A jury in Madison County sent a message Friday: Huntsville’s chief of police, Mark McMurray, can’t tell who’s a murderer and who’s not.
That’s a distinction a law enforcement officer should be able to make.
They sent a message, too, that Huntsville’s mayor needs to hear: They won’t tolerate the kind of police behavior Tommy Battle thinks is just part of the job.
One reckoning just happened here.
Now Battle must answer, not only for the loss of life, but for taxpayers dollars he spent trying to protect a murderer.
And this murder isn’t the only trouble Huntsville has had within its police department.
Last summer, Huntsville Police violated their own policies and procedures when violence erupted between police and protestors, according to a report released last month by the Citizens Advisory Council.
That citizen council’s investigation showed the Huntsville police department relied on questionable intelligence ahead of the protests, used excessive force while dispersing protestors and used less-lethal weapons they were not authorized to use.
Additionally, the report made clear the police department had not been eager to cooperate with the investigation and frequently resisted efforts by the committee to interview officers or obtain more information.
At least one more needs to follow.
Three years ago, William Ben Darby was the third police officer to respond to a 911 call from a suicidal man named Jeff Parker. Two cops were already on the scene. One was trying to talk down Parker, who had a gun to his head and was threatening to kill himself. They were trying to deescalate the situation.
And then Darby burst in.
According to bodycam footage and testimony in court, Darby accosted the other officers — officers with years more experience — not pointing their guns at Parker. Darby aimed a shotgun at Parker and ordered him to drop his weapon. Then Darby shot him in the face and killed him.
Darby said later he feared for his life and the lives of the other officers who, until he charged in, hadn’t even pointed their weapons at Parker.
And if he can’t do that, then he should give his own.
Take Darby out of the equation and there’s no guarantee Parker lives through that night.
But with Darby there, Parker was guaranteed to die.
As prosecutors said this week, Darby was supposed to be the good guy. He was supposed to be the one — like the other officers there — who shepherded this crisis to a less violent solution. Parker, whatever else was happening in his head, had called for help.
Darby was supposed to help.
Instead, he killed a man. Not just killed, but by the jury’s verdict, murdered a man.
Despite what was clearly an unnecessary death, two Huntsville leaders have defended Darby. Battle and McMurray have said he was just doing his job and did nothing wrong.
Not only did McMurray not discipline Darby for killing a man unnecessarily, but the department sent the other two police officers — who did not shoot anyone in the face — to remedial training, as if they were the ones who screwed up. Both officers have since left the department.
Already, last summer, when the Huntsville City Council demanded a fuller accounting of the crackdown on protesters, McMurray revealed the ineptitude that preceded the protest. In a presentation to the council, McMurray accused a 39-year-old Huntsville man of being an Antifa social media “influencer” when the man, Benjamin Shapiro, had only 300 friends on Facebook The man said he didn’t even attend a protest and doesn’t have any ties to antifa.
It seems McMurray can’t tell social media influencers any better than he can murderers. The incompetence in the Huntsville Police Department appears to start at the top. If this is what passes for police work there, innocent people should be scared more than the criminals.
Despite the verdict Friday, the Huntsville police chief and mayor continued to defend the man prosecutors and jurors agreed was a murderer.
“While I respect the jury’s opinion, I disagree with the verdict,” Battle said Friday.
But the mayor can’t respect the jury’s verdict if he continues to defend a police officer who murdered a man.
And he can’t respect the jury’s verdict if he lets an inept police chief lead the department.
Tommy Battle should demand McMurray’s resignation immediately.
The Huntsville City Council, at Battle’s request, agreed to pay at least $125,000 in legal fees to defend Darby. Before this case, the city had never paid legal fees to defend a police officer on criminal charges.