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Didn’t fight officer outside Little Rock restaurant, beaten man testifies

Chris Erwin, the Little Rock man who was captured on a cellphone video getting punched in the face by a uniformed police officer outside a restaurant 5 years ago, testified Monday that he didn’t comply with the officer’s commands because he was dazed and disoriented — not because he was resisting arrest.

“I was scared. I thought I was going to be shot,” Erwin told a federal jury as his civil trial against the since-retired officer, Lt. David Hudson, began. The two-minute scuffle between the internal auditor for the state Department of Human Services and the seasoned officer took place on the night of Oct. 29, 2011, outside Ferneau, an upscale restaurant in the Hillcrest neighborhood where Hudson was working off-duty as a security guard. Minutes earlier, a bartender had come outside and asked Hudson to speak to two men about leaving the restaurant, and Hudson had gone inside and ordered Erwin and his group to leave. Erwin was with his girlfriend; his friend, T. Blake Mitchell; and Mitchell’s wife. The men later said they had no idea when they sat at a table near the stage in one part of the restaurant that they were intruding on a private Halloween party.

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Erwin said he was in the restaurant when Hudson “came and hit me on the back and said, ‘You need to go.’ I said, ‘OK.'”

He said he was “sober as could be” when he walked out of the restaurant minutes later after paying the tab and, upon seeing Hudson approaching, asked who had wanted them to leave, only to be spun face-first against a brick wall. A roughly two-minute cellphone video that began after Erwin said Hudson grabbed him and threw him face-first against the wall was played in a federal courtroom. It showed Erwin taking three steps toward Hudson as the officer spoke into a radio on the lapel of his uniform to call for backup. The video, somewhat obscured by onlookers and exterior walls, then shows the men scuffling, and Hudson rapidly punching Erwin in the face seven times with a closed fist. The scuffle continued and Erwin ended up on the ground with Hudson sitting on top of him, handcuffing his arms behind his back.

Erwin can be heard telling another officer a short time later, “That was uncalled — that was crazy. … That guy is out of control. … I didn’t do a thing. He just started hitting me. … I want his job.”

Little Rock attorney Bill James, who is representing Hudson on accusations of using excessive force, suggested in his cross-examination that Hudson couldn’t have known what Erwin’s intentions were when he took steps toward the officer. Both Erwin and Hudson are relatively large men. Hudson has said that an employee told him there was “a group of individuals inside the private party who were not supposed to be there and that they would not leave.” He has also said that the employee reported that he had asked the group to leave and that one of the men in the group responded, “Why don’t you kick my a** out?”

Both Erwin and Mitchell, who was also a plaintiff in the case until last week, denied Monday that they ever said that. Court documents don’t explain why Mitchell is no longer a plaintiff. Erwin, who is represented by Little Rock attorneys David H. Williams and Reggie Koch, and Brian G. Brooks of Greenbrier, testified that the encounter left him with swelling under his left eye and blood from a cut on his face, as jurors saw in a photograph taken afterward. He testified that he had a “big knot” under his eye for some time, for which he still feels numbness; and a sore back. He wants Hudson to pay the $13,657.41 on medical bills for a physical therapist, a neurologist, an emergency room visit, a vision-check at an eye clinic, an orthopedic specialist and a chiropractor.

Erwin is also seeking monetary damages for emotional trauma. His attorneys said he suffered post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the scuffle.

“Emotionally, it was really tough,” said Erwin, who is now a regional insurance producer who travels occasionally. He said that at the time, he had custody of his children from his former marriage, and because of the publicity after the video was posted online, his children were regularly taunted by others who said, “‘Your dad is a drunk and got beat up.'”

Erwin told James that he still lives at his mother’s house, as he did at the time, and that he drinks so little that they don’t even keep alcohol in the house. Earlier the night of the incident, he said, he had gone to a Catholic High fundraiser with the Mitchells and had “two small cups” of beer, then to Ciao Baci, another restaurant in the Hillcrest neighborhood, and finally to Ferneau, which was located at 2601 Kavanaugh Blvd., but closed a month later. Erwin said repeatedly that after he was spun into a wall, he was “in a daze. … I was scared to move. .. I was terrified. I could see in his eyes, and they were eyes of rage. … He was throwing a bunch of commands at me and I didn’t know what to do.”

“You never grabbed Lt. Hudson by the arm?” James asked.

“Absolutely not,” Erwin said.

Minutes later, after James showed the video again and asked Erwin, “What’s going on with your right arm?”

“It appears to be on his arm,” Erwin said, referring to Hudson, but adding that he didn’t remember that and was never a threat to Hudson. The video also shows Mitchell walking up behind the officer and touching him, telling him, “You can’t do that.”

Asked if Hudson was trying to get him to submit to an arrest, Erwin replied, “I was dazed right there. I just had my head smashed into a wall.”

James noted that a still photograph appears to show Erwin’s arm on Hudson’s face, to which Erwin responded, “No, I’m not fighting him.”

“Are you putting your hand on his face just to see how closely he shaved that day?” James demanded.

“I don’t think that’s my hand on his face,” Erwin replied. “I was still dazed like a deer in the headlights. I didn’t know what to do.”

“Why didn’t you just comply?” James asked.

“I didn’t know what to do,” Erwin repeated. “I was dazed. … I was not drunk.”

Erwin agreed with James that photos show Mitchell, who is taller than Hudson, hovering nearby, as a car alarm wails and people dressed in Halloween costumes, including Elvis and Smokey the Bear, surround them on the sidewalk, making the scene chaotic. He agreed that Mitchell appears close enough in the photos to be touching Hudson. The department suspended Hudson for a month after the incident, but the city Civil Service Commission later overturned the suspension. Meanwhile, misdemeanor charges against Erwin and Mitchell were eventually dismissed after a judge ruled that a prosecutor didn’t comply quickly enough with discovery requests.

The trial continues at 9 a.m. in U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr.’s Little Rock courtroom.

Metro on 06/13/2017

References

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