Drug War Chronicle has reported previously on the January killing of black Louisville teenager Michael Newby, 19, the community mobilization that followed, and the eventual murder indictment against Louisville police undercover detective McKenzie Mattingly (http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/328/fallout.shtml). The Chronicle also reported the killing less than two weeks later of James Alexander, a 62-year-old Roanoke, Virginia, , shot by Kentucky State Police officer Sgt. Bobby Day during an alleged marijuana buy at a house in Jenkins. There are new developments in both cases.
In Louisville, Officer Mattingly is that rare police officer who actually faces punishment for unjustifiably killing someone. Mattingly shot Newby three times in the back as the youth fled after a scuffle during an undercover crack buy gone bad. In the face of angry street protests, Commonwealth Attorney Dave Stengel sought and won a grand jury indictment against Mattingly for the killing, but Mattingly continued to draw a policy salary as he sat on suspension. Not any longer. On April 16, Louisville Police Chief Robert White fired him, the first time any Louisville police officer has been fired in any of the 12 fatal shootings by police in the city since 1998.
In a letter notifying Mattingly of his dismissal that Chief White made available to reporters, White wrote that Michael Newby's actions the night he was killed did not leave Mattingly with no choice but to shoot Newby. "I've determined Newby's actions didn't threaten his life or anybody else's life," White wrote. "Your conduct clearly brought discredit upon our department and you as a member. Your conduct is alarming and has damaged the bond which we have established with our community."
And if that weren't bad enough, Mattingly also violated departmental procedures, the chief continued. "I further find that you failed to appropriately articulate any fact to indicate that Mr. Newby would clearly endanger human life unless apprehended without delay" -- the departmental standard for shooting someone. This violation of policies, wrote White, "demands your termination." The firing took effect immediately.
Mattingly, who faces felony murder and wanton endangerment trials, declined an opportunity to meet with the chief and argue his case, but he said in a statement that he was "scared to death" during the incident and believed that Newby had a gun. Newby in fact did have a weapon, a .45 caliber pistol tucked in his waist band, but Mattingly told investigators he never saw a weapon. That, along with the four eyewitness accounts, including Mattingly's, that Newby was fleeing when shot, led to both the indictments, and now, the firing.
Michael Newby was a well-known and well-liked member of a Louisville black community that had a preexisting civil rights and anti-police brutality movement able to press for justice in the face of police wrongdoing. It wasn't like that for James Alexander, who was an unknown out-of-stater in the small Kentucky town where he died. With his relatives scattered hundreds of miles away and with activists clustered in Louisville or Lexington, there was no one to turn up the heat on local authorities. And a grand jury convened and directed by Letcher County Commonwealth Attorney Edison Banks thus failed to indict Sgt. Day for twice shooting an unarmed man as he sat in the kitchen of a friend's house. No drugs were found.
Commonwealth Attorney Banks wouldn't talk to the Lexington Herald-Leader about his failure to win an indictment, leaving it to state police spokesman Sgt. Phil Crumpton to explain why Alexander had to die. "You're looking at a high-stress situation when someone is given a specific order and he makes an aggressive move that we feel is a threat to us," he said.
Alexander's "aggressive move" was, according to reports in the Herald-Leader, reaching in his jacket for a cell phone.
The failure to indict did not sit well with Alexander's family and relatives. "If they didn't find any guns or drugs on him, how can they do that?" Alexander's uncle, Reuben Alexander, asked the newspaper.
Even if he was a drug dealer, how can they justify shooting James twice when he wasn't armed," asked a friend, Beverly Hunt, 38, of Roanoke. "I was with James for 2 ½ years. He never carried a gun," she told the newspaper. "They're covering up. They've done it again. I've talked to the police, and the way they were talking, I could tell they were thinking, 'We just got another black man off the street.'"