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Prosecutor won't pursue charges in death of Little Rock airport director

Insignia of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Insignia of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

An Arkansas prosecutor says he will not pursue a case against the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives over the death of an airport executive.

On March 19, Bryan Malinowski was shot and killed while a search warrant was executed on his property at 6 a.m. At the time of his death, Malinowski worked as the executive director of the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport in Little Rock.

During the raid, Malinowski shot at agents who then returned fire. A few days later, he died in the hospital. An ATF agent was also injured. Malinowski’s family has always contended that he did not know the men at his door were law enforcement officers when he shot them.

The Malinowski family's attorney, Bud Cummins, says he was a hobbyist who enjoyed collecting guns. From 2021 to 2023, Malinowski bought over 100 guns, which he often sold at gun shows. The ATF says on several occasions the guns he sold were found on people in the commission of a crime. He also allegedly sold guns to undercover ATF agents without asking to see if they could legally possess them.

Pulaski County Prosecutor Will Jones will not pursue charges against the ATF, according to a letter released Friday.

“A law enforcement officer is justified in using deadly physical force if the officer reasonably believes that the use of force is necessary to defend himself or a third person from the use of deadly force,” the letter reads.

Jones said Malinowski was given notice that the people at his door were law enforcement.

“Prior to entering the residence,” the letter said. “The officers identified themselves as police by initiating the lights and siren of a patrol vehicle that was parked in front of the residence and knocking.”

He said the agents had clearly marked ATF attire and they announced their presence at the door. He said the ATF only shot Malinowski after his colleague was injured and Malinowski pointed a gun at him.

Cummins described the incident differently. He argues Malinowski was not given enough time to come to the door.

"Ten carloads of armed agents at 6:00 am. A U.S. citizen was given 28 seconds before his home was forcefully invaded by armed government intruders and he was killed in front of his wife," he said in a statement.

The ATF agents did not have body-worn cameras during the incident. This was acknowledged in a congressional hearing by ATF director Steven Dettelbach. He said the mandatory body camera policy for ATF agents is still being phased in, with only about one-third of agents currently using them.

Jones based his assertion that Malinowski was given notice that the people were police based on a comment made by his wife Maer. She said he was “awake in their bedroom when they heard knocking on the door."

Cummins said of the incident: "The state’s investigation didn’t attempt to make independent judgments about whether ATF violated the law when they broke down Mr. and Mrs. Malinowski’s front door. But that question should be a matter of grave concern for the rest of us." He also said: "This is far from over."

Note: this article was edited to add the statement from Budd Cummins.

Josie Lenora is the Politics/Government Reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.