LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The police officers involved in a fatal altercation with a man at a south Little Rock apartment complex have returned to duty, even though the encounter is still under investigation.
Officer Donna Lesher and Detective Tabitha McCrillis were placed on administrative leave after the Dec. 9 shooting death of Eugene Edward Ellison, 67.
Lesher and McCrillis were working off-duty security detail at the Big Country Chateau apartments when they saw Ellison's door open and walked in to see if he needed help because his apartment was in disarray, police said.
Police spokesman Lt. Terry Hastings said Ellison immediately attacked the officers, taking a nightstick away from one of them for a time, then using a heavy wooden cane as a weapon. The officers used pepper spray twice but it had no effect on Ellison, who authorities said had a history of mental illness.
Lesher shot Ellison twice in the chest. He was pronounced dead at a hospital.
On Friday, Hastings said that Lesher and McCrillis had completed mandatory counseling sessions and went back to their regular duties. Hastings noted that officers aren't required to remain on administrative leave while a matter is investigated.
Ellison's funeral was Friday. Among the family members he left behind were two police officers — one on the Little Rock police force and one who left that agency to take a job in Texas.
Lesher's husband, Sgt. James Lesher, is a homicide supervisor for the department.
Hastings said the department is conducting an internal investigation and a criminal probe, to determine whether the killing was justified. He said the department does not see a conflict of interest because the agency routinely conducts its own investigations after an officer-involved shooting.
No one with ties to the case is involved in the investigation, he said.
The Arkansas State Police declined a request Tuesday to take over the investigation.
"We've kept the door open to provide any additional expertise or service that the prosecutor may want to ask of us once the local investigation is turned over to him," state police spokesman Bill Sadler said.
Sadler it would not have been possible to conduct a "credible" investigation since Little Rock police had already taken control of the evidence in the case and spoken with witnesses.
Sadler said state troopers could conduct additional interviews or perform other services if Prosecutor Larry Jegley asks.
Jegley said he doesn't see a problem with Little Rock police conducting the investigation.
"They do it all the time," Jegley said, noting that he had two deputy prosecutors at the scene the night of Ellison's death.
"They're put in a position where deadly force is used and we make sure that the proper protocols are followed," Jegley said.
The prosecutor said he didn't expect to convene a grand jury, a rare procedure at the state court level in Arkansas.
The day after the shooting, Hastings distributed records going back three years of calls to police dispatchers from the apartment complex. There were 119 calls there this year and 368 calls during the past three years, according to the records.
The call logs showed there were 19 simple assault complaints and seven complaints of assault with a weapon in 2009, including an incident in which a person was shot to death. In 2010, simple assault calls were down to 12, and there were six aggravated assault complaints.
Carl Schultz, who owns the complex, said the apartments are much safer than when he took over the property a year ago. Schultz said he has off-duty police officers work there to enforce the rules in the lease.
Schultz said he wasn't at the apartments, located across the street from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, when the shooting occurred.
"The police department has to handle whatever they have to handle in that situation," he said. "It's a very unfortunate situation that happened. I was not there to render a judgment."
Schultz said he knew Ellison and attended his funeral.
"Mr. Ellison was a super nice guy, a very quiet, keep-to-himself kind of guy," Ellison said. "He was constantly in his unit, with the door open to get fresh air."
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