Darrius Stewart's mother: 'The struggle for justice continues' - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Darrius Stewart's mother: 'The struggle for justice continues'

Connor Schilling (left), Darrius Stewart (right) Connor Schilling (left), Darrius Stewart (right)
MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) -

U.S. Department of Justice announced that no federal civil rights charges will be filed against former Memphis Police Department Officer Connor Schilling, who shot and killed Darrius Stewart during a traffic stop in July 2015.

After a Tennessee Grand Jury declined to indict Connor Schilling on charges related to Darrius Stewart's death, Department of Justice, along with U.S. Attorney's Office and FBI, launched an independent investigation into the case. 

The Department of Justice did a 10-month review, relying on MPD and TBI witness statements. They also spoke with a medical examiner and a forensic scientist. 

"We found insufficient evidence to support federal, criminal civil rights charges against Connor Schilling," U.S. Attorney Edward Stanton III announced in a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

Stanton said the department had to prove Schilling acted willfully and used unreasonable force.

"To establish willfulness, federal authorities must show that the officer acted with a deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids," Stanton said.

He said things such as a mistake, poor judgment, misperception, and negligence is not enough to show that a civil rights violation happened.

Stanton said there was insufficient evidence to prove the second shot fired by Schilling was unreasonable. He said the evidence pointed toward the second shot being fired only seconds after the first shot.

"The evidence cannot prove beyond reasonable doubt that Schilling shot Stewart knowing that the shooting was unreasonable," Stanton said.

"Since eyewitness accounts and physical evidence both indicate that the second shot came very soon after Stewart stood up in close proximity to Schilling, the evidence cannot establish that the initial threat posed by Stewart had abated at the time of the second shot," Stanton said.

Stewart, 19, was killed by MPD Officer Connor Schilling during a traffic stop in July 2015. Video showed both men fighting and investigators said Stewart attacked Schilling with his handcuffs. A grand jury returned no indictment against Schilling in Stewart's death.

Schilling was scheduled for an administrative hearing for failing to follow proper MPD radio and handcuffing procedures, but he had that hearing delayed multiple times due to illness. Schilling was eventually granted a disability retirement by the pension board, which provides him $1,138.19 twice a month for the rest of his life from City of Memphis.

"I want to mention that we take very seriously all allegations of civil rights violations," Stanton said. "We are working to address the deep concerns that we have heard over the past several months so that we can have a healthy, productive dialogue to help prevent such tragedies in the future."

Stanton said Memphis Police Department has taken steps to prevent further tragedies and work with the community.

"We're looking at working with the Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, also known as C.O.P.S., on a collaborative mission that will exclusively benefit the Memphis Police Department," Stanton said. "The Memphis Police Department has formally requested to participate in a collaborative reform process with C.O.P.S."

Stanton said the reform process is an "independent and objective initiative" by DOJ that helps police departments make changes within the organization. The reform process will examine things such as policies, practices, training, rules, and procedures that are centered around key issues and will help the department make any changes necessary.

The Department of Justice said their 10-month review is over and the case is now closed.

"Fortunately the Shelby County grand jury had the good sense to return a not true bill and the review of the DOJ validates what the Shelby County grand jury did," Connor Schilling's attorney Art Quinn said.

Stewart family responds

The family of Darrius Stewart said they were disappointed in the announcement by the Department of Justice, but it would not stop their pursuits at getting justice.

"Understandably the family is disappointed in the Department of Justice decision," Stewart family attorney Carlos Moore said. "They had hoped against hope that the Department of Justice would do the right thing and prosecute Connor Schilling for the death of Darrius Stewart."

Moore said they believed the DOJ did not put enough effort into their investigation, and it was more like a review of the investigation conducted by the TBI and other law enforcement, rather than the DOJ conducting their own investigation.

"It seemed the Department of Justice tried to gloss over the fact that there is a lot of conflicting information out there," Moore said. 

He said when he asked the DOJ if they had enough evidence to obtain a grand jury indictment, he said he was told "I don't know."

"Was not Darrius Stewart's life worth a try [for an indictment]," Moore asked. "It's unacceptable in a humane society. I wish that there had been a strong presentation to the state grand jury for the voluntary manslaughter charge that Amy Weirich had recommended."

Henry Williams, Stewart's father, said he would continue to fight for Darrius. 

"I want justice," Williams said. "I'm tired of getting bad news about my son."

Williams said he was disappointed in the DOJ decision.

"I was hurt. Shocked," Williams said. "[I] believe that they didn't try to put enough effort into trying to prosecute the man who shot my son."

Murray Wells, Stewart family attorney, said what they expected the DOJ would do and what they actually did were not the same.

"The facts on the night that Darrius Stewart died," Wells said. "We wanted someone else to look at that and investigate it."

Attorneys for the family said they will continue to pursue the civil lawsuit, which they described as being similar to the one the Brown family filed against O.J. Simpson, but did not talk about an exact amount asked for in the suit. However, the lawsuit filed July 13, 2016 is against the city, Connor Schilling, and former Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong in the amount of $17 million.

"We feel very confident and we will move forward and prosecute the case," Arthur Horne III, a Stewart family attorney, said. "Darrius' case represents a problem that has prevailed across the country. It's bigger than Darrius Stewart. His father knows it. His mother knows that. That's why we have to push forward and hopefully get justice for this family."

"We'll continue forward with the lawsuit," Horne III said. "We'll continue to prosecute and hopefully one day we'll get it before a jury. We'll get Mr. Williams and Ms. Stewart some good news about their son at some point."

Darrius Stewart's mother, Mary Stewart, released a statement Tuesday evening in response to the DOJ announcement.

" I, Mary Stewart, am very disappointed at the Department of Justice not to prosecute Conner Schilling for the murder of my son. My son was a slight and frail young man that posed no threat to the life of Officer Schilling.   But the struggle for justice continues and the truth will come out in the course of my lawsuit "

Congressman responds to DOJ announcement

In July 2015, Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN) requested the Department of Justice to investigate the Darrius Stewart case. In his letter requesting the investigation, Cohen wrote, in part: "Without federal intervention, I fear we might never receive answers about whether the police acted properly and whether civil rights were violated." You can view his complete letter requesting the investigation by clicking here.

Cohen issued another call for an investigation into the Stewart case after receiving a response from the DOJ on October 16, 2015. You can read the response to Cohen by clicking here.  Cohen renewed his call for a DOJ investigation in November 2015. You can read his letter to Attorney General Lynch here.

Cohen responded to Tuesday's announcement by the Department of Justice by saying he was disappointed that civil rights charges were not going to be filed against Schilling. However, he acknowledged the DOJ for their work in conducting a "complete and thorough investigation."

“I am disappointed that the Department of Justice will not be bringing civil rights charges against Officer Schilling, but I am pleased that the Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney Stanton conducted a complete and thorough investigation into the shooting of Darrius Stewart, which I requested. 

Despite DOJ’s decision, however, there was still a miscarriage of justice. The standard for an indictment for a federal civil rights charge is extremely high, so I understand and respect U.S. Attorney Stanton’s decision, but there can still be a miscarriage of justice even when civil rights violation standards are not met.

District Attorney Weirich must agree since she requested a manslaughter indictment, but for whatever reason, the grand jury failed to follow her recommendation. I suspect the Stewart family will now pursue a civil suit, and I hope justice will be meted out.” 

Related items

MPD officer shoots 19-year-old passenger during traffic stop

MPD identifies officer involved in fatal shooting; TBI takes over investigation

Excessive force complaint filed against Officer Schilling in the past

No indictment for Officer Schilling in death of Darrius Stewart

Connor Schilling sick; Administrative hearing postponed

Court orders release of Darrius Stewart TBI file

EASY ACCESS: 800-page TBI case file from Darrius Stewart death investigation

Department of Justice responds to family's request for MPD investigation

For more on the Darrius Stewart case, click here.

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