MADISON COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) — The City of Huntsville continues to defend a former police officer serving time for murder after he was convicted of shooting and killing a man in 2018.
William “Ben” Darby was found guilty of murder by a Madison County Jury in May 2021 in connection to the death of 49-year-old Jeffery Parker at his home on Deramus Avenue in April 2018.
In a court filing on Tuesday, lawyers for the City wrote, “Officer Darby faced a tense and uncertain situation,” as they argued that he only had “mere seconds to react when he confronted an armed, defiant, mentally-distressed subject with a raised gun capable of firing upon and killing Officer Darby and his colleagues, all of whom lacked protective cover.”
The City’s lawyers are asking U.S. District Judge Liles C. Burke to rule on a lawsuit filed by Parker’s family.
Lawyers for the family asked the judge to hold the City of Huntsville liable, arguing that unwritten policies, customs or procedures violated the U.S. Constitution and ultimately caused Parker’s death.
They also point to Darby’s murder conviction as evidence of wrongdoing by both the former officer and the City.
In a filing by the City’s lawyers, they argue that Darby did not violate Parker’s constitutional rights, saying there’s no reason for which the City can be held liable for his death.
Darby shot Parker as he sat in his home with a gun to his head, talking to another Huntsville police officer, Genisha Pegues. Parker had called 911 and told a dispatcher he planned to shoot himself.
During the trial, Darby’s attorneys said he acted within department policy and made a split-second decision when he saw a fellow officer in a dangerous situation. But prosecutors maintained that Darby was the aggressor and escalated the situation when he arrived on the scene.
Pegues and another officer, Justin Beckles, were the first to arrive at Parker’s home that day. Pegues testified that she entered the home and saw Parker sitting with the gun to his head.
Body camera footage from that day shows Darby grabbing a shotgun from his patrol car and then sprinting to the house.
As she spoke with Parker and tried to de-escalate the situation, Pegues said she was standing in a doorway with her gun drawn but not pointed at Parker. When Darby arrived with a shotgun, Pegues said Darby yelled at Parker to drop his gun, and he also yelled at her to point her gun at Parker.
Pegues said Parker remained calm after Darby arrived and kept his gun pointed at his own head. She testified that she told Parker to lower his weapon because she didn’t want anything to happen to him, and Darby shot him in the face seconds later.
In closing arguments, prosecutor Tim Douthit said Darby was the one who made the situation aggressive, not Parker, and that meant Parker was murdered.
But defense attorney Robert Tuten said Darby was not a murderer, and Parker presented a threat. Darby had seconds to react to the situation, Tuten said, and Parker was relaxed because he knew what he was going to do in the situation.
Darby was sentenced to 25 years in prison in August 2021.
If Judge Burks rules to throw out the claims against the City of Huntsville, taxpayers could end up paying for the incident.
In Tuesday’s filing, attorneys for Parker’s family wrote, “immediately following Parker’s death, after his indictment, and after his conviction, and in depositions in this case, the City’s leadership has rallied around Darby, insisting both before and after the criminal trial that what he did — i.e. shooting a suicidal man for not dropping a gun — followed City policy and training. Based on these admissions, there is no question that the City had an unconstitutional policy.”