Author: Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D.

By Ashley Remkus Alabama Media Group

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — A Huntsville 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, a two-year employee of HPD, was indicted Friday for the killing of Jeffrey Parker, court records show. Parker was fatally shot after he called police 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.

Madison County District Attorney Rob Broussard said he was “gravely concerned” when he reviewed the investigative file.

“We had concerns that this was not a justified shooting,” Broussard told reporters. Broussard said he couldn’t speak about specific evidence in the case.

Darby and two other officers were placed on desk duty at the time of the shooting, but a review board later cleared them.

Today Huntsville police Chief Mark McMurray said at a news conference that Darby is on administrative leave pending the outcome of his trial. McMurray didn’t take questions from reporters. 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.

About a month after the shooting, the police department cleared Darby of violating policy, and he returned to work.

“The Parker family was surprised but absolutely pleased that the grand jury issued an indictment,” Attorney Martin Weinberg said in an email to 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.”

In 2016, published an in-depth series of stories detailing the mental-health crisis and steps being taken to address it.

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 about the indictment:

“Our hearts and sympathies are with the Parker family as they are forced to relive this time of loss,” the mayor said. “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.”

Darby is a 25-year-old from Hartselle, court records show.

A grand jury issues indictments when it determines there is enough evidence to formally charge a suspect and send a case to trial.

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.

“We want to first thank law enforcement and the district attorney’s office for their leadership and swift movement on an indictment,” Weinberg said.

2018 Alabama Media Group, Birmingham

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