Some community members and a City Council member want to know why three police officers involved in a fatal shooting last year have returned to work before the state has completed its investigation.
The State Bureau of Investigation has been examining the Nov. 22 shooting of Frank Nathaniel Clark.
The officers involved – Officer Monte Southerland, Master Officer Charles Barkley and Officer Christopher Goss – have been back on the job for weeks and in some cases months.
Goss returned to full duty on Dec. 2. Southerland, whose leg was injured in the incident, returned Jan. 12. Barkley returned to administrative duty on Dec. 2.
In general, officers involved in a shooting are placed on paid administrative leave or duty with pay pending the administrative review of the incident, police spokesman Wil Glenn wrote in an email.
“An officer remains on administrative leave/duty status until such time as determined by the department,” Glenn wrote.
The officers were members of the Violent Incident Response Team, which focuses on “gathering intelligence and following up on violent-crime incidents,” according to police.
When asked whether Barkley would return to the team, Glenn wrote “Barkley’s status has not been determined.”
The department requires officers who fire their weapons in such incidents to participate in a psychological wellness check, Glenn wrote. Other officers involved in the incident may also be required to participate in a wellness check.
After the shooting at the McDougald Terrace public housing complex, City Council members Jillian Johnson, Steve Schewel and Charlie Reece said they had some concerns about previous use of force complaints that had been shared with them.
Johnson, the most vocal about her concerns, said she thought the officers would be on administrative leave until the SBI completed its investigation.
“It’s important for public trust that we know exactly what the policy is, and that the policy makes sense for the department and the community,” Johnson said. “I think being on leave until the investigation is concluded is reasonable.”
Dave Hall, an attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice who is representing Clark’s family, said “it’s a little disheartening” to have the officers back before the SBI report is done.
“I think the community needs to know how those decisions were made and why,” he said.
Nia Wilson, executive director of SpiritHouse, said returning the officers to work “says the department has confidence that these officers did nothing wrong.”
Mayor Bill Bell said he has complete confidence in Police Chief C.J. Davis.
“I am sure she made that determination taking in all the consideration with the community and people involved,” Bell said.
A city report says the three officers stopped and questioned Clark around 12:30 p.m on Nov. 22. It says Clark reached for his waistband and that a struggle ensued. Officers say they heard a gunshot and that Southerland fell to the ground, prompting Barkley to fire his gun.
However, witness Reketa Bagley, who said she saw the encounter, said Barkley was patting Clark down when a gun went off. Police shouted “gun” and Clark “took off running,” she said.
All three of the officers have been tied to controversial cases.
Barkley was suspended in 2014, and Southerland was suspended in March, according to the Police Department.
In 2006, a woman accused Barkley of using excessive force when he used a flashlight to break up a fight between two girls outside Jordan High School. A 15-year-old girl suffered a skull fracture from the incident. Barkley was working an off-duty assignment for a basketball game at the school, the family’s attorney said.
In December 2014, the Police Department’s internal affairs agreed Southerland had used excessive force by using a Taser stun gun on a 14-year-old boy while working with other officers to break up a family quarrel, according to a Police Department letter written by D.C. Allen, a captain in the Professional Standards Division.
Barkley and Goss were also among the officers involved in that incident, but excessive force complaints against them weren’t proven, according to internal affairs.