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Opinion | The citizens of Decatur deserve better answers in Perkins shooting

After months of stalling, Decatur leaders still haven’t provided clear explanations for police actions that led to Steve Perkins’ death.

Justice for Steve Perkins billboards

It shouldn’t take personnel hearings for Decatur citizens to get answers about what happened in the shooting death of Steve Perkins. 

It will. But it shouldn’t. 

Last week, Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling announced that three of the four officers involved in that shooting had been fired; the fourth officer was being suspended without pay because he had a lesser role in the incident. Bowling announced at the time that, basically, a loophole allowed him and the city to hide the details of the internal investigation and hide the officers’ names, unless those officers contested the firings. 

It was BS. 

Because the people of Decatur – and anyone else interested in the fair application of justice and police behavior – deserved to know just what in the hell was going on that night outside of Perkins’ home. 

We know the basics. Security camera footage posted by Perkins’ neighbors showed us that the initial explanation put forth by the Decatur Police Department – that Perkins came out of his home armed with a handgun to confront a tow truck driver, and that he was shot after being warned to drop his weapon and then turning it on officers – was utter fiction. 

Those videos instead showed police sneaking up to Perkins’ home, their vehicle headlights off and parked well away from his house, and then hiding in the shadows, as a tow truck approached to hook up Perkins’ truck. When Perkins exited his home and shouted for the driver to put his truck down, cops sprang from hiding places behind Perkins’ home. There was a shout of “POLICE!” and then, “getonthegroun-” shots being fired rapidly. 

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Perkins never knew the police were there. He had no opportunity to comply with an order. He likely never knew what the cop was screaming at him before the first of seven bullets entered his body. 

As he lay dying on his front lawn, his wife and kid inside the house, those cops allowed the tow truck driver – a witness to the deadly shooting – to leave with Perkins’ truck. 

That was in late September. More than two months later, last week, we finally got a few vague answers from city officials following the completion of an internal investigation. 

The cops involved had violated protocols, according to DPD Chief Todd Pinion. Bowling agreed and terminated three of the four. 

But that’s all they said – all they were going to say – about the specifics of the incident. Then they said they wanted to make some changes at some point and they wanted everyone to heal and stuff. 

In the meantime, anyone with a working brain was dumbfounded that anyone elected to a leadership position in a city the size of Decatur would think such nothingness would suffice. I mean, Bowling seemed to think that simply firing some of the cops was going to put an end to this, that everyone would go home satisfied and no one would ask the obvious questions. 

Like, um, pardon me, mayor, but why the hell were the cops sneaking up to that man’s house? 

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What protocols were violated? 

What did they cops say when y’all sat them down and asked what the hell they were thinking? 

Did those cops say they’d done this sort of thing before? 

Did they know the tow truck driver or someone else at the towing company?

Were the cops being paid to provide protection?  

Did they ambush Steve Perkins because of a personal beef of some sorts? 

Those signals to each other as they were positioning themselves outside of Perkins’ home sure looked practiced, so were they accustomed to doing this sort of thing? 

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Why did they lie initially and who was responsible for those lies? Has that person been disciplined? 

Can the residents in Decatur trust that their police officers are following the laws? 

Should the residents of Decatur be concerned that they might be victims of whatever the hell that was that happened to Steve Perkins? 

These are all very legitimate questions – questions that the resident of Decatur should have answered. In most cases, they’re questions that city leaders have promised to answer. And they’re questions that those leaders should have been able to answer the day after the Perkins shooting, much less nearly three months later. 

It now appears that at least some of those questions will be answered. The officers – identified in a lawsuit filed by the Perkins family as Bailey Marquette, Christopher Mukkadam, Joey Williams and Vance Summers – have appealed their firings and suspension. That will result in a public hearing, during which questions can be asked by the personnel board and witnesses may be presented. 

And maybe, finally, the citizens of Decatur can get some questions answered. 

It’s a real shame that it has come to this, honestly. Policing shouldn’t be this secretive. It shouldn’t take months to get to the bottom of a single incident that’s been caught on a half-dozen security videos. It shouldn’t require a personnel hearing for the public to get an explanation for police action during an incident that resulted in the death of an innocent man who they should have been protecting. 

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It’s going to. But it shouldn’t.

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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