Man killed in police custody, family begs for answers

TBI investigates MPD officer-involved shooting
Published: Jul. 20, 2015 at 2:51 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 21, 2015 at 1:43 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - A man's family told WMC Action News 5 they want answers after they said an officer killed their loved one when they mistook him for someone else.  

The MPD officer stopped a car for a broken headlight in the 5700 block of Winchester Road.  The officer issued the driver a ticket and let him go. However, the passenger, Darrius Stewart, 19, was placed in the back seat of a police car to verify warrants police said he had.

Police say when the officer opened the back door to handcuff Stewart, he kicked the door and attacked the officer. During the fight, Stewart grabbed the officer's handcuffs and swung them at him. The officer grabbed his gun and shot Stewart to end the fight. WMC Action News 5 has video of the attack. Stewart later died at the hospital.

Stewart's family members said they want answers. They said police gave them no information about what happened. They said he did not have any warrants like police claim.

Memphis Police held a press conference Monday to address the situation.

"Anytime an officer discharges their weapon in the line of duty the outcome can be devastating on the community and the officer involved," said MPD Director Toney Armstrong.

The case has been turned over to the TBI for further review. Police still have not confirmed if the warrants belonged to Stewart.

"We are going to be transparent and get to the bottom of what happened and why it happened," Armstrong said.

Stewart's family and friends said that's not like him.

"He was sweet. He was nice. He wouldn't harm a fly," said Nyliah Stewart.

Police have not said if the shooting was justified.

Stewart's family and friends, who are still trying to make sense of what happened, said the officer went too far.

"He's nothing but 19 and weigh 120," said childhood friend Derrick Patterson. "Anything, why couldn't they pepper spray him, why'd they have to just shoot him?"

Ashley Caldwell of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center said she is sick of hearing about more and more cases like this one.

"It makes me feel sad that this is still happening and continuing to happen," Caldwell said.

Caldwell believes the city needs more civilian oversight and police body cameras.

"[Those] will help tie up a lot of the loose end questions that a lot of people still have," she said.

Mike Williams from the Memphis Police Association said he cannot speak on the case, but said the use of deadly force is usually justified if an officer feels their life or someone else's life is in danger.

"It could have went either way," Williams said. "Would it have been better if we had a police officer laying out there dead right now? No, it would not have been. It is not okay that we have a young man who is dead. I'm not going to sit here and let you beat me in the face with handcuffs. That's not going to happen, because you can kill me. I'm not going to let you pull a knife on me."

Former US Attorney David Kustoff believes MPD could adequately investigate one of its own.

"To have the TBI come in and do the investigation, they're going to act as an independent examiner. They're an honest broker, and they're going to call it the way they see it," Kustoff said.

Stewart's family is planning the funeral. They are also having a prayer vigil Saturday.

The officer is on paid leave as MPD investigates.

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