A judge has warned the defense attorney for ex-Little Rock police officer Josh Hastings that he could be removed from the courtroom if he continues to "disrupt" proceedings.
Judge Wendell Griffen's notice to attorney Bill James came after James responded to an order holding him in contempt of court with a renewed motion to have Griffen recuse from the case.
"The court has continued to show bias to me in a manner that is prohibiting [Hastings] from getting a fair trial," James said when the court resumed from a lunch break.
Just before the break, Griffen held James in contempt and said he would address is after the trial is done because James in the presence of the jury, though not within earshot, asked for proffer testimony about evidence Griffen had earlier ruled couldn't be included in the trial. The judge later revealed the evidence in question was regarding a gun in the car driven by the teen Hastings shot and the fact that the car was stolen.
Griffen responded sternly to James' renewed motion for him to recuse, noting the judge had "explicitly" ruled the evidence wasn't admissible in August, that James had already renewed all his motions on the first day of trial and that he didn't have the right to choose the judge for the case.
"It is not an act of vice against your client, sir, that the motions were denied, nor is it an act of vice that you were held in contempt," Griffen said. "Sir, you have a right to disagree with this court's rulings. You don't have a right to defy them."
The judge added that James was held in contempt "not because you were wrong, but because you were disrespectful" and warned him not to let it happen again.
"Even a lawyer who disrupts the proceeding can be removed from the courtroom," Griffen said, though he said it was not meant as a "threat."
The jury reentered after the exchange between James and Griffen and testimony then continued in the case.
Hastings is accused of fatally shooting 15-year-old Bobby Moore in August 2012 while responding to a report that teens Moore, Jeremiah Johnson and Keontay Walker were breaking into cars at a Little Rock apartment complex.
Hastings contends he opened fire when a car driven by Moore came toward him in the parking lot. Prosecutors contend it was stopped or going in reverse at the time and that Hastings acted recklessly in shooting.
Among the witnesses who took the stand Tuesday afternoon was Johnson, now 15. Like Walker earlier in the day, Johnson testified how he was with Moore leaving the complex in a vehicle after breaking into cars on the lot.
Johnson said Moore was slowing down before Hastings opened fire but seemed to offer varying responses during questioning Tuesday whether the car was going forward or backward when Moore was hit. But he told chief deputy prosecutor John Johnson there was no attempt made to run down Hastings.
"Did you all ever try to run over Officer Hastings," Johnson asked.
"No sir," Johnson replied.
1 p.m. UPDATE
One of the two teenagers who witnessed the fatal shooting of a 15-year-old suspect by a Little Rock police officer last year took the stand Tuesday as testimony began in the manslaughter trial of Josh Hastings.
And as the court broke for lunch, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen again held Hastings' attorney, Bill James, in contempt of court.
Hastings fatally shot Bobby Moore III while investigating a report the morning of Aug. 12, 2012, that Moore and two other teens were breaking into cars at a Little Rock apartment complex. Hastings contends he opened fire as Moore drove a car toward him. Prosecutors say he acted recklessly and that the car was stopped or in reverse at the time.
After the jury first heard from several police officers who responded to the scene to open testimony in the case, 17-year-old Keontay Walker took the stand.
Walker, who was 16 at the time, testified that he, Moore and 14-year-old Jeremiah Johnson had been "checking cars" at the complex, which he acknowledged meant breaking into them and taking items from inside.
He said they were leaving with Moore driving at a medium speed when they saw a flashlight and heard someone yelling "Little Rock police."
Under questioning from chief deputy prosecutor John Johnson, Walker said Moore started slowing down and then came to a complete stop about 6 feet away from Hastings.
He said he ducked beneath the dashboard when he saw Hastings had a gun and then heard shots being fired before the car started moving backward.
Defense attorney Bill James used his questioning to reveal apparent inconsistencies in Walker's statements. Among them were interviews with police in which Walker said the car was going backward when shots were fired, and James questioned him about a drawing Walker made with prosecutors showing Hastings directly in front of the car. On Tuesday, Walker testified the car "wasn't going right at him."
"You think it's OK to lie in certain circumstances?" James asked at one point.
"Yes, sir," Walker replied.
"What situations do you think it's OK to lie in?" James asked.
"I don't know," Walker responded.
"But there's just some?" James asked.
"Yes, sir," Walker said.
The court broke for lunch with prosecutors readying to ask follow-up questions to Walker.
After the jury was gone from the room, Griffen scolded James for asking at the bench for proffer testimony about evidence that Griffen said he had "emphatically" ruled couldn't be included in the trial. It wasn't clear what the evidence was, but the request came during Walker's testimony.
"Sir, you are in contempt," Griffen told James. "I will address that at the end of the trial."
James was also held in contempt in Hastings' first trial, which ended in a hung jury in June. In that trial, Griffen ruled James had incorrectly gone into the criminal histories of the two teens with Moore on 10 occasions. He fined him a total of $25,000, though James has appealed.
10:40 a.m. UPDATE
A Little Rock police officer fired from the force and charged with manslaughter after fatally shooting a teenage suspect last year acted recklessly when he opened fire on the boy's vehicle, prosecutors said during opening statements Tuesday.
But a defense attorney for Josh Hastings countered that shooting was reasonable "under the circumstances" because the vehicle was coming at Hastings, who responded to a Little Rock apartment complex the morning of Aug. 12, 2012, to investigate reports of vehicle break-ins.
Hastings shot three times at the suspect vehicle, killing the driver, 15-year-old Bobby Moore III. Two other teen suspects weren't hit and fled from the car after it came to a stop.
John Johnson, chief deputy prosecutor, told the jury of seven women and five men that two other boys will provide similar accounts showing the vehicle was either stopped or going backward when Hastings opened fire. And, he said, the injuries to Moore will also suggest he was looking backward when he was hit.
"There's no question they needed the police called on them," Johnson said of the teens, who he acknowledged were breaking into vehicles at the Shadow Lake apartment complex that morning. "They were breaking the law ... [But] the reason we're here on trial is because of the reckless way he sought to arrest those boys by firing three times into a car."
Johnson said the two other teens provided similar accounts of what happened despite going separate ways when they fled. But defense attorney Bill James said the two juveniles differed on one point when they were first interviewed: One said the car was going forward when the shots were fired, and the other said it was going backward.
"When it really gets to the important part, which way the car was going, they're diametrically opposed," James said. "What this case is really about is choices. The choices Bobby Moore made left Josh Hastings no choice but to do what he did."
James said nothing Hastings did amounted to a "substantial and unjustifiable risk" and that opening fire was "reasonable under the circumstances."
Johnson asked the jury to find the opposite, calling Hastings' actions a "reckless disregard" for the teens' lives.
"We're going to ask you to stand up for Bobby Moore and find him guilty of manslaughter," he said. "Because that's what he did. No matter what those three boys were doing out there, he's guilty of manslaughter."
The trial is the second for Hastings after a proceeding in June ended with a hung jury.