Conway, Arkansas Police Release Bodycam Video of Lionel Morris’ Death in Supermarket

Conway, Arkansas Police Release Bodycam Video of Lionel Morris’ Death in Supermarket

As several Arkansas police officers pinned Lionel Morris on the floor of Harps Food Store in February, with the knee of one officer pressing into his back, the 39-year-old begged for help, repeatedly crying out “I can’t breathe.”

The Conway Police Department said that on Feb. 4, the supermarket reported that two men had removed a drone from its packaging. When officers arrived on the scene, Morris ran away, prompting a chase around the food store—until he was tased multiple times and punched at least twice.

But newly released body-camera footage shows the officers continued to use excessive force on Morris, even after he clearly said he was in duress, yelling about his heart and stating he couldn’t breathe during an encounter that lasted more than six minutes.  

“If you can talk, you can breathe. Chill out,” one Conway police officer responded. “We got an ambulance.” Minutes later, Morris was “pulseless and unresponsive.” He was pronounced dead while being transported to a local hospital.  

The officers involved in the February incident were cleared of criminal wrongdoing by the Arkansas State Police and local prosecutors on Wednesday. The shocking decision came the same day the supermarket’s security footage and the edited body-camera footage were released, showing a chaotic incident in which Morris clearly stated he was in duress. 

“After a thorough review, the prosecutor determined there was no evidence of any criminal wrongdoing by the Conway Police Department or the Conway police officers involved in this unfortunate incident,” Conway Police Chief William Tapley said in a Wednesday recorded statement in which he offered his “deepest condolences” to Morris’ family. 

Calling the incident “concerning,” Conway Mayor Bart Castleberry said Wednesday he instructed Tapley to place some of the officers on paid leave until an internal investigation is complete. He also ordered the bodycam footage of at least eight officers to be released. 

“While the police department has my full support, there are some behaviors that must change,” Castleberry said, though he didn’t say how many officers were placed on leave. “There is no place for racism in the City of Conway. It is time to have hard conversations.”

Authorities say that at around 4:25 p.m. on Feb. 4, officers responded to a call about alleged shoplifting at Harps Food Store. When they arrived, they approached Morris—who originally gave a fake name—and Brandy Arnold, and found the drone removed from its packaging, Tapley said. The chief said Arnold was arrested without incident but Morris ran “to avoid being taken into custody.” 

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