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Arkansas State Police named in excessive force lawsuit stemming from 2020 protests

Daniel Breen
Attorney Mike Laux (center) speaks on behalf of his client Don Cook (right) in a news conference Friday in downtown Little Rock.

A lawsuit accuses the Arkansas State Police of violating the constitutional rights of an attorney during a protest at the State Capitol building.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court Friday on behalf of lawyer Don Cook who was shot in the face with a beanbag projectile at a protest following the death of George Floyd in June of 2020.

In a news conference, Cook said he was complying with police orders to leave the protest when he was struck.

“I didn’t expect to spend the next three days in the hospital with a shattered jaw and some permanent injuries,” Cook said, “and I certainly didn’t expect to have armed state troopers show up at my front door over a year later and haul me in on charges that they couldn’t even support in court.”

The lawsuit also claims Cook was unlawfully arrested more than a year after the incident for obstructing governmental operations. That charge was later dropped.

Cook’s attorney Mike Laux says his client’s right to free speech was violated, alleging officers retaliated against him for protesting police brutality.

“He wasn’t protesting saving the rainforest or something else that’s laudable, he was there talking about police violence. He was a victim of the very thing he was there protesting,” Laux said. “That’s called chilling First Amendment speech; it means doing something that gives someone pause so that they don’t do it again.”

The lawsuit calls for the officer who shot Cook, State Trooper Ryan Wingo, to be fired and for Cook’s medical bills to be reimbursed. Laux says police should never have authorized the use of beanbags and other “less-lethal” ammunition during the protest.

“You are not supposed to use beanbag projectiles unless there is violence occurring and it is an isolated event. You’ve got two people attacking a third person, and when all other avenues have failed, you could potentially at the proper distance use a beanbag gun to try to maybe get that apart. That wasn’t happening here,” Laux said.

The lawsuit also alleges other state troopers failed to intervene when they noticed excessive force was being used. Laux says the lawsuit’s constitutional claims allow it to circumvent sovereign immunity, which is often used to shield police departments and officers from litigation.

Arkansas State Police spokesperson Bill Sadler said in an email the department has a "long-standing practice that limits any public interchange of questions or comment relating to pending litigation."