HPD officer says in immunity hearing he followed policy, killed suicidal man in self-defense

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Huntsville Police Officer William Darby said in court he shot and killed a man last year because a fellow officer didn't have control of the situation and he feared for her life.

But the officer he says he was protecting, Genisha Pegues, also said in court she didn't believe her life was in danger from Jeffery Parker, who Darby shot and killed.

Darby is charged with murdering Parker at his home in April 2018. Parker, 49, had called police and said he was suicidal. When police arrived, they said they found him sitting in a room holding a gun to his head.

Darby's attorneys said in court Wednesday that the charge against him should be dropped because he acted in self-defense and was within police guidelines when he shot and killed Parker. A review of the shooting by a review board cleared Darby of any wrongdoing, but Madison County prosecutors took the case to a grand jury.

When Darby took the stand to detail what happened that night, he said he was scared and that the call was "not a regular suicide call." Pegues and another officer were on the way to the scene as well, and Darby said he thought it had potential for an ambush.

Darby said he grabbed his shotgun and ran to the house, where the other two officers were at the front stoop. Pegues was inside at the door and the other was on the stoop, he said, and he couldn't see inside or ascertain the situation. Radio calls before he arrived asked for radio silence, he said.

Darby said he feared Pegues was trying to negotiate with Parker without protecting herself. Her gun was down, he said and he thought Parker was about to shoot her. He told Pegues to raise her gun, he said.

Darby said Pegues didn't have control of the situation and he was afraid Parker would shoot her. It was obvious he needed to take control of the situation, he said.

He moved into the home and pointed the shotgun at Parker's face, he said, and ordered him twice to put his gun down. Parker shrugged after he told him the second time, and when his shoulder moved, the gun moved, Darby said. He fired one shot at Parker, he said, "effectively ending the threat."

After Darby's testimony, video from his body camera that night was played in the courtroom. The video shows Darby getting his shotgun, running to the house and telling Pegues to point her gun at Parker. Video shows the shot Darby fired hit  Parker in the chin.

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After the video was played, prosecutors asked Darby if he ever intended to arrest Parker. Darby said he hoped the situation would turn into an attempted suicide, and that they could get Parker to a hospital for help.

When asked what law Parker had broken when Darby shot him, Darby said he didn't follow a lawful order from a police officer and obstructed justice by not allowing him to do his job.

Prosecutor Tim Gann asked Parker if he is trained to deescalate a situation if possible. Darby replied that he was, but said he can't deescalate a situation with an armed suspect and an officer who has no cover.

Gann said in court the first two officers on the scene had far more experience than Darby's 28 months on the force. He also asked Darby why he didn't tell the officer in the room to move if she could have been shot. He answered his only option was to shoot, given the "strict circumstances" of the situation and the actions of the other officers.

Gann asked Darby to read a portion from a police training manual that said communication between an officer and a suspect gives an opportunity to resolve a situation peacefully. Gann then said when Darby arrived at the scene, the officer was talking to Parker and asking him what made him want to take his own life. Parker was sitting down with the gun and was responding, Gann said. But Darby said the officer wasn't calming the situation and he feared she would be shot.

In the video, Gann said Parker told the officer he wasn't going to shoot her. Darby replied he didn't hear that. He also said Parker told them he was not going to put the gun down, which was a threat. Darby said he had to follow his training, and Parker refused multiple commands to drop the gun.

Darby also said he believed Parker would have committed suicide without calling 911 if he really wanted to die. If Parker had put the gun down when asked, he said, he would have had no fear.

Pegues took the stand in the afternoon after a recess and said she never saw any aggression from Parker and never felt threatened. Under cross examination from Darby's defense attorney, she said did have her gun down and was sent back for retraining on threat assessment after the incident.

The other officer on the scene that day, Justin Beckles, also took the stand. Beckles, who has since left HPD to work for the federal government, said he never saw Parker move the gun away from his head and said he didn't seem hostile. But he also said he believed Pegues put herself in a dangerous position because she had no cover, and that he figured at the time they would have to eliminate the threat because Parker wasn't responding to requests to put his gun down.

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The Huntsville Police Department investigator who interviewed Darby after the shooting said they found Parker had been holding a flare gun to his head. They also found flares that had been altered to shoot buckshot.

Darby's recorded interview with the investigator was played during the hearing. In the interview, Darby told the investigator he relied on his training and would not second guess his actions.

Prior to the officers' testimony, the first witness for the morning hearing was Pete Blair, a criminal justice professor and executive director of the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center at Texas State University.

Under questioning, Blair testified that a study found there was a 1/100th of a second difference between action and reaction. He said an officer still has decisions to make, while a suspect has already decided his or her action. Blair also testified that house walls are not effective cover, and said a non-compliant suspect with a gun is able to fire first.

The second witness called in the hearing, Snead Police Department training officer Ron Kiker, said a suspect with a gun to his own head still poses a threat to an officer. He testified that a study showed a suspect can move a gun from his head to a firing position in 3/10ths of a second, while it takes officers 5/10ths of a second to respond.

The third witness was FBI Agent Curtis Parker, an a instructor who teaches "officer survival," which includes tactics, mindset and firearms training to police officers. Darby had attended an officer survival school in 2017. Parker also testified that reaction is slower than action.

Under cross-examination from prosecutors, Agent Parker testified that he doesn't teach officers to shoot all suspects with a gun, but he also doesn't teach them not to shoot all suspects with a gun. He said a suspect who isn't compliant while holding a gun is a big red flag, but also said he doesn't teach about what to do when a suspect is holding a gun to his own head.

After lunch, the court viewed video from Darby's interview with investigators. In that interview, Darby said he felt the situation would go from bad to worse because there was an officer without cover there, an emotional and "unstable" subject, and that person was not responding to commands. He told investigators he took enough time to assess the situation and made eye contact with Parker, who he believes understood his verbal command to drop the gun. He said by shooting Parker, he stopped a threat.

Darby said during the interview that he regretted that action being necessary, but not the action itself. He said he is not going to second-guess his action based on the information that he had. He said he had to make an unfortunate decision based on objective facts.

Madison County Sheriff Kevin Turner and Huntsville Police Chief Mark McMurray were among those who packed into the crowded courtroom for the immunity hearing.

There was no clear date given for when the judge will issue a ruling in the case. Darby's trial is scheduled to begin Monday.

The city of Huntsville has approved spending up to $125,000 for Darby's defense.

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