I mention below that “gag” orders often appear to be intended to shield the municipality from litigation. Sure enough, immediately after this column was published, the Huntsville city council stepped up to pay for up to $75k in defense of Officer Darby. Attorney Bruce Gardner, a former prosecuter renown for high profile cases called the move “unprecedented.”
This isn’t just the “right thing to do.” If Darby is convicted for murder after following policy & doing exactly as trained, not only is he guilty anyway, but then HPD & the City of Huntsville become liable not only for the wrongful death of Jeffrey Parker but also for the injuries that Darby suffers because of conspiracy, criminal negligence, etc. The city don’t love Darby – they are covering their own ass – also tantamount to mea culpa.
As a citizen tax payer, I’d rather not give Mayor Tommy Battle any excuse to again raise taxes under the cover of darkness. Losing a case like this could ultimately cost millions. Even still, as is Tommy Battles pattern, running a smokerscreen to deny liability only defers the cost to the city in more in indirect ways. Moral degradation, cynicism, propaganda & unnecessarily shed blood of Huntsville citizens is simply unacceptable. The truly right thing to do is for the city to accept whatever liability it does have and break the cycle of corruption. That however, might not play well during the next election cycle. So much for integrity.
What the hell? Seems I’m feeling a little bit quippish today, but no really, that’s not punny. The judge is furious !!! Gag !
Many around these parts, see map for exact location, will remember when last April 3rd, Huntsville police got a suicide call in the Sherwood Park neighborhood at 6409 Deramus Ave. News reports indicated that Jeffrey Louis Parker was mentally ill and distraught and suicidal and had a gun and called police for help. They did. Upon arrival, Huntsville police officer William Darby reportedly used a shotgun to help Jeffrey Parker end his life.
When I first saw this story, even I didn’t think much more about it. I frequently do offer my perspectives on what’s wrong with law enforcement both on a national and local level. But, the reporting didn’t seem to indicate anything was amiss. Very sad, but apparently unavoidable. Then earlier this week, Madison County D.A. Rob Broussard dropped a bombshell announcing the indictment of Officer Darby for the murder of Jeffrey Parker. And, that’s about all we know at this time.
There is more. Robert Tuten, attorney for Darby, has suggested it may have been a case of “suicide by police.” In some cases, a distraught individual will actually provoke a police officer to shoot and kill with the intent of dying. However, according to other media outlets, Huntsville police refuse to release the body-cam video that apparently drove the indictment. This is understandably standard practice because police often invade the privacy of legally uninvolved third parties while executing their duties. However, it’s obvious that in this case, the Freedom of Information Act demands that the evidence be released for review by the public. Madison County Circuit Judge Donna Pate has also issued a gag order to prevent police or involved attorneys from making any additional comments to the public or media.
In the interest of disclosure, Rob Broussard and I are contemporaries and while we both grew up in the Sherwood Park neighborhood I can assure you that he has never been my best friend. And, I can also assure you, I had nothing to do with it. Writing is my craft but, the headlines practically write themselves. Well, not this one, I definitely wrote the headline for this column. Broussard says his focus is the law, ipso facto it seems he’s dissing the explanations by Police Chief Mark McMurray and the independent rubber stamp Citizens Review Board that Officer Darby followed department policy and executed his duty according to how he was trained. To Mr. Broussard’s way of thinking, and frankly and rarely to his credit, he apparently feels that police protocol must also be consistent with the law.
The more I’ve researched this case, the more it stinks. For openers, we know it’s virtually impossible to get a conviction on a police officer. In Madison County, we saw the case that made national headlines when Madison Police officer Eric Parker used excessive force crippling the Indian granpa for life. Eric Parker was acquitted in spite of, in my opinion, overwhelming evidence against him. Incidentally, it doesn’t appear that Eric Parker is directly related to Jeffrey Parker, although the point is unconfirmed. Which is to say, the bias in favor of police officers would seem to suggest that just getting a grand jury to hand down an indictment is tantamount to a conviction.
That brings on some other stinky possibilities in regard to the Huntsville police refusal to release the body-cam video and the judges gag order. In my estimation, these actions are more often taken not to protect the integrity of the pending litigation, but are in fact usually a deliberate attempt to protect the police department and municipality from additional litigation. In that case, it’s both censorship and obstruction, but who’s in charge of that? Well, I’m just a little guy with limited resources but the Superman in me would challenge mainstream media outlets to pursue this perspective once the trial is underway and completed.
There are some other points that can be made. Most notably law-enforcement has not, on any level, shown contrition for the obvious incidents of excessive force. Clearly, there is a problem with training, and in my estimation hiring. It has already been suggested to Huntsville mayor Tommy Battle that hiring practices too often perpetuate the cycle of cultism that is sometimes the underlying force behind these events. The inability, or lack of resolve, to break that curse then suggests two more problems. Of course, it costs money to enhance and extend training and it would cost money to decaramelize the hiring process as well. Second, there does appear to be a certain amount of cult affinity within law-enforcement that is actually deliberate. There is a vicious cycle with political undertones that is arcane and outdated. And, that rubber stamp Citizen’s Review Board is an insult to everyone involved. It should be truly independent, obviously it is not.
You might also notice that in this column, and in others I’ve written, I don’t lend much conversation to the notion that the people involved should have received a special protocol, either as officer or victim, based on mental illness. Since the authoritarianisms of Big Brother are about 95% of what causes these problems, I don’t think advance knowledge or a registry giving warning to police officers about someone’s mental state is a good idea, and in most cases where there has not been an adjudication, it wouldn’t even be legal. And even if the immediate call includes that information, how can the officer rely on that? People can say anything in a call to police. Besides that, I believe that police simply need to reevaluate protocols to be less aggressive, smarter and less deadly based on the situation as they find it. If someone is behaving erratically, whether they are mentally ill, on drugs, or simply not too bright is really beside the point. Shoot to kill simply should not be the automatic go to option.
At any rate,
the trial of William Darby will be an interesting one to follow. As more information becomes available, I will be here reporting and editorializing.
© 2018 – Jim Casey
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