Decatur police apology for Steve Perkins shooting statement spreads more lies, friends say

By David Gambino The Decatur Daily, Ala. (TNS) and Tribune Media Services

Avani Perkins holds a rose during a vigil for her father, Stephen Perkins, outside Decatur, Ala. City Hall/Police Department, Thursday, Oct. 5, 2023. Police shot and killed Perkins, 39, the week before in what began in an early morning confrontation with a tow truck driver trying to repossess a vehicle, police said. Perkins’ family said that he was not behind on payments and the vehicle should not have been repossessed.

Supporters of Steve Perkins said they’re not pleased with the Decatur police chief’s statement released Wednesday night wherein he apologized for initially releasing an inaccurate description of the police killing of Perkins on Sept. 29.

“Our news release and social media post indicated the officer ordered Mr. Stephen Perkins to drop his weapon before shooting,” Chief Todd Pinion said in the statement. “We now know the officer identified themselves as ‘police’ and ordered Mr. Perkins to ‘get on the ground’ prior to the officer firing, rather than ordering him to drop the weapon at that time as we initially reported the morning of the shooting.

“That means we also erred in stating Mr. Perkins ‘refused’ to drop his firearm prior to the shooting.”

Since the Sept. 29 statement issued by police, numerous security videos, several with audio, from Perkins’ neighbors on Ryan Drive Southwest have surfaced.

Briona Watkins, who grew up with Perkins in Hillsboro and has been an early organizer of the movement seeking justice for Perkins, said Pinion’s statement is still a mischaracterization of what happened.

“Since video surveillance has surfaced and we know that the original statement he put out was a complete lie, he now says police ordered Perkins to get on the ground,” Watkins said. “That’s also a lie, because the police officer didn’t even get the word ‘ground’ out before firing. He didn’t give Perkins enough time to comply.”

Pinion’s statement also announced a secondary investigation by the Decatur Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards to determine the series of events that led to the shooting, the use of force itself, and officers’ actions in the aftermath.

“After that investigation, we will also determine if any current policies need to be revised or new ones implemented,” Pinion said.

The primary investigation is being handled by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency. ALEA has said those results will be forwarded to Morgan County District Attorney Scott Anderson.

If not for the widespread circulation of video captured from neighbors’ security cameras at the time of the shooting, Watkins said, the public would still be relying on DPD’s initial description.

“Now Pinion has the audacity to put out a statement saying that there were lies in the first one, and he still lied in the second one,” she said. “If you don’t have enough respect for the community that you’re supposed to serve and protect to give us an accurate statement, then resign.”

Rodney Gordon, president of the Morgan County chapter of the NAACP, also said that the public would still believe DPD’s initial description if not for the security footage from Perkin’s neighbors.

“Steve Perkins would be a statistic and this would be over with,” he said. “Lying is grounds for termination, whether it’s the officers or the chief.”

Gordon said he doesn’t trust DPD “at all” and doesn’t trust them to carry out an internal investigation after their initial falsehoods.

“Somehow they thought they would get away with this, thought they would get away with this ambush,” he said.

Aneesah Saafiyah, another organizer of the movement seeking justice for Perkins, said there have been too many inconsistencies and errors from police since Sept. 29.

“I think the chief of police has no control over his department and has no clue what his officers are doing,” she said.

According to Decatur resident Craig Johnson, who said he knew Perkins and has participated in the protests, the DPD has a large voice that people pay attention to.

“I think it’s a sad attempt to try to cover up the fact that they didn’t do their own investigation before posting negligent material for the public to read,” Johnson said of Pinion’s Wednesday statement. He said the initial description has caused a divide in the community.

“Because what you have after not just the man unjustly losing is life, is you have people separating themselves from others because they have an opinion that is based on a falsehood,” he said. “Because they base their opinion off of someone that you’re supposed to be able to trust, and people that we were supposed to be able to trust have now led us in the wrong direction to cover up their own wrongdoings.”

Decatur business owner Anthony Viator said it still doesn’t seem that DPD is telling the truth.

“Pinion is just trying to throw some ice on the fire,” he said. “I don’t think the city appreciates two (of the three present at Perkins’ shooting) cops still being able to roam around in their cars and work the city.”

Pinion has said one officer is on administrative leave pending the results of the ongoing investigation.

In the last paragraph of Pinion’s statement Wednesday night, he addresses the nine arrests made by DPD for disorderly conduct during last weekend’s protests.

DPD made arrests “both for obstructing traffic on main roadways as well as disorderly conduct language in public,” he said. “While we would rather have had no arrests, we will make arrests when actions include violence or impeding roadways that could impact providing basic public safety services to the rest of the community.”