Hunter Brittain, 17, was holding a blue jug of antifreeze when he was shot three times by a Lonoke County Sheriff’s deputy in June
Hunter Brittain dreamed of a career in professional racing. Growing up in McRae, Ark., a couple of hours south of the Ozark Mountains, Hunter loved riding and working on motorcycles, four-wheelers and cars.
“Anything that had wheels on it, he was pushing it to the limits,” says his uncle Jesse Brittain, 40. “He wanted to be a NASCAR driver.”
But first, Hunter, 17, was diligent about understanding how machines worked, doing odd jobs as a mechanic and fixing up anything that moved. “There wasn’t anything that Hunter couldn’t do,” Jesse recalled.
It wasn’t unusual, then, when Hunter and two friends worked through the night to fix a truck transmission that was giving him trouble.
At about 3 a.m. on June 23, he and one of his friends (also a minor who remains unidentified) were test-driving a car they’d worked on when a Lonoke County Sheriff deputy pulled them over. What unfolded next was an all-too-familiar headline: an unarmed young man was shot and killed by police. (The case will be featured on tonight’s episode of PEOPLE (the TV Show!) . An exclusive clip is shown below.)
While the police have revealed few details about what happened — there is no body-cam footage — Jesse says Hunter’s friend told him the truck wasn’t shifting properly when they pulled over.
“The truck was going to roll when Hunter put it in park, so he [got] out of the truck to throw a jug of antifreeze under the tire to keep it from rolling into the cop car,” Jesse said. “He was never announced to stop, to drop the jug, anything. He was just immediately shot three times.”
For more on how Hunter Brittain’s killing at the hands of police has led his family to advocate for reform , subscribe now to PEOPLE or pick up this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday.
Lonoke County Sheriff John Staley’s first statement on the fatal shooting cautioned against any rush to “second guess” the actions of deputies “in potentially dangerous situations.”
The officer who shot Brittain, Sgt. Michael Davis, was fired for not having his body cam on during the shooting.
After the killing, the Brittains felt connection to the Black family members of high-profile victims of police shootings that grieved before them — from Philando Castile to Breonna Taylor to George Floyd . Frustrated by the sheriff’s lack of answers, the family turned to civil-rights attorneys Devon Jacob and Ben Crump, who represented the Floyd family among other cases of people of color killed by police.
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Losing Hunter, Jesse says, is a “sacrifice for reform. It’s time for us all to come together as Americans — not as Black or white or Brown — and get things changed.”
When Crump got the Brittains’ calls, he says he only asked himself, “Is it a case that shocks my conscience? … With Hunter, I hope we can build interracial support for this meaningful police reform that we’ve been working on for decades.”
Adds Jacob, “This is a good opportunity to show America that this is everybody’s children. It was never Black Lives Matter only .”
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