GRANT COUNTY, Ark. — A speeding ticket during a family car ride ended with a Central Arkansas dad in jail, all because the state trooper says the dad interrupted him.
The family claims the trooper escalated the situation, used excessive force, and is now being protected by his badge.
Mario Luna, his wife Melissa, and their three daughters were driving home along US 167 in February. They had just left the hospital after welcoming their new son Devon.
“His welcome into the world, was with cheers and cries and laughter, everyone was just, it was beautiful,” Melissa recalled.
The day was all the more bittersweet for the family, who suffered multiple miscarriages. Their joy came mixed with fear, when they were forced to leave the hospital and Devon had to stay in the NICU.
“He was having a hard time breathing,” Melissa explained.
As they drove home the plan was to Melissa would head back to the hospital, while Mario would stay with the girls.
“We’re on our way planning daddy girl time,” Mario recalled.
In the middle of that conversation, Mario says flashing blue lights took them on an unexpected detour.
“We’re waiting for him to pass up and he ended up being behind us,” he explained.
Dash camera video from Corporal Christopher Harper’s patrol car captured the traffic stop.
“Okay, so I’mma cite you for your speeding,” Cpl. Harper says on the video.
In the video you can hear the Lunas question what’s happening and in a matter of seconds that escalated to yelling.
“If you will let me speak for a second I’ll explain it to you,” Cpl. Harper is heard saying while seen leaning into the car. “Step out here.”
Mario said he can’t understand why it escalated so quickly.
“Coming across the vehicle, opening the door, and literally pulling me out,” he said. “I have never heard my daughters cry or yell like that, ever.”
In an incident report written by Cpl. Harper, he claims he saw Luna on radar driving 80 miles per hour.
Harper wrote Luna, “denied the allegations” and gave excuses like “his wife just had a baby.” He went on to write when he tried giving Luna the ticket he started, “raising his voice in anger and displayed a hostile look on his face.”
Luna claims the video shows a different story. As Cpl. Harper handed over the ticket Luna says he and his wife tried to explain they weren’t speeding.
“I’m telling him, ‘Sir I’m sorry there’s no way,'” he said.
Mario says Cpl. Harper cut them off and escalated the situation.
“I’m giving you a court date— step out here,” Cpl. Harper is heard saying.
“No we just gave birth,” Melissa said.
“That’s not my problem, he started it,” Cpl. Harper responded.
From the backseat one of Luna’s daughters filmed this cell phone video, showing the moment her dad was arrested. It’s something the family says Cpl. Harper never warned them about.
“We did nothing wrong, nothing to trigger his behavior,” Mario said.
On the drive to jail is when Luna says he finally found out why he was arrested. Video from the back of Cpl. Harper’s patrol car captured this exchange.
Cpl. Harper: “All you had to do was take the ticket”
Luna: “And so you got mad at me”
Cpl. Harper: “Because you kept interrupting me when I was trying to explain it to you.”
Luna: “Really, my wife just birth, my son’s in the hospital.”
Cpl. Harper: “You should have thought about that.”
Luna and his family filed a complaint claiming Cpl. Harper used excessive force but say they haven’t heard back.
“If I’m still terrified to go in my car down the road, I don’t want another family to experience this. This has been hell,” Melissa said
The family is trying to put what happened in the rearview and focus on family, all while fighting to make sure no other family takes a backseat to a badge.
“We’re not going to stop until we know that this is cleared up,” Mario said.
State Police declined to do an interview for this story. A spokesman sent the following statement:
In the days leading up to Mr. Luna filing his complaint against Trooper Harper, the Arkansas State Police had already opened its own internal investigation based on a review of the traffic stop using the patrol car video recording which was provided to you.
The investigation was being led by state troopers assigned to the department’s Office of Professional Standards where Mr. Luna’s compliant was later filed.
Both complaints, internal and external, were incorporated into the investigation. The complaints and investigative findings were later presented to the Arkansas State Police Command Staff Review Board for consideration to determine whether Trooper Harper violated department policy.
The state police is prohibited by state law from providing you copies of any record of disciplinary action imposed on an employee that does not rise to suspension or termination.
However, the division and troop commanders who supervise Trooper Harper acknowledge the behavior of the trooper during the course of the traffic stop was contrary to state police policy and the expectations the department has of all its employees.