Witnesses: Memphis officer shot man as he tried to run away

AP News
|
Posted: Dec 15, 2015 5:52 PM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Investigative documents, video and other materials released Tuesday in the shooting death of a 19-year-old black man by a Memphis police officer offer little conclusive evidence in a case that has prompted protests and calls for the officer to be fired.

But it does make public a dramatic, real-time account from a woman who watched in horror as Darrius Stewart was shot by Officer Connor Schilling, who was not charged with any crime despite a recommendation from the district attorney.

The July 17 shooting happened in the months after police shootings across the nation sparked sharp debate on use of force and racial profiling. It is now being reviewed by the U.S. Justice Department.

Schilling has said he shot Stewart during a scuffle, fearing for his life. Video released Tuesday shows the two wrestling on the ground, and the medical examiner told investigators Stewart was shot from no more than 4 feet away. Two witnesses said Stewart was shot as he ran away; Schilling has said Stewart ran away after being shot, then collapsed about 60 yards away.

In one cellphone video, a woman says she started filming after hearing a gunshot and seeing a second.

"The police just shot this man!" she yells, adding that the man who was shot "took off running" before the officer shot him again.

She sounds as if she is starting to hyperventilate and then says: "I'm sick of them killing us!"

Her account is echoed by a second witness, who told investigators the second shot came as Stewart "stood up and began to turn away and looked as if he was gonna run."

Neither witness is identified in the investigative file.

The medical examiner's report outlines where Stewart was shot but does not indicate Stewart and Schilling's exact positions during the shooting. It says one bullet entered Stewart's upper right chest and traveled downward front to back. A second bullet entered the inner left arm toward the back side and then went into Stewart's chest. Both entrance wounds showed stippling. Medical Examiner Marco Ross told investigators that means the muzzle was probably between ½ inch and 3 to 4 feet from Stewart when the gun was fired.

Carlos Moore, an attorney for Stewart's family who had been pushing for federal investigators to examine the case, said the family was "mortified and utterly shocked" after looking at the file.

"It is clear to the family that Connor Schilling should have been indicted after shooting their son in the back as he ran for his life," Moore said.

Schilling's attorney, Art Quinn, said the objective evidence in the file shows otherwise. Quinn said Schilling's statements to investigators are consistent with the DNA evidence later recovered and the autopsy.

He noted Schilling had scrapes and bruises and had lost his baton near his cruiser, where the scuffle began. Schilling told investigators Stewart had grabbed his utility belt.

Schilling has been relieved of duty with pay. He faces an administrative hearing to determine his future with the department.

Stewart was originally detained after a vehicle he was riding in was stopped for a headlight violation. Schilling took Stewart's identification and discovered old warrants, including one for a sexual abuse charge from 2009, when Stewart was 13.

The driver, who did not witness Stewart's death, told investigators, "Darrius was hesitating to step out of the car and said he was scared."

The shooting led Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. to ask for a review of police policy on when it is permissible to question, detain and search car passengers during traffic stops.

Stewart's father, Henry Williams, in a telephone interview, said his son was "a good kid."

"His life got cut short at 19. He had tried to make a better life for himself, which he didn't get a chance to do, unfortunately.

___

Associated Press writer Lucas L. Johnson II contributed to this report.