Arkansas District Attorney Clears Officers In Shooting of Aries Bortez Clark

Local News

No criminal charges for two Marion, Arkansas officers involved in the deadly shooting of a 16-year-old boy in July, according to Arkansas District Attorney Scott Ellington.

Aries Clark was shot by police outside of an East Arkansas Youth Services building in Marion July 25.  

Newly released police body cam video shows Clark holding what investigators later found out was a BB gun.

Wednesday, Ellington’s office released 4 police body cam videos along with a letter explaining why the officers involved were justified in this case. 

The officers involved in the shooting were identified as Brannon Hinkle and Wesley Smith. Marion Police Chief Gary Kelley said both would return to duty.

“Aries yeah I can help ya. I can help ya man drop the gun. Dude step away,” said Officer Smith in the released body cam video from July 25.

Multiple videos released by the District Attorney’s office illustrate how Smith and other law enforcement spent about 10 minutes pleading with Clark and ordering him multiple times to put his gun down. 

Smith also called Aries by name several times and made a reference to meeting Aries in the past.

It’s not clear through the video if Clark said anything to the officers. 

According to the letter, Clark faced officers south of him, moved toward them and raised his firearm.

Smith fired his weapon immediately. Clark was hit in the back of his head, back, and butt. Hinkle also fired his weapon, but his shots did not hit Clark.Hinkle also fired his weapon, but his shots did not hit Clark.

When the firearm was removed from Clark’s hand an ambulance was called and life-saving techniques were used to try and save his life. Clark later died at a hospital.

The firearm recovered near his body was a BB gun.

According to Ellington, Clark was trying to return to the youth services facility where he was placed by an earlier court order. Clark left the facility July 23 without approval had been gone for 2 days without permission.

He tried twice to return on July 25, but people are not allowed to return to the facility until police clear them of any drugs or weapons, that is when Marion police were called.

Clark’s family attorney released a statement saying in part: 

“No one from Marion Police Department, Arkansas State Police, nor the District Attorney’s office has contacted the family to advise them of this decision. Therefore, the family is not certain who or what to believe.” 

It went on to say, they are reviewing the footage and conducting their own investigation before making any comments on their next step.

The Marion Police Chief declined an on camera interview but said he agrees with the district attorney’s decision and that the video speaks for itself.

The two officers involved in the shooting identified will return to duty.

 

 
STATEMENT REGARDING ARIES CLARK SHOOTING
 
This afternoon the family of Aries Clark notified my office that a media source had contacted them for comment regarding the officers not being charged in Aries’ killing.
No one from Marion Police Department, Arkansas State Police, nor the District Attorney’s office has contacted the family to advise them of this decision. Therefore, family is not certain who or what to believe. At this point, the family has not viewed any of the footage and thus has no comment to offer.
My office was provided with a link to the footage a short while ago and has begun to review it.
We will proceed with our independent investigation and continue our review of the footage. We will make a determination of next steps once our investigation has concluded.
Please direct any further questions or comments regarding this matter to me.
Thank you,
Kim T. Cole, J.D.
K. Cole Law, PLLC
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Statement By Scott Ellington
Prosecuting Attorney
2nd Judicial District
 
Officer Involved Shooting – Marion Police Department
Dear Colonel Bryant:
My office has reviewed the above referenced case summary submitted by the Arkansas State Police concerning an officer involved shooting on July 25, 2017, involving Aries Bortez Clark, 16 years old, of Crittenden County, Arkansas. After our review, this office concludes that Marion Police officers Brannon Hinkle and Wesley Smith were justified in using lethal force.
Arkansas Code Annotated Section 5-2-601(b)(2) allows the use of deadly force if the officer reasonably believes that the use of deadly force is necessary to defend himself or a third person from what he reasonably believes to be the use – or imminent use – of deadly force. The investigation revealed that Marion Police Officers Wesley Smith and Brannon Hinkle were confronted with circumstances justifying the use of deadly force the afternoon Aries Clark was shot.
Employees of the East Arkansas Youth Services (EAYS) located at 104 Cypress Avenue in Marion, Arkansas, contacted Marion Police Department on July 25, 2017 and requested police assistance after Aries Clark, a juvenile male, came to the facility attempting to gain entry into the building. Clark had been placed at EAYS by an earlier court order. He left the facility on July 23, 2017 without permission or court approval. His status was what is commonly referred to as AWOL – absent without leave. EAYS is not a locked down facility – meaning youths are not locked inside and are not prevented from leaving the facility if they take a notion to disobey a court’s placement order and walk away.
On July 25, 2017 at approximately 6:35 P.M., Clark returned to the facility. He was not permitted into the facility and he left. At approximately 7:06 P.M., Clark returned a second time and EAYS staff called dispatch and Marion Police Department (MPD) was called to respond. This is a common practice at the facility. When residents walk away from the facility they are not permitted back into the facility until they are cleared of possession of drugs or weapons by the MPD.
The first officer to respond to EYAS observed that Clark had a handgun. According to radio logs, the responding officer notified dispatch and other officers about the gun at 7:11 p.m. Officers repeatedly advised Clark to put the gun down. Several other officers responded to the area, including deputies with Crittenden County Sheriff’s Office. Clark did not obey the clear audible commands to drop the gun given by officers.
An audio record of the incident was captured on four body cameras worn by officers who responded. Only one of the police issued body cameras captured video footage of Clark’s movements. The other three were obstructed or not perfectly aligned with the subject as the encounter unfolded. However, the audio captured on all four body cameras indicates officers ordered, cajoled, encouraged, and begged Clark to rid himself of the weapon. As officers attempted to convince Clark to drop his weapon, the juvenile turned and focused his attention on other officers to the south of him. Officers on the scene continued to negotiate with Clark for well over ten minutes attempting to get him to drop the weapon. A few seconds after the ten minute mark, Clark faced the officers to the south of him and advanced in that direction. Clark pointed his weapon in the direction of those officers. Observing the imminent danger the other officers were in, Officer Smith immediately fired his service weapon at Clark, who was struck multiple times. Clark collapsed to the ground and officers approached in a tactical manner. As soon as the gun was removed from Clark’s hand, officers immediately summoned an ambulance on the scene and life saving techniques were used in an attempt to save Clark’s life. Clark was transported to Regional One hospital where he succumbed to his injuries and died.
The footage from Officer Smith’s body camera shows Clark acting agitated and then it shows him raising his gun toward the officers he was facing. Two stills from the video clearly show Clark with a gun in his hand.
The investigation reveals two officers fired their service weapons. Officer Hinkle was on the southwest side of the EAYS building, south of Clark and in Clark’s line of fire. Evidence reveals Hinkle fired two shots and from his rifle but neither struck Clark. Agents recovered two .223 caliber shell casings near the position where Hinkle stood during the incident.
Officer Wesley Smith took a position northwest of the building behind a shade tree. When Clark raised his gun toward Hinkle and the other officers, Smith was to Clark’s right rear. He stepped from behind the tree and fired his service weapon four times, striking Clark three of those four times. This is consistent with the medical examiner’s findings that the entry wounds of the three shots that hit Clark were in the back of his head, in his back, and in his buttocks. Agents recovered four .40 caliber shell casings near the position where Smith fired his service weapon.
Agents also recovered a solid black 1911 BB pistol from the location where Clark fell after he was shot.
Agents conducted interviews of all law enforcement officers present during the shooting as well as civilian witnesses who observed the incident unfold. All reported to agents that Clark raised his gun toward the officers who were standing south of his location prior to Smith and Hinkle discharging their weapons. This is consistent with what is shown in the body camera video and a video provided by a civilian bystander.
Clark’s actions that day brought about the circumstances that threatened the lives of at least four law enforcement officers had the gun he brandished been a firearm as was perceived by the responding officers, and I cannot find that the officers acted criminally. Therefore, I find the officers were justified under these circumstances and no criminal charges will be filed in this matter.
I understand there is considerable media interest in this case. I will retain portions of the body camera videos and the civilian video for a limited period of time on a digital platform to make available to the press. My copies of the preliminary investigation summary and body camera videos will be returned to the Arkansas State Police immediately. I understand your agency will continue your investigation of this matter, specifically by collecting the final autopsy, toxicology, and other data necessary to make your file complete. If you have any please let me know. Thank you for your service.
 
Sincerely,
Scott Ellington
Prosecuting Attorney
2nd Judicial District

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