torres testified that she was with a friend at the restaurant patio when she saw and video recorded what she testified was Hudson’s “unbridled aggression” toward Erwin.

The host of the private business function inside, Tracy Rivers, testified that Erwin’s female friends were dancing provocatively and the group appeared to be drunk.

Erwin testified that he was sober.

Rivers said one of the women told the party DJ she would, “kick his ass” if he didn’t play better music, which prompted her to ask the management to ask them to leave.

Former Police Chief Stuart Thomas also took the stand Tuesday as a witness. He was questioned by both sides about the department’s use of force policy.

Questioning centered around whether the policy’s standard of “reasonable” use of force could be defined. Thomas testified he was unfamiliar with a specific definition.

Hudson had testified that he was within the policy’s stated use of force continuum and that he was allowed to use closed fist punches if other, “soft, empty-hand control” techniques were ineffective at inducing submission.

An internal investigation by the department into the incident found Hudson used excessive force. He was given a 30-day suspension which was then overturned by the Civil Service Commission. Testimony is expected to wrap up Wednesday.

This story is produced by Arkansas Public Media. What's that? APM is nonprofit journalism project for all of Arkansas and a collaboration among public media in the state. We're funded in part through a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with the support of partner stations KUAR, KUAF, KASU and KTXK. And, we hope, from you! You can learn more and support Arkansas Public Media’s reporting at Arkansas Public Media is Natural State news with context.

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