Thursday, December 7, 2017
A former Alexander police officer accused of wrongfully killing a 30-year-old man testified Wednesday that his shooting death was accidental and she can't remember whether she pulled the trigger.
In U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson's courtroom, Nancy Cummings retold the events of the day when she encountered Carleton Wallace.
The interaction, on Sept. 8, 2012, led to Wallace's death. He was fatally shot in the back as Cummings, then 46 and not yet a certified officer, attempted to handcuff him.
The jury must decide whether Cummings intentionally used excessive force in violation of Wallace's rights, as alleged in a lawsuit filed by Wallace's mother, or if the shooting was an accident, as Cummings' attorneys maintain.
The lawsuit claims Cummings shot Wallace as he tried to run away.
If the 10 women and two men of the jury decide Cummings used excessive force, they can award damages to Jacquelyn Wallace, who filed the wrongful-death lawsuit against Cummings, former Alexander Police Chief Horace Walters and the city of Alexander in 2014. Wilson dismissed everyone but Cummings from the case in 2015.
Cummings said Wednesday that she first saw Wallace on that September day walking in the middle of Brookwood Road in Alexander. He appeared to have a gun in his waistband, she said.
As Cummings spoke to him from her police sport utility vehicle, his words were "long and drawn out" and he appeared "high," she said.
Cummings said Wallace then pulled out the gun and pointed it at her.
At that point, Cummings said, she had exited her black Dodge Durango and had drawn her gun, a semi-automatic pistol. She yelled at Wallace to drop his weapon, and he tossed it aside.
Attorney Jimmy Morris Jr., who, along with Reggie Koch, represents Wallace's mother, asked Cummings why she did not radio for additional support.
Cummings said police walkie-talkies did not work in that part of town. It would have been unwise to return to her patrol unit to use the car radio, she added.
Instead, she tucked her pistol to her right side and walked Wallace to the front of the SUV. He placed his hands on the vehicle's hood.
It was then, according to Cummings' account, that Wallace "jerked real hard," throwing her off balance. The gun fired, striking Wallace in the back.
"The gun just went off by itself?" Morris asked.
"I'm not saying that," Cummings said. When asked whether she recalled pulling the trigger, Cummings said no.
While holding an unloaded training weapon, Morris said the type of gun Cummings was issued can't fire unless the trigger is pulled. He asked whether Cummings was suggesting that her finger "slipped" enough to pull both the safety and the trigger.
"He jerked me so hard I was actually falling," Cummings said, adding that the struggle took place in a matter of seconds.
Later Wednesday, jurors heard from Emmanuel Kapelsohn, a firearms expert from Virginia hired by Cummings' attorneys, who said the situation Cummings described is "absolutely consistent with involuntary muscular contraction," in which a finger resting on a gun reacts instinctively when the holder is startled or suddenly loses balance.
Kapelsohn testified that the trajectory of the bullet and the stippling it left on Wallace's bare back are consistent with Cummings being spun around and involuntarily firing the gun.
He said the evidence shows that "it cannot be" that Cummings drew the gun out of a holster or grabbed it off the hood and fired it, because in the time it takes to do that, "an average man would have covered 21 feet, and there would be no stippling."
A forensic pathologist testified Monday that the gun was fired from about 5 inches away. Kapelsohn testified he believed it was more like 3 or 4 inches away. There was also testimony that blood drops on the ground placed Wallace only 3 feet 8 inches from the patrol vehicle.
Kapelsohn told jurors that because of the way sound travels -- slower than light -- two boys standing 52 yards away at the time of the shooting "misperceived what was happening" and thought Wallace began running before the gun fired, which could not have happened.
As Cummings answered questions, she took breaks to dry her eyes and steady her breath.
Cummings' attorneys, John Wilkerson and Keith Wren, asked to play three minutes of her interview with Arkansas State Police, which investigated the shooting. Koch objected.
"This doesn't serve any purpose in this trial other than let the jury see her cry," he told Wilson.
"We just wanted to establish that she was upset," Wilkerson said.
Wilson allowed the jurors to hear the audio snippet. They also heard from Jacqueline Wallace.
She told the jury her son was the youngest of five children, a landscaper who adored the outdoors.
Aside from funeral costs and medical bills, her family is now raising her deceased son's child, Jacqueline Wallace said.
Cummings' defense then asked a blood spatter and forensics expert from North Carolina to testify.
Tom Martin disputed the plaintiff's claim that Wallace was trying to run away when he was shot. Blood droplets indicate the man was moving "very slowly," he said.
He also contested the testimony of the two boys who said they saw Cummings fire directly at Wallace.
Closing arguments are set to begin at 9 a.m. today in Wilson's Little Rock courtroom.
Information for this article was contributed by Linda Satter of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Metro on 12/07/2017
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