Councilman explains decision to use taxpayer money to pay for defense of police officer’s murder trial

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - A controversial decision by the Huntsville City council to pay for a police officer's legal defense as he stands trial for murder is raising questions among some taxpayers.

The council voted 4-0 with one member abstaining to pay at least $75,000 of city money for Huntsville Police Officer William Darby's legal team. Darby was indicted for murder by a Madison County grand jury on August 3. The grand jury found there was enough evidence to charge Darby in the shooting death of 49-year-old Jeffery Parker.  Darby was cleared of wrongdoing by the Huntsville Police Incident Review Board in May.

Councilman Bill Kling tells WHNT News 19 he and the other council members haven't watched the police body camera video of the shooting. Madison County District Attorney says the body camera footage is a key piece of evidence against Darby.

Kling says the incident review board clearing Darby was a huge factor in his decision to vote to pay for Darby's legal fees.

"The review committee looked at things very carefully. Were the proper procedures and guidelines the officer had been trained in had been followed. They found that yes it was," said Kling.

Kling says the evidence presented at trial will show whether or not Darby's shooting was justified legally. However, the council is opening the city's checkbook and standing behind the fact the shooting aligned with city policy.

"We support our police officers. We support what the police department means to this community to provide safety for every citizen in the community. And I think we made the right decision," explained Kling.

When asked what Kling would say to those who are upset with the use of taxpayer money, he told us he shares the extreme grief Parker's family is going through. However, he notes that Darby had to make a split second decision while in the line of duty.

WHNT also asked Kling if there were other cases where the city paid the defense of a police officer or another employee.

"There was a time I know of where a public works officer was driving a dump truck was involved in an accident. The city paid for his defense," answered Kling.

A Huntsville city spokesperson sent WHNT an Alabama Supreme Court case from 1978 in Montgomery. The supreme court ruled that a municipality could use public funds to defend employees charged with a crime arising out of their employment duties.

"It's a very unpleasant situation both of course for the family and for the police officer. Again, everyday police officer goes to work there's a chance they might not come home alive." Kling added. "I think the city council made the right decision."

WHNT News 19 also spoke with councilman Devyn Keith. Keith said while it's an unfortunate circumstance and case, the council made a necessary decision. He also said that if Darby is found guilty the city will need to review its police policies and procedures.

If Darby's legal fees exceed $75,000 his defense team will need to go before city council and ask for more money. His trial is set for October 29.

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