Judge impanels grand jury over West Memphis shooting death - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Reported by Ben Watson

Judge impanels grand jury over West Memphis shooting death

DeAunta Farrow DeAunta Farrow

A judge serving in West Memphis says simmering racial divisions and fears in West Memphis came to a boil with the police shooting of a 12-year-old black child this summer.

In a written order, Crittenden County Circuit Court Judge Victor L. Hill said those divisions forced him to make the decision to impanel a civil grand jury to investigate Farrow's death.

In his order, Hill said the grand jury investigation into DeAunta Farrow's death comes not only the need for "maintaining the appearance of fairness," but also his own racial experiences as the area's sole black judge.

Hill went on to claim he has faced racially motivated complaints from the city's assistant police chief.

Javier Bailey, the Farrow family's attorney, said DeAunta's mother Deborah was pleased by the news of the order.

"She was absolutely elated to the point of tears, because for the first time she's starting to see some daylight in the darkness of this investigation," he said.

Bailey and members of the National Action Network requested a grand jury, recently giving Hill witness statements and other information they claimed showed a pattern of unfairness towards African Americans in West Memphis.

"He cites historical racism," Bailey said of Hill's order.  "He cites the many complaints he has received regarding the West Memphis Police Department."

Hill gave special prosecutor H.G. Foster until Friday to turn over evidence from his investigation into Farrow's death, saying if Foster chooses not to, or if he is unavailable, he is to give notice by Friday so that another special prosecutor can be appointed.

Later in the day, Foster filed a Writ of Prohibition, asking that Hill's order be overturned.

West Memphis police Sergeant Erik Sammis, a white officer on a stakeout, shot DeAuntae as he played near an apartment complex June 22.

An Arkansas State Police investigation into the shooting concluded Sammis shot DeAunta because the boy held a toy version of a semiautomatic pistol in the darkened parking lot. DeAunta's family disputed that, saying the boy held a bag of chips and a soda at the time of the shooting.

The Justice Department later said that DeAunta's rights weren't "willfully abused" in the shooting and declined to pursue federal charges. Special Prosecutor H.G. Foster announced this month there would be no state criminal charges in the shooting, which he called a "tragedy."

DeAuntae's parents have filed a wrongful death and civil rights lawsuit seeking more than $100 million from the city of West Memphis and the police officers involved.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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