UPDATE: Judge Donna Pate issued an order Thursday denying Darby's request for immunity.
An immunity hearing was held Wednesday for Huntsville Police Department Officer William Benjamin “Ben” Darby.
Darby is charged with the murder of Jeffrey Parker, 49, in April 2018 after the two were in a standoff. Police say Parker was holding a gun and threatened to kill himself. According to Police Chief Mark McMurray, Darby only fired after Parker refused to drop his weapon.
The hearing was to determine whether or not Darby, a police officer since 2016, acted in self-defense or if the case needs to move forward to a jury trial. The judge to believe more than 50% he did act in self-defense during the incident to grant him immunity.
The courtroom was filled with Huntsville Police Officers. Chief Mark McMurrary was also there for the five hour hearing. Madison County Sheriff Kevin Turner was also present at the hearing, and many of his deputies attended.
A video interview between Darby and a Huntsville Police investigator was played in the courtroom. It was from three days after the 2018 incident, Darby said: “I regret it became necessary, but I don’t regret my action.”
Darby described what happened leading up to him firing his department issued shotgun. His interview matched his testimony in court.
Testifying on the stand Wednesday, Darby said he was on the way to his precinct to download a video from a previous call when he heard concern in an officer’s voice over the radio.
He said he looked up the call because the other officer was asking how many officers were en route. He said he had previously worked with the officer, Justin Beckles, and Beckles sounded concerned.
Darby said the call details said an individual called police saying he was going to blow his brains out.
He said he was in the area and concerned so he turned his car around and headed toward the scene.
Darby said he was worried it was going to be an ambush.
After he arrived, Darby said he found a female officer, Genisha Pegues, not following procedure. Darby explained proper protocol is to setup a perimeter and wait for a negotiator to arrive.
In the recorded interview from 2018, Darby explained to an investigator he had responded to a similiar call before with a suicidal man who had a gun and left his front door open. Darby said he was taught in that incident you should set up a perimeter.
He said he carried his shotgun with him because he expected to be outside the home, and it has better long range accuracy.
Darby also explained the shotgun was loaded with a slug instead of a shell with nine pellets.
Darby said he put a slug in it because they were in a busy neighborhood and didn't want anyone but the subject to get hit if he had to fire the gun.
Darby said when he arrived Pegues was inside the home with her gun by her side. He said he thought about trying to remove Pegues from the house but she seemed like she was in distress because of her gun position and breathing.
He said it didn't think it was a good idea to remove her because he was afraid she would accidentally shoot herself or him because she was in distress.
Darby said he also didn't want to do that because he thought it would give Parker an opportunity to shoot them because they wouldn't be giving him attention.
In Darby's body camera video, Darby tells Pegues, who had her gun by her side, to "point your (expletive) gun at him. He could shoot you."
You also hear all three officers tell Parker seven times to drop his gun. Parker tells them no, and two of the officers also testified he shrugged his shoulders. That movement is why Darby said he felt he needed to shoot his gun. He said he thought Parker was about to turn the gun on them.
Body cam footage also shows Darby shoot Parker.
Prosecutor Tim Gann said Darby had 18 months of experience and the two other officers dealing with Parker had a combined 10 years of experience.
Gann said in court that Darby has never said before today he was afraid of the female officer being shot.
Darby said this isn't the first time he said that.
The two continued to spar on cross-examination.
A recorded video was played for Judge Donna Pate hours later, and Darby did tell an investigator in that interview he was worried about Pegues because she did not have her gun pointed at the suspect, and Darby said he thought it was a dangerous situation.
Pegues took the stand after Darby.
She said Parker told her he wasn’t going to hurt her and that she never felt threatened.
In body cam video from Pegues, you can hear her ask Parker why he wants to kill himself and if he is strung out on drugs. You can then hear Darby arrive and instruct her to point her gun at Parker.
Darby’s attorney asked Pegues what the protocol is for responding to a call with a suspect with a gun. She said they assess the situation and communicate, then possibly set up a perimeter. She never set up one.
Pegues said she didn’t realize she didn’t have her gun on the subject while in the house until watching body cam video afterward, adding it is against training to not have a weapon on an armed subject.
She was sent to remedial training after the incident.
Pegues said she was taught about threat assessment in her remedial training and told she had been involved in a dangerous situation. However, she still doesn’t believe she was in a dangerous situation although she went against protocol.
The third officer on the scene, Justin Beckles, then testified he did not believe Pegues had control of the situation and Parker was not going to drop his weapon. He said he and Darby both stepped in to try to gain control.
Beckles told the judge it was, "inevitable we needed to eliminate the threat from non-compliance."
The Huntsville Police Investigator who was the last to testify explained that after the incident it was discovered the gun to Jeffery Parker's gun was an altered and painted flare gun. However, the investigator said it was impossible for any of the officers on scene to know that.
The defense’s first two witnesses Wednesday talked about officer reaction time in situations such as this and training.
One testified that a suspect can move from a weapon at their head to pulling the trigger in 3/10 of a second. Then added that it takes an officer 54 hundredths of a second for an officer to react with his weapon drawn.
Officers in a high-stress situation would be focused intently on the suspect and their weapon along with moving arms, according to testimony.
Officer Darby is on administrative duties until his case is complete. Officer Peagues is no longer a patrol officer, and has been reassigned as a school resource officer. Officer Beckles is no longer with the Huntsville Police Department, and now works as a military police officer on Redstone Arsenal.
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