Huntsville, AL – A former Huntsville police officer was sentenced to 25 years in prison on Friday for the murder of a suicidal man even though his agency determined that the shooting was justified.
The shooting occurred on the afternoon of April 3, 2018 after Jeffrey Parker called 911 and told the dispatcher he was suicidal and had a gun, AL.com reported.
Officers responded to Parker’s home and when they arrived, found him sitting on his sofa holding a gun to his own head.
Bodycam video showed that when Officer Darby arrived, he grabbed his shotgun from his patrol vehicle and sprinted into the house to assist.
Less than a minute after Officer Darby entered the home, he fatally shot Parker, the video showed.
The Huntsville Police Department’s shooting review board investigated and determined the shooting was justified in May of 2018, WHNT reported.
The review board found that “all officers involved performed within Huntsville Police policies, procedures and training.”
But despite those findings, the Madison County District Attorney’s Office took the case before a grand jury and got an indictment against Officer Darby on murder charges, WHNT reported.
The Huntsville City Council stood behind Officer Darby and voted to fund his legal defense, which so far has reached $125,000, WHNT reported.
Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said the shooting was within police department policy and he disagreed with the district attorney’s decision to go after Officer Darby, AL.com reported.
The trial was postponed multiple times because of the pandemic and finally began on May 3, more than three years after the incident occurred and exactly 13 days after former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of the murder of George Floyd in a highly-publicized trial.
Officer Pegues testified against Officer Darby and said that she had been in the process of de-escalating the situation before he opened fire, AL.com reported.
Officer Darby testified that he shot Parker in self-defense and in defense of the other officers in the room.
He said he had to take over the situation because Officer Pegues, a senior officer, was putting herself in danger, AL.com reported.
Bodycam video showed Officer Darby walked up to the house and shouted for Officer Pegues to “point your f–king gun at him.”
Then Officer Darby repeatedly ordered Parker to drop his gun, the video showed.
Bodycam showed Officer Darby fired the fatal shot 11 seconds after he entered the home, AL.com reported.
Use-of-force experts, police tactics trainers, and Huntsville police officials testified that Officer Darby used appropriate force for the situation and stayed within department policy, WHNT reported.
But after a four-day trial, the jury returned a guilty verdict after just two hours.
“While I respect the jury’s opinion, I disagree with the verdict,” the mayor said after it was announced, AL.com reported.
“We recognize this was a hard case with a lot of technical information to process,” Battle said. “Officer Darby followed the appropriate safety protocols in his response on the scene. He was doing what he was trained to do in the line of duty. Fortunately, Officer Darby has the same appeal rights as any other citizen and is entitled to exercise those rights.”
Madison County District Attorney Rob Broussard disagreed strongly with the mayor and said the evidence “was off the charts. He was not justified in any way,” AL.com reported.
Broussard also said he didn’t think the verdict was a reflection on local law enforcement.
“We have as good of law enforcement as any community could ever hope to have,” he said.
Broussard said Parker showed “zero hostility or aggression” during the encounter, AL.com.
And he called Officer Pegues an example of what a citizen would hope for from police.
“She was trying to help this man,” the district attorney said.
“[Officer Darby] had maybe no business being a police officer, truthfully. He was not wired for it… pretty clear,” Broussard added, according to AL.com.
Defense attorney Robert Tuten said he looked forward to appealing Officer Darby’s case and said the verdict “won’t stand.”
“Everyone is shocked by the jury’s verdict,” Tuten said in a statement.
The mayor and the police chief both said they strongly objected to the verdict.
“We are in the first stages of shock,” Huntsville Police Chief Mark McMurray said in a statement after the verdict was announced, AL.com reported. “While we thank the jury for their service in this difficult case, I do not believe Officer Darby is a murderer.”
“Officers are forced to make split-second decisions every day, and Officer Darby believed his life and the lives of other officers were in danger,” Chief McMurray continued. “Any situation that involves a loss of life is tragic. Our hearts go out to everyone involved.”
Controversy erupted when Officer Darby was kept on the police department’s payroll for two months after his conviction, according to the Guardian.
The District Attorney’s Office asked the judge to sentence the former police officer to 25 years in prison, WAFF reported.
Prosecutors said that now-former Officer Darby’s refusal to admit wrongdoing and the “gravity of what he did to Jeffery Parker” justified a long sentence, the Associated Press reported.
The judge agreed with prosecutors and sentenced the former police officer to 25 years in prison on Aug. 20.
Darby was booked directly into the Madison County jail from the courtroom, WAAY reported.
Parker’s family has called for the U.S. Department of Justice to step in and “take appropriate action” against the Huntsville Police Department.