HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – An Alabama police officer has been indicted on a murder charge for the fatal shooting of a 49-year-old man during a mental health call.
Officer William Darby, 25, a two-year employee of the Huntsville Police Department, was indicted Friday for the killing of Jeffrey Parker, court records show.
Parker was fatally shot after he called 911 April 3 and said he was suicidal and had a gun, according to the police department. The situation was captured on body camera footage, but that hasn’t been released to the public, reported AL.com.
Rob Broussard, Madison County district attorney, said he was “gravely concerned” when he reviewed the investigative file.
“We had concerns that this was not a justified shooting,” Broussard told reporters. However, whatever led him to this belief remains unknown as Broussard said he couldn’t speak about specific evidence in the case.
Darby and two additional officers were placed on desk duty at the time of the shooting.
The indictment is in sharp contrast to the Huntsville Police Department’s review of the case, which found that Darby acted within department policy in the shooting.
As a result of the criminal indictment, Huntsville police Chief Mark McMurray said at a news conference Friday that Darby is on administrative leave pending the outcome of his trial. McMurray didn’t take questions from reporters. Moreover, he walked away from the podium as soon as he finished reading a statement.
Lt. Michael Johnson, a police spokesman said Darby is being paid while he’s on leave, per city policy.
McMurray said Darby is “by no means a murderer.”
“Officer Darby was called upon to make split second decisions in a nightmare scenario, the likes of which most people will never experience,” McMurray said. “His training allowed him and his fellow officer to survive as he rushed bravely, without hesitation, into one of the most volatile and unpredictable situations a police officer is called upon to face.”
The day of the shooting, officers briefly talked with Parker at the scene on Deramus Avenue and commanded him to drop the gun, the department said. Parker didn’t drop the gun, and Darby shot him, the police said.
The shooting review board’s decision was announced in May, WHNT19 reported.
The Huntsville Police Department said at the time, “A review of the case to include all video footage, physical evidence, and officer’s testimony was presented. The Incident Review Board found that all officers involved performed within Huntsville Police Policies, Procedures and Training.”
But the grand jury saw it differently. Under Alabama law, a murder charge requires the element of “intent,” meaning the defendant meant to kill the victim.
“Usually what you’re looking at is whether an officer feared for his life … and on these particular facts of the case, we had concern that this was not a justified shooting,” Broussard said.
“The Parker family was surprised but absolutely pleased that the grand jury issued an indictment,” Attorney Martin Weinberg said in an email to AL.com. Weinberg represents Parker’s estate. “This incident centers on the growing concern about the mistreatment of the mentally ill by law enforcement. We have to put more resources into training law enforcement on how to deal with the mentally ill.”
Parker’s fiancée, Michele Louthan was upstairs in their shared home at the time of the shooting. She didn’t know Parker had called police until she heard the fatal shot.
Louthan said she learned from the officers that Parker had told the 911 dispatchers he had a gun, wanted to blow his brains out and the door was open.
Three officers responded to the scene and they spoke to Parker.
The Huntsville Police Department said several commands were issued to Parker to drop the gun, then, “one shot was fired by one of the officers striking Parker and he died as a result.”
The grand jury that indicted Darby saw body camera video of the incident from all three officers that were there, as well as their recorded interviews after the shooting, Broussard said. They also heard from HPD witnesses who testified about the department’s training.
“The evidence is complete,” he said. “It’s very thorough.”
During his press conference, the police chief said his department has been intensively trained with mental health professionals on how to respond to such situations.
“Suicide and mental illness are a national epidemic,” the chief said. “Huntsville is not immune from the consequences of these personal tragedies. As a country and as a community, we are all struggling with these mental health issues.”
Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle also released a statement, which read:
Our hearts and sympathies are with the Parker family as they are forced to relive this time of loss. And to Officer Darby, you have our full support. As a valued and responsible member of our force, he acted in accordance with his training. Please accord him the same presumption of innocence as all Americans are entitled.
The TL Blakemore Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 6 in Huntsville issued a statement of support for the police department and city “in their efforts to see that Officer William Darby receives due process as an employee and through the upcoming judicial process.”
A grand jury issues indictments when it determines there is enough evidence to formally charge a person and send a case to trial. However, there is no defense offered during the procedure.
In his 30 years as a prosecutor, Broussard said he’s never been in the position of prosecuting a police officer. Chief Trial Attorney Tim Gann and Assistant DA Tim Douthit are prosecuting the case.