Judge Impanels Grand Jury over West Memphis Shooting Death

LITTLE ROCK, AR - A judge serving in West Memphis says simmering racial divisions and fears in West Memphis came to a boil with the police shooting of a 12-year-old black child this summer.

Crittenden County Circuit Court Judge Victor L. Hill says it's forced him to impanel a civil grand jury to investigate the death.

Hill says the grand jury investigation into DeAuntae Farrow's death comes not only the need for "maintaining the appearance of fairness," but also his own racial experiences as the area's sole black judge.  Hill has claimed he's faced racially motivated complaints from the city's assistant police chief.

West Memphis police sergeant Erik Sammis, a white officer on a stakeout, shot DeAuntae as he played near an apartment complex June 22.  An Arkansas State Police investigation into the shooting concluded Sammis shot DeAuntae because the boy held a toy version of a semiautomatic pistol in the darkened parking lot.  DeAuntae's family disputed that, saying the boy held a bag of chips and a soda at the time of the shooting.

The Justice Department later said that DeAuntae's rights weren't "willfully abused" in the shooting and declined to pursue federal charges.  Special Prosecutor H.G. Foster announced this month there would be no state criminal charges in the shooting, which he called a "tragedy."

DeAuntae's parents have filed a wrongful death and civil rights lawsuit seeking more than $100 million from the city of West Memphis and the police officers involved.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)