Memphis teen ‘was running away’ when shot dead by police, witnesses say
Darrius Stewart, the unarmed black 19-year-old shot and killed by a white Memphis police officer in July, was moving away from the officer when the second shot was fired, according to several eyewitnesses quoted in the official investigation.
The investigation, conducted by the Tennessee bureau of investigation and released by the Shelby County district attorney general on Tuesday , includes two eyewitness accounts of the incident which describe Stewart as turning to run from the officer, contradicting the officer’s account that Stewart advanced at him.
One witness said Stewart “stood up and ran away” from Schilling as the officer fired the second shot. Another witness claimed that the officer shot Stewart “as he turned away”. That same witness also claimed to hear Stewart yell “I can’t breathe” before the teen was hit with the second and, according to the Stewart family’s attorney, fatal bullet.
The identities of all the witnesses were redacted before the file was made public and the investigation notes that “while no witness saw this incident in its entirety, each person saw a portion of it”.
The incident occurred on 17 July when Memphis police officer Connor Schilling had stopped the car Stewart was riding in because one of the car’s headlights wasn’t working. Schilling ran checks for Stewart, the driver and a third passenger. The officer discovered two outstanding out-of-state warrants for the teen, including one for sexual abuse, and placed Stewart in the back of his patrol car. The officer did not handcuff the teen, who he said had been cooperative to this point, while he confirmed the warrants with his dispatcher.
According to the officer, once they had been confirmed, he asked Stewart to exit and be handcuffed. Schilling said Stewart then resisted and the two men became engaged in an altercation on the ground. Schilling said during the scuffle Stewart grabbed at his duty belt, where the officer’s firearm was holstered. Eventually, according to Schilling’s account, Stewart got hold of the officer’s handcuffs and used them as a weapon, striking the officer in the face and arms.
Fearing that the next strike could leave him unconscious and give Stewart access to his firearm, Schilling said he fired one shot from above the teen, and another as the teen had stood up and “advanced towards him”.
The Shelby County district attorney, Amy Weirich, recommended a grand jury indict the officer for voluntary manslaughter and employment of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony in November, but the grand jury declined. Schilling was supposed to face an administrative hearing on 13 November to determine whether he should be disciplined by his department, but the hearing was postponed because he reported he was sick.
The release of the files comes after an announcement by the Department of Justice on Monday that it would, in conjunction with the FBI, conduct a “comprehensive review” of the case.
Attorney Murray Wells, who is representing Stewart’s family, called the announcement “overdue” but also questioned its timing, just 20 hours before the investigation files were due to be released. “We’re wondering whether or not there’s some political motive of giving the community the impression of something being done,” Wells said. “Maybe part of it is simply to delay public reaction to what happened.”
The file also included portions of Schilling’s disciplinary records. Schilling and another officer were accused of excessive force after a July 2013 traffic stop, though investigators said the complaint was not sustained. In 2014, Schilling was arrested in connection with driving under the influence by Southhaven police. The charges were dropped, but an internal review found Schilling had violated two department policies and suspended him for 18 days without pay.
Schilling’s attorney could not immediately be reached for comment.
Jamiles Lartey and Ciara McCarthy in New York
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