A tall, clean shaved, dark-eyed man instructed his students on the principles of law enforcement like every other Thursday afternoon.
As the students slouched in their chairs and hunched over their desks, he tried his best to hide his inner struggle with laughter and sarcasm, secretly clinging to a framed military flag in his office, and a worn, brown, bloodstained Bible that his father had left behind.
There is no comfort for Spencer Ellison now, only the longing for closure and peace. The Tyler Junior College professor and former police officer, lost his father, a 67-year-old Navy Veteran Dec. 9 in Little Rock, Ark. at the hands of his own colleagues and classmate in the police academy.
“It’s been such a hard time for me lately,” said Ellison. “Keeping busy has helped me to move forward. I still haven’t had the opportunity to grieve or cry, and some days I honestly don’t know what to feel. I just can’t quite process it.”
The events leading up to his father’s death were a nightmare for any child to live through he explained. It was a situation that many in the community felt could have been avoided, despite what officials released in the report.
“We never wanted to take anyone’s life,” said Little Rock Police spokesman Lt. Terry Hastings. “We never want to result to this kind of deadly force unless it’s completely necessary. It is a hard time when situations like this occur, but officers are trained to take out the threat in any circumstance.”
The cold December night of Ellison’s death, two female officers Donna Lesher and Tabitha McCrillis were working off-duty security detail at the Big Country Chateau apartment complex just west of University and North Colonel Glen Road in Little Rock.
They noticed while observing the building and surroundings that a single door was left wide open in the middle of the night.
As they approached the open apartment, they could tell that something wasn’t right. After looking inside, the apartment appeared to be in disarray resembling a scene of a struggle or like it had been ransacked.
They entered in further, seeing a man sitting down nearby in the apartment. Lesher and McCrillis asked if the man was in any danger, explained Hastings. But before they could ask any more questions, he quickly sprung to his feet and began attacking them.
“The man that the officers found sitting in the open apartment building was later identified as Eugene Ellison,” said Hastings.
“During the struggle, the officers used pepper spray and a collapsible baton that he managed to wrestle from one of the officers, but they later retrieved it. The struggle continued just before he grabbed a heavy wooden cane and as he did one of the female officers [Donna] pulled her weapon and fired.”
Ellison sustained two gunshot wounds to the chest and was pronounced dead at the hospital. He was medically diagnosed as mentally ill, suffering from schizophrenia, which was later discovered after the shooting, explained Hastings.
An internal investigation was conducted by the same police department where Tabitha McCrillis, Donna Lesher and her husband Sgt. James Lesher, a homicide supervisor, all worked. This caused people to question whether there was a conflict of interest in the department but according to Hastings, investigations like these are done within the police force all the time.
“We go to great steps and document those steps to make sure there isn’t a conflict of interest,” said Hastings. “There are people who allege it, but we make sure that doesn‘t happen.”
Troy Ellison, a police detective in Little Rock, notified his brother Spencer the night he discovered their father had been shot and killed. It was 11:50 p.m. when Spencer got the call. It was one call he wished never came through.
It was finals week and he was finishing grading a stack of papers regarding the topic of “deadly force” in the field of law enforcement.
His phone rang and he answered. He knew immediately that something was wrong by the tone of his brother’s voice. His brother began telling him that there was a shooting involving an officer on the force and that it also involved their dad, Eugene.
“I remember asking my brother if our dad was OK,” said Ellison. “He answered saying no, he wasn’t. He died. After hanging up the phone, I just sat there motionless in shock and in disbelief. I had lost my father and the worst thing of all he was killed by one of my colleagues.”
Days after the shooting and the phone call, people gathered to honor Ellison’s father. Among a sea of 300 family and friends were officers dressed formally in shirts and ties. They gathered at an old white and brown brick chapel at Premiere Funeral home in Little Rock to pay their respects to the 67-year-old man who lost his life just days before.
There weren’t any tears shed that day, only laughs and stories of humor. People who knew him well reflected upon happier times and brighter days before their loss.
“My father was known as a quiet and humble man. A man of few words,” Ellison said. “He maintained a fairly simple life believing in God and he always carried a small pocket Bible on him wherever he went. He treated people the way he wanted to be treated and he took life for what it was and each day at a time. He will be truly missed by his friends and family.”
It is a struggle for Ellison each day after losing his father so suddenly, but he finds strength through teaching and instructing his students. It allows a form of emotional healing and therapy, he explained.
“My students want the best from me,” Ellison said. “And I give them the best. They help me stay busy and encouraged, which is how I’ve learned to heal. Being in the classroom really helps me mentally, physically and emotionally. It assures me that I have a purpose, a reason to wake up in the morning and help give back the best I know how.”
Despite the obstacles in his life, Ellison has inspired so many through his determination and drive.
“I know personally it has been a hard time for Spencer, but considering the circumstances he’s holding up very well,” said Dr. Shelia Holmes, a former student of Ellison’s and faculty member at TJC. “He is extraordinary as a professor and he doesn’t let anything get in the way of his main purpose, which is helping his students. He’s a great human being and a brilliant man.”
The Ellison family has filed a civil rights violation complaint with the FBI that is still ongoing, but Spencer is a strong believer in God and he knows that his loss must have a greater purpose.
“Everything happens for a reason and even if we don’t benefit from it, I hope someone else can. This is going to change things in a lot of places,” said Ellison. “But I just hope if anything, it forces officers to use better judgment looking at each situation objectively before throwing things out there. My father was a caring and gentle 67-year-old man who didn’t bother anyone. I know, he didn’t deserve to die.”