Prosecutor: Deputies use of force justified in Stone Co. officer-involved shooting

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STONE COUNTY, Ark. (KAIT) – A Stone County deputy’s use of deadly force in a shootout that killed the suspect and another deputy was justified, according to the prosecuting attorney.

According to our news content partner, the Stone County Leader, 16th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney C. Eric Hance found that Deputy Michael Stephen, who was killed in the shootout, and Deputy Sean Hickman used deadly force appropriately.

The Stone County Leader received the summary of the incident concluding with Hance’s determination and the prosecutor’s case file though a Freedom of Information Act request.

Hance received the findings from the Arkansas State Police and issued his determination in late October.

Hance’s summary stated at 8:02 a.m. on July 18, the Stone County Sheriff’s Office received a call about a disturbance in the 2000-Block of Flag Road.

The caller told the sheriff’s office a woman, identified as Erika Johnson, called her saying she needed to go to the hospital because Samuel Fullerton beat her.

It was found that Fullerton had a felony warrant for charges of terroristic threatening, aggravated assault, and battery from 2018 and it had not been served.

Deputies Stephen, Hickman, and Tony Trammell went to the call and arrived at 8:39 a.m. after devising a tactical plan for Trammell to cover the back of the house.

Stephen was to make contact with the occupants inside the home and Hickman was to provide cover for Stephen from behind a vehicle.

Hance’s report obtained by the Stone County Leader said Stephen knocked on the door of the home and announced himself and Johnson came to the door, walked out onto the porch and closed the door behind her.

After a brief conversation with the woman, Fullerton opened the door and Stephen noticed immediately that Fullerton had a handgun.

Stephen told Fullerton to put the gun down and within three seconds of Fullerton appearing at the door, he pointed the gun at Stephen and fired several rounds at the deputy.

The report goes on to say Stephen unholstered his pistol and backed off the porch.

Fullerton continued to fire as he went back inside the house. Hickman and Stephen returned fire.

Hance’s summary stated that the gunfire lasted approximately seven seconds.

Fullerton died inside the home and Stephen died outside the home while Johnson also suffered a gunshot wound, likely from a shot fired from Fullerton.

It was found that Fullerton fired 12 rounds, Stephen fired nine rounds, and Hickman fired three rounds from his rifle. Trammell did not fire his weapon.

It was also found that neither deputy fired a shot until Fullerton began shooting.

Hance said in his summary that it was unclear whether Stephen or Hickman fired the shot or shots that killed Fullerton.

The Stone County Leader stated the complete ballistics testing was still pending at the time of Hance’s response.

The investigative case file from Arkansas State Police indicated that Stephen was shot at close range seven times, resulting in six wounds.

One of the bullets was lodged in the front of his safety vest.

Fullerton suffered two gunshot wounds to the chest with other wounds caused by debris as rounds were fired into the home.

Stephen was wearing a body camera, which Hance said he reviewed in real-time, frame by frame, and stop action.

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