HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Wednesday was a difficult day in the courtroom where Huntsville Police Officer William Darby appeared for an immunity hearing on a murder charge he faces over the death of Jeffery Parker. All parties are now waiting for a judge to make a ruling on the immunity motion.
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 claims he fired on Parker in self-defense after arriving on scene.
Darby arrived after two other officers, working backup. The court viewed body camera video of the whole event Wednesday.
“Very traumatizing to watch the camera footage.” said Rebecca Louthan Woods, daughter of Parker’s fiance. “I had excused myself at one point. But it did answer a lot of unanswered questions we’ve had.”
Parker’s loved ones had been waiting for answers for one full year to the day Wednesday.
“To us, it has been quite a shame,” said Bill Parks, an intellectual property attorney and Parker’s childhood friend. He said he and Parker met in band camp at Butler High School. “It’s just a frustrating situation. You want to know what the answers [are], and particularly in this situation, because it really doesn’t make much sense.”
These answers came during the immunity hearing, but it wasn’t easy to watch.
“It was shocking. It’s awful,” Parks said. “Very hard to sit there and take. But at the very least, we know what did happen. We can’t bring him back, but knowing and seeing what occurred and what led up to it in those final moments, quite shocking.”
Woods stated that her mother still has a difficult time with Parker’s loss.
“It has been rough,” she said. “My mom, she cries herself to sleep almost every night. It hurts knowing nothing I do can bring comfort to her.”
Parks said he knew Parker was dealing with some things, including the loss of his own mother. He didn’t know what was going through Parker’s head the night he died, and said now they might never know.
“I had to be there for him,” he said of coming to court Wednesday.
But Woods wants to make sure no one ever feels afraid to ask for help, if they feel similarly.
“If you’re feeling suicidal, do not feel like there is no one who can help you. They have the hotline, the prevention team. Call that number,” she said of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255. It’s available 24 hours every day for anyone who needs help or resources. “Don’t feel like you have anyone to turn to.” She encouraged everyone who needs assistance to still reach out for help in some way, even if it’s not to police.
The body camera footage shows Darby’s actions that came under scrutiny lasted only a minute from leaving the car, to firing the fatal shot.
“What stuck out the most to me is the amount of time William Benjamin Darby was in the house before he fired his shot,” she said.
Woods called for change within the Huntsville Police Department, based on what she saw on the body camera video.
“It’s very clear, especially with Huntsville Police backing Officer Darby, there need to be changes implemented A.S.A.P. that should have been done years ago, if he followed protocol that Huntsville Police are supposed to,” she said. An incident review board cleared Darby of wrongdoing along with the other officers who were on-scene in May 2018.
Huntsville Police have indicated there will be more mental health training for officers in the future.
Darby testified that he believed his fellow officer, Genisha Pegues, was in danger. She was standing with her gun pointing down, talking to the armed Parker. Darby said he did not believe she was handling the situation safely. But testimony showed Parker’s gun never left his temple, even as Darby advanced on him with a shotgun.
“They were handling it, they were trying to deescalate the situation, and he came into the situation, it seemed like he was already frustrated and it just ended up turning into something that should have never happened,” Woods stated. “We can’t change what has already happened, unfortunately,” Woods said. “But what we can do at this point is make sure no other family has to go through this. Because no one deserves to go through this.”
Woods said she drew hope from what she saw from Officer Pegues.
“How she was handling the situation brought faith back to me with Huntsville Police, knowing there are police officers like her in the field that actually care and try to de-escalate,” she stated.
Parker’s friends and family will continue to monitor the case.
“We certainly hope that in the very least, there will be a trial,” Parks said.