There is a notable criminal case out of Alabama this week after a judge sentenced former Huntsville police officer William “Ben” Darby to 25 years in prison for shooting and killing a suicidal man who was holding a gun to his own head. Jeffrey Parker never pointed the gun at Darby or his fellow officers before he was shot by Darby.
Darby and his fellow officers responded to a 911 call that Parker was armed and planned to kill himself. Video of the shooting from police body cameras was introduced at trial. Officers Genisha Peques and Justin Beckles arrived first at the scene.
The video showed Darby grabbing a shotgun from his patrol vehicle and running into the home. He immediately yelled at Pegues for putting herself in danger by not pointing her weapon at Parker and failing to take a cover position. He is heard yelling for Pegues to “point your f**king gun at him.” Darby repeatedly shouted for Parker to drop his gun and then fired the fatal shot 11 seconds after entering the house. Darby said at trial that, after he ordered Parker to drop the gun, he heard Parker say “no” and saw him shrug and shake his head.
Darby testified that he feared seeing “one of my officers” get hurt and fired for their protection.
Notably, the Huntsville Police Department review board cleared Darby of wrongdoing in May 2018. However, the Madison County District Attorney’s office brought the case to a grand jury and Darby was indicted for murder. Nevertheless, Huntsville police captain (and head of the Huntsville Police Department’s training unit) Dewayne McCarver testified during the trial that Darby acted appropriately under the circumstances. Many have noted that a suspect sitting on a couch can quickly turn a gun from his own head to toward the nearby officers.
The family and others have insisted that Parker could have been “talked down” and the situation defused by just speaking with him. Indeed, they say that Peques was doing that when Darby entered and then shot Parker 11 seconds later.
The prosecution is relatively rare given the decision of the police board and the judgment of witnesses like McCarver. However, the merits of the decision would be difficult to appeal. Such shootings are based on the “totality of the circumstances” and the jury was clearly swayed by the fact that the gun was pointed at Parker’s own head and the shooting occurred within seconds of Darby’s arrival. Moreover, the position Peques indicated that she did not believe that she was in immediate danger though Darby was likely correct that police training dictates a defensive position of cover with the gun pointed at the suspect.
Defense counsel asked for a 20 year sentence, the minimum under Alabama law.
Darby was immediately taken into custody at sentencing and will now appeal.