Little Rock police did nothing wrong when detectives repeatedly questioned a murder suspect who made incriminating statements, a Pulaski County circuit judge ruled on Tuesday.
The finding by Judge Leon Johnson paves the way for prosecutors to play Daquayveon Lanair Flanagan's interviews for jurors at his trial next month.
The 23-year-old North Little Rock man has denied wrongdoing, stating in court filings that he was acting in self-defense when 29-year-old Emmanuel Ramon Cooper of Little Rock was killed in a September 2019 shootout in Little Rock.
An autopsy showed Cooper was shot twice, suffering a close-range wound from a .40 caliber to his shoulder that entered his chest, with the second injury inflicted by a .40 caliber to the base of his neck.
Flanagan, who has a 2017 breaking or entering conviction, was initially arrested on a charge of felon in possession of a firearm. Police questioned Flanagan four times before charging him two weeks later with first-degree murder and committing a terroristic act.
Defense attorney Willard Proctor had challenged the legality of the interrogations, arguing that two of the interviews were improper because Flanagan had legal representation due to the firearm after the second time detectives questioned him. Flanagan should not have been questioned without his lawyer, Proctor said.
Deputy prosecutor Jayme Butts-Hall disputed the claim, stating that the police had done nothing wrong because sergeants Troy Dillard and Wade Niehouse had read Flanagan his rights before each interrogation and the defendant had each time willingly waived his right to remain silent or have his lawyer present.
In denying the defense motion to suppress, the judge found that since police were only asking about the homicide and not the firearm, the detectives had done nothing wrong.
"Here, testimony by the interviewing officers indicated that the defendant was being questioned in relation to a homicide offense. At the time of the interviews, the defendant had only been arraigned on a firearm offense," Johnson stated in his three-page ruling. "The right to counsel is offense-specific, therefore it can be held that the right to counsel had not attached in relation to the homicide offense as the defendant had yet to be formally charged with a homicide offense. This would mean that the defendant did not have a right to counsel, and never invoked his right to counsel."
According to police reports, a Shot Spotter notification brought police to the Superstop convenience store at 5103 Asher Ave., where officers found Cooper shot to death. Almost simultaneously with that discovery, Flanagan arrived at a hospital emergency room with gunshot wounds he said were inflicted at the Asher Avenue location.
At the scene, investigators collected two pistols, a 9mm and a .45 caliber, along with 72 shell casings, among them 11 .40 caliber, 21 9mm, one .380 caliber and 14 .40 caliber.
Flanagan told detectives that night he had been at the convenience store with friends in a burgundy Toyota Corolla when he heard gunshots from across Mary Street, stating that he was hit while running away from the shots. He said he called his girlfriend, who took him to the hospital.
A witness who said he saw someone he knew as "Dee" start the shooting that night by firing at a tan car across the street from the convenience store identified Flanagan from a police photo lineup as that gunman.
That discovery led to detectives questioning Flanagan a second time, and he told the investigators he had not been completely truthful in that first interview. In the second round of questioning, Flanagan said he was with two other men, 24-year-old Terick Hampton and Kaylin Jones, 26, in a white Ford Explorer at the convenience station when a stranger came up and told him some guys across the street were going to shoot at him. Flanagan told police he only knew the men by their Instagram handles but recognized one of them as having tried to shoot him a year earlier.
Flanagan said he didn't know if the men were going to shoot at him but that Cooper gave him a .40 caliber handgun and then Cooper, Hampton and Jones made fun of him when he said he wanted to leave so he started shooting at the men across the street. He said he ran after he fired and was hit by a bullet.
When detectives could not confirm some details in Flanagan's account, they returned to him a third time, with Flanagan identifying one of the men he'd been shooting at as Darius Lewis, 23. Flanagan said Lewis used to date his girlfriend and that he and Lewis had quarreled over the phone on the day Cooper was killed about a deceased friend of Lewis'.
Lewis told police he had talked to his ex-girlfriend's boyfriend, whom he knew as Dee, about 13 hours before the shooting. Lewis said he'd been in the tan car with a friend driving across from the Superstop when someone started shooting at their car. Lewis said he told his friend to drive off, describing how he fired two shots with a .380 into the air as they drove away. He said the shooter had a white shirt pulled over his face.
In his fourth statement to police, Flanagan told police he had covered his face with a white T-shirt when he started shooting but recanted his earlier claims that he had been firing a .40 caliber pistol, stating that he had actually shot a 9mm.