Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle disagrees with murder indictment of police officer, says $75,000 officer defense fund was his idea

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- City of Huntsville and police department officials have backed officer William Darby since his indictment Aug. 3 on a murder charge stemming from an on-duty incident in April.

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle has been at the forefront of that support, calling Darby a valuable officer following the indictment, and last week leading the Huntsville City Council to agree to spend up to $75,000 for Darby’s defense.

The officer is set to go on trial October 29, in Madison County Circuit Court.

Battle spoke to WHNT News 19 Wednesday saying he disagrees with the grand jury indictment of Darby and that it was his idea to ask the council to commit $75,000 to support a defendant facing a murder charge. Darby is charged with killing Jeffery Parker – who made a call to 911 dispatchers saying he was suicidal – at Parker’s home on Deramus Avenue on April 3.

The mayor stressed his support is based on the police department review that found Darby acted within department policy.

Battle said Huntsville Police Department officers wear body cameras on the job, including Darby during the fatal incident, and he sees the cameras a valuable tool.

“Body cams are to tell the story of what is happening on the streets,” Battle said.

When Darby’s indictment was announced on August 3, Huntsville Police Chief Mark McMurray and Battle both made public statements the same day supporting him, saying he’d acted within department policy.

Prosecutors said the grand jury watched body camera footage from the officers at the scene before issuing an indictment. Battle told AL.com last Thursday he’s also watched the footage.

He said he watched the video within the last week.

WHNT News 19 asked if he watched the video before issuing the statement supporting Darby.

“I watched it right after I made the statement, following the indictment,” Battle. “I had talked to our chief, our command staff before I made the statement.”

WHNT News 19 has asked for body camera footage from several Huntsville Police Department incidents, including Darby’s fatal shooting of Parker. We’ve been turned down each time.

Battle says police body cam footage needs context.

“A lot of times you don’t get a full picture out of that,” he said. “The full picture comes out of the conversations with the people involved and the officers involved, and then adding that to it.”

Battle urged the Huntsville City Council last week to pay for Darby’s criminal defense. He argued no cap should be put on the costs, but the council agreed to spend up to $75,000 for now.

“As long as he follows what is the police policy and does things the way that the City of Huntsville has trained him to do, then we back him,” Battle said.

Battle declined to answer a number of questions about the case, citing Madison County Circuit Judge Donna Pate’s gag order on the lawyers and the Huntsville Police Department.

The questions he declined to answer included: Whether his public comments and the city’s financial commitment supporting Darby could affect the local jury pool? And, what was his reaction to the body cam footage?

Battle said the case should be tried by the court not in public, but he has spoken about the case since the gag order was imposed.

We asked him, why speak out at all?

“Because number one, we had to make sure the council understood why we were supporting … why we were paying for the defense of an officer. And, number 2, to show our police officers that we support them.

The trial is set for Oct. 29, and there’s a clear divide.

While the police department and Battle stand behind Darby, the Madison County District Attorney’s office and the grand jury, found the use of deadly force, in this case, wasn’t necessary.

The facts, including the body cam videos, are expected to come out at trial.