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Opinion | In Huntsville, don’t forget the good cop

“If not for the courage of Genisha Pegues, a Huntsville police officer might have gotten away with murder.”

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It’s a shame that you probably don’t know the name Genisha Pegues. Because you should know it. You should know it much better than you know the name William Darby. Or Derrick Chauvin. Or the name of any other cop who has been on trial recently for killing an unarmed person.

Because Genisha Pegues seems to be the sort of law enforcement officer we really need right now. The sort of cop who gives a department a good name. 

But the reason you don’t know Pegues is because she didn’t shoot anyone. And the reason you should know her name is that she took the stand — and took a public stand — against a bad cop who did. 

Pegues, a six-year veteran of the Huntsville PD at the time, was the first officer on the scene back in April 2018, when Jeff Parker called 911 and said he was going to kill himself. When Pegues arrived at Parker’s home, Parker was seated on his couch, a handgun pointed at his head. (Everyone involved would later learn that it wasn’t really a handgun, but a modified flare gun.)

Footage from Pegues’ body cam that day was played in open court a couple of weeks ago, giving a rare inside look at the events that led up to a police shooting — one in which Darby killed Parker. And one in which Darby — in a rare instance of justice — was found guilty of murder. 

When Pegues arrived at Parker’s home and saw him sitting on the couch, she didn’t immediately judge him to be a danger to herself. Certainly, Parker was dangerous. He had a loaded weapon and could turn it on Pegues at any moment. 

But Pegues leaned on her training. In court testimony, she said she wanted to “de-escalate the situation.” And that’s exactly what she was doing. 

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Believing Parker’s intent wasn’t to harm anyone else, she pointed her handgun at the floor in an effort to appear less confrontational. And she started talking with Parker, trying to get to the bottom of what was going on and trying to keep him alive. 

That’s the job, after all — serving and protecting. And Pegues was trying her best to protect a man who was quite clearly experiencing a mental breakdown. 

We’ll never know how successful she might’ve been. We’ll never know if she might’ve been able to talk Parker off that ledge and lead him to some form of medical help. 

We’ll never know because William Darby arrived. 

It took Darby less than 30 seconds — that’s right, 30 SECONDS! — to walk through the door, yell at Pegues, yell at Parker repeatedly, and then shoot Parker in the face as Pegues was speaking to the man. 

Parker’s gun never moved from his own head. He was never a threat to anyone in the room but himself. And somehow, Darby was the bigger threat. 

It was clearly murder. And Pegues said so. 

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Even when the sketchy Police Department Review Board cleared Darby, Pegues didn’t back down. Even in the face of absurd criticism on the job. Even when her boss, chief Mark McMurray — the guy running all of Huntsville PD — sent her to remedial training, sending a clear message to everyone that he believed she had handled the situation incorrectly. Pegues still didn’t back down. 

(Can we just pause for a moment and let that last little bit sink in? The Huntsville chief watched that body cam footage, saw one of his officers murder a struggling man who called HPD for help, and the chief sent the cop who was trying to save the victim to remedial training.)

Even when the mayor and the chief took public stands defending Darby. Even when the city agreed to pay Darby’s defense bill.  

Pegues never waivered, because what Darby did was murder. And a jury agreed last week. 

Since that verdict, there has been quite a bit of talk of Darby and Tommy Battle and McMurray. The latter two have spent considerable time defending Darby and reiterating their belief that shooting a man who posed no threat was justifiable. 

But there has been little talk of Pegues. And what she could represent — the rare cop who didn’t cover up the crime of her fellow officer, who didn’t sweep a bad shooting under a rug, who took a public stand when the situation required it. 

A cop who showed up to a scene and believed her first responsibility was to get everyone out alive. A cop who cared about a man who was in need of help. A cop who chose compassion and respect over agitation and bravado. 

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Unfortunately, Pegues has left HPD. She said during her testimony that she is seeking a job with the FBI and has resigned her position in Huntsville. 

And that’s a real shame. Because if the last year is any indication, the Huntsville Police Department is in desperate need of a lot more cops like Genisha Pegues.

Written By

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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