After our exhaustive review, I have found that probable cause does not exist to charge a crime in the shooting death of Frank Nathaniel Clark. —Roger Echols, Durham County district attorney, March 20, 2017
They said District Attorney Roger Echols's report on the officer-involved killing of thirty-four-year-old Frank Clark "didn't add up" and disputed claims that "Scooter Bug," as he was known, pointed a weapon or fired at Master Officer Charles Barkley before Barkley fatally shot him.
But they also didn't want to go on the record, because they're certain, as one put it, "Barkely's gonna be back on this block." And that, they said, scares them.
Six of the two dozen McDougald Terrace residents who spoke to the INDY after Clark's death on November 22 and spoke again on background last week—the others either declined to be interviewed or could not be located—argued that something is off about the district attorney's statement on Clark's killing, which draws on the State Bureau of Investigation's report (which has not been released to the public). That version of events, they point out, even seems to contradict the Durham Police Department's initial five-day report on the shooting, which never mentions that Clark fired two shots at the officers or pointed a gun at Barkley, as Echols's statement claims.
They also agreed that, should Barkley, Officer Monte Southerland, and Officer Christopher Goss make it out of the DPD's ongoing internal investigation unscathed, Clark's death won't be the last tragedy to unfold in the city's low-income, mostly African-American neighborhoods.
"We knew they wasn't gonna charge [Barkley]," a college-age woman told the INDY. "But you watch. Somethin' gonna happen. Shit. Somethin' happened way before that man killed Scooter Bug. We don't want these cops back out here. You hear me, [police chief] C.J. [Davis]? You done better fix this shit."
According to the DPD's five-day report—the only official document the department has released on the incident—Barkley, Southerland, and Goss did not show up to McDougald Terrace in response to a 911 call or any report of a crime in progress. The three, all members of the Violent Incident Response Team, were "patrolling the area" when they "saw a man near Building 60" and decided to "speak with him." But Echols said Clark was trespassing, which gave officers probable cause to "pat him down."
According to Echols, a struggle ensued, a shot was fired, and "when the officers were able to focus on Mr. Clark, he had a handgun drawn and pointed towards Officer Barkley."
That, Echols concluded, gave Barkley justification to fire.
"That's some bullshit right there," a middle-aged woman who says she saw the incident told the INDY. "Scooter Bug wasn't pointing no gun. That's a lie. I don't care what they say. That's a motherfuckin' lie. Maybe he had a gun. Maybe he didn't. But I saw it. I saw it. And he was runnin', not pointin' no gun."
The twenty-foot distance between the location of the shell casings and Clark's body, as well as the autopsy published December 30 by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner—which revealed that both shots, one that shattered his femur and another that penetrated his skull, entered the back of Clark's body—seem to corroborate eyewitness accounts previously published in the INDY that Clark was fleeing the officers when he was shot.
Echols noted the two shots in his statement and acknowledged that they were the cause of death. But beyond that, he made little mention of the medical examiner's findings. While he noted the shell casings, he did not examine their proximity to the victim. Nor did he address whether Clark was fleeing when he was shot.