Plaintiffs in Darby-Huntsville lawsuit: ‘Victims of homicide have rights too’

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Huntsville Police Department officer William “Ben” Darby is facing an August 20 sentencing hearing following his May 7 murder conviction. The family of the man he killed in an on-duty shooting in April 2018, Jeffery Parker, is also suing Darby and the City of Huntsville.

The federal wrongful death lawsuit was put on hold in 2020 at Darby’s request, but the plaintiffs now want the case to move forward. It was stayed because, criminal defendants can’t be made to testify in a civil case, while a parallel criminal case is ongoing.       

The plaintiffs now point out that Darby testified in his criminal case, so any 5th Amendment concerns about self-incrimination have been waived.

Darby was convicted May 7. In the order directing the lawsuit stay, the court said it could resume when the criminal case reached a final outcome.

Attorneys for Darby and Huntsville say the final outcome is sentencing and want the stay to remain in place. In a court filing Wednesday the plaintiffs questioned what happens if sentencing is delayed, or whether the defense will then ask for the stay until the criminal appeals process is completed.

The defense has also argued that Darby has been busy working on materials related to his sentencing and is not yet able to participate in the civil case. The City of Huntsville argues in its filing opposing the stay that the criminal case’s resolution is necessary for it to prepare its defense.

“The claims against the COH arise from the same set of operative facts as do the claims against Officer Darby, namely the shooting of plaintiff’s decedent on April 3, 2018,” the filing argues.

“Furthermore, the COH is in a unique position as a governmental defendant. As a governmental entity, the COH must rely on eyewitnesses and other individuals with knowledge of the facts and circumstances of the underlying incident to mount its defense, many of which are currently involved in the pending criminal proceedings. This includes Officer Darby himself, and members of law enforcement.”

The plaintiffs took issue with that claim in Wednesday’s filing.

“The defendants argue that Darby is just too busy, and he should be entitled to continue to put this civil case on the shelf until he is ready to deal with it,” the Parker family filing argues. “However, he is not the only party with legal rights. Victims of homicide have rights too,” the plaintiffs argue, pointing to a court ruling that found that in pursuit of wrongful death claims, the personal representatives of the family, act as an agent of “legislative appointment” for establishing policy.

The plaintiffs contend they have, “a responsibility to the victim’s family to proceed with this action, not only against the convicted murder, Darby but also his employer, the City of Huntsville, which plaintiff believes enabled and emboldened his actions,” the court filing argues.

The City of Huntsville has agreed to spend up to $125,000 for Darby’s defense. The Huntsville Police Department convened a shooting review board in 2018, following the Parker shooting and concluded Darby’s killing of Parker – who held a a gun to his own head and didn’t comply with Darby’s orders to put it down – was within department policy.

The Huntsville Police Department has kept Darby on the payroll since his conviction, saying he’s using his accrued leave time. Both Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and HPD Chief Mark McMurray have criticized the guilty verdict in the Darby case.

The prosecution and defense in the criminal case are under a gag order, but after Darby’s conviction on May 7, his defense attorney expressed confidence on his chances on appeal.

“Everybody wants to know if Ben Darby is going to appeal this decision and I will tell you right now he absolutely is,” said attorney Robert Tuten. “We can’t do that yet though. There are some other things that we have to deal with first. But he is looking forward to an appeal and I’m certain when this is reviewed at the appellate level this decision today, will not stand.”

A hearing is set for Monday in U.S. District Court in Huntsville regarding the stay in the civil case.

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