AP NEWS

Internal probe clears Arkansas cops in dealership shooting

July 3, 2019

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A police investigation cleared two central Arkansas officers who fatally shot a man who was allegedly trying to steal a pickup truck from a car dealership.

Jacksonville police released video of the death of Tramon Savage, 22, after a news conference Tuesday in which police Chief John Franklin said an internal investigation found both officers’ actions were justified. The department is awaiting the results of the Pulaski County prosecutor’s review.

Franklin said two members of the cleaning crew at a Ford dealership heard a noise near midnight June 13. One flagged down Officer Logan Kulesa, who was in the area and called for backup.

The video shows Kulesa observe a man attempt to start a Ford F-250. Officer Shawn Jones arrives, and the two enter the brightly lit dealership through open bay doors with their guns drawn. The officers announce themselves loudly multiple times as Jacksonville police, and shout for Savage, behind tinted windows of the truck, to show his hands.

Savage briefly pulls forward in the pickup, momentarily stops, then drives toward the open bay doors as the officers shout at him to stop, each officer moving to opposite sides of the truck. Savage continues driving toward Kulesa and the open door, and multiple gunshots can be heard — though it’s not clear from the video which officer shot first. The truck then stops near the exit.

Franklin said the two officers couldn’t see each other and feared for each other’s safety. He also said both officers couldn’t see well into the vehicle because the windows were tinted. No weapon was found. Savage was black; both officers who shot him are white.

Officers removed Savage from the truck and attempted lifesaving measures until an ambulance took him to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Franklin said while the department ruled the shooting was justifiable, they also revealed some “training issues” he planned on addressing.

“I’m not going to tell you I’m totally happy with the incident itself,” Franklin said, adding, “Under the circumstances, fearing for their life, fearing for each other’s lives, they fired in self-defense of each other and at that point I can’t rule it as anything else but justifiable.”

Both Jones and Kulesa were placed on administrative paid leave after the shooting, police spokesman Lieutenant Richard Betterton said.

Savage’s family viewed the videos before the news conference, Franklin said. A spokesman for the Jacksonville chapter of the NAACP, who viewed the video with Savage’s family, said the family planned to hold a news conference in the coming days.

Franklin also distanced the incident from a fatal February shooting of a black motorist in Little Rock. Bradley Blackshire was killed when Officer Charles Starks maneuvered onto the hood of the car Blackshire was slowly driving and shot at least 15 times through the windshield.

“That officer made a decision to step in front of the path of the vehicle,” Franklin said. “Our policies forbid such actions and our officers complied with our policies.”

In April, Pulaski County Prosecutor Larry Jegley declined to charge Starks for the killing, saying he “was confronted with the imminent threat of deadly force” by both the moving car and the belief that Blackshire would shoot him. The Little Rock Police Department fired Starks in May.

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