James Earl Motley

Background

At about 1:40 a.m. on November 20, 1967, Elmore County Deputy Sheriff Harvey Conner stopped Rueben Clark’s car; Motley was riding in the back seat. When Motley objected to the stop and to Conner’s demand for Clark’s driver’s license, Conner beat him about the head with a slapjack, a kind of batting weapon. Conner called for backup, then drove Motley to jail with the two state troopers who had responded to his call. Motley died of his injuries while in custody.

Legal Status

An Elmore County grand jury refused to indict Sheriff Harvey Conner for any crime connected with Motley’s death. Federal prosecutors tried Conner on the charge of depriving Motley of his civil rights. Conner’s defense was that although he had hit Motley several times in self-defense at the time of the arrest, the fatal injury occurred when Motley drunkenly fell into a fence post on his walk from the police car to the jail.

Rueben Clark and Isom Atkins, a prisoner who was in the jail at the time of Motley’s arrest, testified for the prosecution. Conner had ordered Atkins to clean up the car that the police had brought Motley in. Atkins testified that the interior of car was covered with blood.

A jury found Connor not guilty after deliberating for 100 minutes.