Fatal shooting by police draws protests and raises questions in north Alabama

DECATUR, Ala. (AP) — Family members of a Black man fatally shot outside his home by Alabama police are seeking more information about what happened and to see body camera footage of the shooting.

Police shot and killed Stephen Perkins, 39, last week in Decatur, Alabama, in what began in a confrontation Friday morning with a tow truck driver trying to repossess a vehicle, police said. Perkins’ family said that he was not behind on payments and the vehicle should not have been repossessed.

The Decatur Police Department said in an initial public statement that officers were called to the scene by the tow truck driver, who said the homeowner pulled a gun. Police said that the man, identified as Perkins, later threatened the driver and “turned the gun toward one of the officers.”

The Perkins family issued a statement to news outlets requesting body camera footage and an investigation. They questioned what they called an “unjust excessive amount of force.” Perkins was shot seven times, they said.

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Police Chief Todd Pinion said he can not comment on the investigation until it it is completed. “It would be improper and irresponsible for me to comment on the evidence in this case and cannot legally release any evidence in the case,” he said.

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“Rumors have circulated regarding Decatur Police Department’s statement stigmatizing Clay as combative or aggressive, causing rage in marginalized communities across Alabama,” the family’s statement read. “This was not the character of Clay Perkins. Clay was a family-oriented young black man thriving for excellence.”

The family said they found receipts showing that his vehicle payments had been processed.

The police chief said in a statement Monday that the shooting is under review by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and that the law gives that agency the authority to decide whether body camera footage will be released.

The state law enforcement agency and local district attorney will decide whether the shooting will be presented to a grand jury after the investigation, he said.

Pinion said he will respect the findings of the state law enforcement agency. “I ask for your patience until the investigative process is complete,” Pinion said.

The Decatur Daily reported that protesters gathered outside Decatur City Hall, as well as a hotel where Gov. Kay Ivey spoke on Tuesday, to protest the shooting and to call for an investigation.

A neighbor who lives across the street from Perkins told WAFF that a bullet flew into his home. “I feel that this was reckless and sloppy,” Justin Shepherd told the local television station. “For this many bullet holes to be in my home while I’m sleeping, I’m afraid to go to sleep at night knowing that people can shot my house up with immunity.”

A justification of lethal force under the 4th Amendment depends on whether the officer was “reasonably reacting to a deadly threat” at the time of the fatal shooting, according to Brandon Garrett, a professor at Duke University School of Law.

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“Focusing on that split second, a terribly unjustified shooting might seem reasonable,” Garrett said in an email to The Associated Press. “That is why so many police and policymakers have rejected the constitutional standard as a poor guide for police practices.”

Garrett raised several key questions about the Alabama shooting: Did the officer clearly identify themself as the police, and attempt to deescalate the situation from a safe position before using force? If not, did that practice violate any state or local policies?

According to an order revised by the Decatur Police Department in November 2020, officers must warn before using deadly force “when reasonably practical.”


Associated Press/Report for America reporter James Pollard in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed reporting.

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