Officer will not be charged in deadly shooting that shut down I-40

Ronald Clinton (Source: SCSO)
Ronald Clinton (Source: SCSO)

WEST MEMPHIS, AR (WMC) - The West Memphis Police officer who shot and killed a man who led police on an interstate chase will not be charged.

Investigators said officer Matt Presley was justified when he used deadly force to prevent Ronald Clinton from running over the officer.

Ronald Clinton was shot and killed by a West Memphis police officer Monday, May 21 after he led officers on a chase from the Walmart in West Memphis to I-40.

Clinton drove the wrong way on I-40, where investigators said he hit officers' cars and collided with a propane tanker. The investigation into the crash closed the interstate for several hours on May 21.

At this time, an autopsy report has not been released in Clinton's death. His family has hired a lawyer, who is currently looking into whether or not officers violated the department's pursuit policy.

"It is too early to tell," said attorney Aaron Neglia.  "Mr. Clinton's family is very upset and they want answers."

Neglia said the state's preliminary report about what happened leaves too many unanswered questions.

West Memphis police chased 46-year-old Clinton after a 911 call from Walmart about a shoplifter.

The report from Scott Ellington, prosecuting attorney in the Second Judicial District, said "officers located the suspect" about two minutes after the 911 call, "and the driver was refusing to stop" so "a pursuit was initiated. The suspect's vehicle entered I-40 and driver began to drive recklessly.  Officers continued to pursue."

The chase entered I-40 near the Cracker Barrel and continued eastbound past the Martin Luther King exit ramp toward mile markers 282 and 283 in West Memphis.

Neglia contends West Memphis Police should never have followed Clinton onto the interstate because he was only wanted for shoplifting.

"Mr. Clinton didn't endanger anyone's life at Walmart," Neglia said. "He allegedly shoplifted small items.  He had no weapon, no gun, no knife."

Arkansas law states that police can only pursue someone onto the interstate if "the suspect has committed a felony or is reasonably suspected of committing a felony."

Neglia also said it his office's belief that a senior officer with WMPD may have called off the pursuit, but that Officer Presley and others disregarded that order.  The law firm has requested copies of dispatch and officer radio communications but has not received them yet.

The state's report goes on to say West Memphis Police tried several tactical maneuvers to stop Clinton, and that after the first attempt, he tried to hit an officer with his car.

On the third try, Officer Presley's squad car hit the back of Clinton's black Nissan, causing it to "come to rest facing west in the eastbound lane of traffic" on I-40. Officer Presley approached Clinton's car and the report says "it accelerated and started driving toward him."

Officer Presley, according to Arkansas State Police, fired five shots at Clinton's car, with three going through the windshield.  The coroner's preliminary report says Clinton died from a single gunshot wound to the chest.

Attorneys for his family said a wild pursuit and shooting on I-40 at the height of rush hour was ill-advised and possibly illegal.

"There's no reason to pursue someone in a situation like this," said Neglia, "when it's going to create that much danger to public safety.  Again, it was a misdemeanor.  You don't chase someone during rush hour for that.  It wasn't a homicide.  It wasn't an armed robbery.  You just don't do that."

The ballistic tests and final coroner's report aren't in yet.  The state prosecutor's office says the preliminary justified shooting ruling could change if evidence dictates that.  West Memphis Police would only say that Officer Presley remains on paid leave until the investigation is over.

West Memphis Police Department Captain Joe Baker released this statement on the state's preliminary findings:

"The state prosecutor's office did give us a preliminary justified ruling in this investigation of this shooting earlier today.  The officer in question will remain on paid administrative leave until our internal investigation is concluded.  We would like to thank the Arkansas State Police and the 2nd Judicial District Prosecutor's Office for their diligent work on this case."

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