The Jefferson County Commonwealth’s Attorney says the 2016 fatal police shooting of 57-year-old Darnell Wicker was justified.
Wine says he did not review case alone. Says this is 1st press conference during his time as Commonwealth Attorney. pic.twitter.com/mVNtenAZH0
— jacob ryan (@jacobhryan) March 15, 2017
Wicker, who was black, was shot and killed by two white Louisville Metro police officers at an apartment complex in southwest Louisville. The officers were responding to a 911 call made at the behest of Anita Jones, Wicker’s girlfriend of 22 years.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Thomas B. Wine said Wednesday that officers has no reason to believe Wicker resided at the apartment where he was shot. He said the shooting was justified and the actions of police were consistent with their duty as law enforcement officers.
Police alleged Wicker approached officers with a handsaw. Wicker was shot 13 times.
Wine pulls out tree saw Wicker was holding when officers arrived. "Not a flimsy blade." pic.twitter.com/2X1wdMhzbp
— jacob ryan (@jacobhryan) March 15, 2017
Local activists disagree with Wine’s findings.
Chanelle Helm, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Louisville, said to consider the shooting justified is “disgusting.” Helm said the public’s response to these findings should not be one of tolerance.
“Sitting back, taking it and saying ‘oh, that’s what they do,’ isn’t the answer,” she said. “We have to be ready to organize.”
Sam Aguiar, the attorney representing Wicker’s family in an ongoing civil suit, said the findings from Wine’s office are “outrageous.”
“This shows police can act without reprisal,” he said.
Aguiar said the family is “devastated.” He said the finding proves the need for independent investigations of police shootings in Louisville.
The group Louisville Showing Up for Racial Justice issued a statement Wednesday denouncing Wine’s review calling it a verdict “that once again tells us that Black lives do not matter.”
“Over and over again, in fatal LMPD shootings, even when the evidence seems to point to no immediate danger to officers, police are exonerated and history repeats itself, throughout this country and here in our own Louisville, Kentucky,” the statement said.
The group said it was “outrageous that we tolerate the police investigating themselves.”
LMPD Chief Steve Conrad responded to Wine’s review via the department’s Facebook page:
“I can assure you the LMPD Public Integrity Investigation of this case was thorough, methodical and factual. I can appreciate that there will be sincere emotion and concern from some who will not agree with the Commonwealth Attorney’s decision. I believe the Commonwealth Attorney gave careful and deliberate consideration to the facts and evidence in this case and his decision should be respected.
“The officers will be returned to normal duty while our Professional Standards Unit (PSU) conducts the administrative investigation of this case to determine if the officers’ actions were in compliance with our policy. I anticipate the PSU case to be completed within the next 90 days. Due to the PSU Investigation, in accordance with KRS 67C.326, as well as a pending civil lawsuit, we are prohibited from speaking further on this particular case at this time.
“This case will also be presented for external review by the Citizens Commission on Police Accountability as in every PIU investigation that involves the death of a citizen. The Commission’s job will be to review this case, advise the mayor and me on matters relating to the quality and adequacy of the investigation and make recommendations on possible changes to policy and training.
“Any loss of life is a tragedy, and our thoughts and prayers continue to be with all involved in this case – the Wicker family and our officers.”
Local activists in Louisville have called for an independent, external investigation of the shooting for many months. They feared an investigation based solely on evidence gathered by the police department would not ensure a fair and just outcome for Wicker’s family.
In January, activists made a plea to Wine to appoint a special panel to conduct their desired external review. But Wine dismissed the need for such a review.
“There are no statutory, professional, or ethical reasons which would necessitate our office calling in a third-party to conduct an investigation into Mr. Wicker’s death,” Wine wrote in a letter earlier this year.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer released a statement Wednesday afternoon, some five hours after Wine presented his findings. Here’s Fischer’s comments, in full.
The August 8th death of Darnell Wicker was a tragedy and a tremendous source of pain for his loved ones and our community. For my administration, it has been paramount that we bring transparency and accountability to every step of this process.
That is why we released the body camera footage about 15 hours after the shooting. It is why Chief Conrad and his staff immediately briefed Mr. Wicker’s family and the community on the process that would take place. It is that desire and demand for transparency that led Commonwealth Attorney Wine to conduct a thorough investigation – and then laid out his findings in detail before the public. I deeply appreciate the exhaustive review he conducted, while I understand that the conclusion he came to may disappoint some people.
As we move into the next phase of this process, LMPD will now conduct a thorough investigation to determine if the officers involved followed all department policies and procedures.
I have asked Chief Conrad to take a close look at the steps that the officers took and did not take in this shooting. He must also rigorously evaluate our police training, policies and procedures, including those related to de-escalation and individuals with mental illness or drug abuse problems.
Our police officers have an incredibly difficult, dangerous and critical job to do for our community. LMPD has been transparent throughout this process and will continue to be transparent with the public about the investigation and its findings – they understand that transparency, honesty and accountability are essential to maintaining the public’s trust.
Our country has a painful history of discrimination between some police officers and some communities of color. Locally, I am committed to doing everything possible we can to address and heal the wounds of the past by listening and responding to our community’s thoughts and concerns, treating all citizens fairly and respecting the rights guaranteed them by our Constitution.
The officers, Taylor Banks and Beau Gadegaard, were placed on administrative leave following the shooting. Wine said the officers will not be charged and the evidence will not be presented to a grand jury.
This story has been updated.