The father of a woman fatally shot by police speaks to KOLR 10 News. KOLR
The Aurora police officer who fatally shot a 21-year-old mother during a traffic stop Saturday has a checkered past, court records show.
The News-Leader looked into David Chatman after learning he was the officer who fatally shot Savannah Hill, the driver of a car that allegedly struck another officer during the incident.
What the News-Leader found is that Chatman once falsified a report to cover up alleged police brutality, worked at five different law enforcement agencies over four years and left at least two recent jobs on bad terms.
The Lawrence County prosecutor said Friday that he has cleared Chatman of any wrongdoing in connection with Saturday’s shooting.
Neither the Aurora Police Department nor the Missouri State Highway Patrol (which investigated the shooting) has released the names of the officers involved in Saturday’s shooting.
Chatman was first publicly identified in documents filed by prosecutors to charge 19-year-old Mason Farris with murder.
Farris was wanted for a parole violation, troopers say, and Hill was cooperating with Aurora police to arrest him during a traffic stop.
When police pulled over Hill as planned, Farris allegedly pushed down on Hill’s leg, causing the car to lurch backward and strike an officer.
Lawrence County Prosecutor Don Trotter said Hill was “completely innocent.”
“It’s unfortunate that the wrong person was shot,” Trotter said.
Troopers say the officer who fired at the driver feared for his life.
When asked if he was aware that Chatman had once falsified a police report in Arkansas, Aurora Police Chief Richard Witthuhn told the News-Leader he was not aware.
Prior to the filing of charges, Witthuhn refused to say whether or not Chatman was involved in Saturday’s shooting.
Chatman has been employed by the Aurora Police Department for less than a year, state licensing records show.
The Arkansas Department of Corrections said Chatman was working in one of its prisons as recently as September.
Before that, Chatman worked six different stints at five different law enforcement agencies over a four-year span, according to an Arkansas official.
City and county officials told the News-Leader that Chatman left two of those jobs — including his job at Bull Shoals, Arkansas — on bad terms.
Bull Shoals is a town of about 2,000 people in north-central Arkansas.
In July 2013, the police chief, Chatman and another officer responded to a domestic disturbance at a Bull Shoals home that would later be dissected in federal court.
Chatman recounted in a 2015 deposition that the chief kicked down the door without probable cause.
Once inside, Chatman said the chief used a shotgun to strike a man inside the home, then used a stun gun.
Chatman then described getting on top of the suspect and handcuffing him.
The chief then struck the handcuffed man in the head with the butt of his shotgun, Chatman said. Chatman said he intentionally left that part out of his police report — and later lied to the FBI about it.
It wasn’t until about 40 minutes into his interview with the FBI that Chatman said he told the truth.
Chatman, who was never prosecuted in connection with the alleged beating, said he was given partial immunity for agreeing to testify in federal court.
The other Bull Shoals officer who responded to the domestic disturbance said much more happened than a single blow to the head, federal court records show.
That officer told the FBI he cried after witnessing the chief kick the handcuffed man in the head twice, then stomp on his head. The third officer said Chatman knelt nearby and watched in silence.
The police chief, Daniel Sutterfield, was prosecuted, but charges were dropped after Sutterfield agreed to resign as chief, give up his Arkansas law enforcement certification and never serve again as a law enforcement officer.
Chatman eventually left the Bull Shoals Police Department in 2014, said the city’s current mayor, David Nixon. Nixon stressed he became mayor after Chatman’s departure.
“I was told by people whose information should be reliable that (Chatman) did not leave under good circumstances,” Nixon said.
According to Brad King, the deputy director of Arkansas’s Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Training, Chatman worked at several law enforcement agencies in northern Arkansas.
King said starting in November 2011, Chatman was a part-time officer in the cities of Flippin, then Bull Shoals, then Cotter.
Chatman came back to Bull Shoals to work full-time, King said, then worked at the Jasper Police Department in Jasper, Arkansas and finished up at the Newton County Sheriff’s Office in 2015.
While working as a part-time officer, Chatman also worked as a jailer for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, according to Sheriff Clinton Evans.
Evans, who was not the sheriff at the time of Chatman’s employment, said records show Chatman was a jailer from August 2006 to October 2007 and again from November 2010 to October 2012.
According to Evans, department records show Chatman was terminated after failing to come back to work after a trip to New Jersey to help with disaster relief in October 2012.
That’s about the time Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast.
The father of the woman shot by Chatman said his daughter, Savannah Hill, was a mother of two young children and worked with veterans as a certified nursing assistant.
“My daughter was the type of person, if you were having a bad day and she was having a bad day, she’d find a way to make your day better,” Chris Nethery said. “As a father, I couldn’t be more ecstatic about how she handled her life. It’s a tragedy it ended this way. It’s a tragedy it ended so soon.”
Nethery told the News-Leader Monday that he wanted people to pray for his family and think of the memories they had with his daughter.