What Does Justice For Ricky Ball Really Look Like?
Read the complete original article from The Guardian by clicking here: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/feb/09/mississippi-fatal-police-shooting-ricky-ball
-Article By: Matt Kessler in Oxford, Mississippi Tuesday 9 February 2016 07.00 EST
Ricky Ball was killed by police in October 2015, but attempts to obtain official documents have left many unanswered questions and a community outraged
Since 26-year-old Ricky Ball was shot and killed by police in October, the black community in Columbus, Mississippi, has grappled with questions that don’t have clear answers.
Why did police shoot Ball that night? Why did a string of police officials resign in the months that followed? And why did police claim Ball stole a gun from a police officer’s home only after his death?
Attempts to obtain police documents about the case have raised a new question: why did police release two different versions of events from the shooting?
Documents obtained by the Guardian show police altered a document labeled “uniform incident report” in Ball’s death. An initial version published by the Commercial Dispatch said an officer “tased” Ball before he fled. A new version of the incident report released to the Guardian does not include any mention of Taser use.
“One of these two reports is not true,” said Philip Broadhead, director of the criminal appeals clinic at the University of Mississippi law school. Broadhead said he’s never seen an incident report altered the way the document was in this case. “For police officers to offer up this type of information in the form of an incident report as sworn law officers … It’s a violation of their oath.”
City attorney Jeff Turnage said in an email the “documents created after the incident clearly were not incident reports, though that was the caption at the top”. He said “the city was not going to produce those because they were investigative in nature and exempt from production.”
An incident report is an official piece of evidence in the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation’s ongoing inquiry. It could also be used in a grand jury proceeding for officer Canyon Boykin.
Community members have held marches, vigils and launched a website seeking justice in Ball’s name in a case they have flagged as suspicious since it happened on 16 October. Ball was shot by Boykin after he and two other officers stopped a Mercury Grand Marquis in which Ball was the passenger. Ball jumped out of the car and fled. A coroner at the Baptist Memorial hospital declared Ball dead from a loss of blood at 11.12 pm.
But the details are hotly disputed.
The Columbus police department contends that Ball fled the scene of the crime and evaded police officials for 20 minutes. When the K-9 unit found Ball, the police say he possessed narcotics and a stolen handgun. He was stabilized at the scene and then died at the hospital.
According to Kamal Karriem, former city councilman and community leader, many members of the black community believe police fired shots without justifiable cause and planted the gun on Ball’s body.
That alternative theory is the basis for a website, Justice For Ricky Ball, which has been meticulously documenting the twists and turns of the case over the past four months. It has also served as a sounding board for members of the community who feel ignored by the city government and local media.
“Ricky didn’t deal with guns,” said Ernesto Ball, uncle of Ricky and organizer of the vigil and march. “That’s one thing he never dealt with. He never owned a gun. He never dealt with people that owned guns.”
Suspicion in Columbus grew as police did not release any information about the incident until five days after Ball’s death, and then only in small increments.
At a city council meeting on 20 October, former police chief Tony Carleton said the car was pulled over for a faulty tag light and a “lack of insurance”. He then said body camera footage existed, but that he had not reviewed it. This drew derisive heckling from citizens in attendance.
The next day Carleton said he viewed the footage on former councilman Karriem’s radio show, but would not elaborate.
On 28 October 2015 – almost two weeks after the shooting – the police department issued an incident report, its first official account of events, as well as a press release that stated that a handgun, marijuana, narcotics and a scale were found within arm’s reach of Ball’s body. The press release said the three officers failed to activate body cameras during the incident, and only one officer activated a camera after the shooting.
Police also said the handgun was stolen from the house of Columbus police officer Garrett Mittan, one of the first officers to arrive at the scene.
The very same day, police issued two reports for alleged burglaries at officer Mittan’s house. Although one alleged burglary occurred more than a year earlier, in September 2014, and the other occurred several months earlier in August 2015, police did not report them until after Ball’s death.
The September 2014 report claims that the robbery occurred while Mittan was at work. But a police schedule obtained by the Guardian says he was not at work that day.
In the days that followed, there were a string of departures in the police department. First, the city fired Boykin, the officer who shot Ball, for unrelated reasons. The department said Boykin violated department policies by using derogatory language on Instagram, and allowing his girlfriend to ride in his patrol car.
The day after that, the chief of police, Carleton, resigned. He took a position as a training officer with the the police department in Oxford, Mississippi. The voluntary demotion raised eyebrows.
The assistant police chief Tony McCoy and narcotics officer Joseph Strevel also resigned before the end of 2015.
In January, the Guardian requested a copy of the incident report and received one that looked different from the earlier version published in the Commercial Dispatch, omitting a report that police “tased” the suspect.
Turnage claims that the second version of the incident report was given to the Guardian erroneously. He said in a follow-up email: “You can very well take my word as the City Attorney for Columbus that the incident report that says Boykin tased Mr Ball is the ONLY official incident report.”
The Columbus district attorney chose not to comment on a pending investigation.
Columbus police use the Taser X26, which stores data on an electronic control device). So if police did use a stun gun, it should be impossible to alter or delete this information.
Broadhead was alarmed by the two copies of the incident report, and said the altered incident report further discredits the police department’s account. Typically, he said, if police receive new information, they would indicate that the report had been changed. They would not, however, simply replace an old report with a new one.
“The series of events are not the same,” he said. “For this incident report to bear the same serial number … I’ve seen police reports supplemented. But I’ve never seen one that’s completely substituted.”
Blake Feldman, advocacy coordinator at the ACLU of Mississippi, says that the credibility of the document has been compromised.
An incident report is considered to be archival evidence and most police departments do not allow them to be altered, but the Columbus department has no standard operating procedure for them.
According to Broadhead: “For a city not to have a written policy concerning incident reports, that’s very unusual. But unfortunately it’s very common. Because if you don’t have a stated policy then you can’t be called for not following your stated policy.”
“When police make up rules as they go along,” former councilman Karriem said, “it creates blatant mistrust between the police and the communities that they are policing.”
The ACLU believes the state’s body camera policy is to blame.
“The circumstances of this incident, based on the information available, understandably invite suspicion of the officer’s version of events,” Feldman said. “Had audio and video been recorded from the time Boykin initiated the traffic stop, we wouldn’t be wondering if evidence was planted or whether a Taser was used. We wouldn’t be wondering why another young black man was fatally shot by a law enforcement officer.”
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