HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Lawyers representing the city of Huntsville argued in court on Wednesday that the city should be removed as a defendant in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of Jeffery Parker.
Parker was killed by former Huntsville Police Officer William “Ben” Darby in 2018 in an on-duty shooting. Darby was one of the officers who responded to a 911 call Parker made in April of 2018, telling dispatchers he planned to take his own life. Last year, Darby was convicted of his murder.
On Wednesday, attorneys representing Parker’s family argued that the city of Huntsville, through its police protocol and training, is at least in part liable for Parker’s death and should be included in the family’s wrongful death lawsuit.
Parker’s family is suing both Darby and the city for wrongful death and excessive force claims.
The city’s attorneys said there is not a pattern of constitutional violations in Huntsville, and without repeated instances of wrongdoing, the plaintiff cannot argue excessive force is a pattern or practice of HPD. The city’s legal representatives also argue the police protocol that the city said Darby was following when he shot Parker, is standard in most cities in the U.S.
Parker family attorney Rip Andrews said, no matter the outcome of the case, he and the Parker family hope to see a change in local police training and protocols.
“As many calls about mental health and suicide to police and law enforcement, it’s very important that they be provided with the right type of training when it comes to use of force or deadly force in those situations,” Andrews said.
According to attorneys representing the city, Huntsville police officers receive training on dealing with people experiencing a mental health crisis, but lawyers representing the plaintiff said the city does not provide training that specifically addresses the use of force in such situations.
The Parker family’s attorneys said this case shows that the Huntsville Police Department trains its officers to shoot any citizen who has a weapon and ignores an officer’s order to drop it, regardless of whether they pose an imminent threat.
In 2018, two police officers arrived to the scene before Darby, and they attempted to talk to Parker. Parker was pointing the gun at his own head and did not comply with the order Darby gave to drop it.
The Parker family attorneys argued the city and HPD stood behind Darby’s decision to shoot in public statements and by paying $125,000 for his lawyers. The department also disciplined the two officers that did not fire their guns.
According to the plaintiff’s attorneys, the city’s police policy to shoot without taking into account other situational factors is unconstitutional. They argue, in the wake of this case, the city has an opportunity to make improvements.
“I do think we can always get better, and we should always be open to that, whether we are law enforcement or lawyers or whoever else,” Andrews said. “I think this case, whether we prevail or not, can give the city something to learn from and get better.”
U.S. District Judge Liles Burke did not indicate when he would rule on the city’s request.