The Durham Police’s Explanation of Frank Clark’s Death Hardly Clears Things Up | Durham County | Indy Week

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The Durham Police’s Explanation of Frank Clark’s Death Hardly Clears Things Up

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Some facts are indisputable. It was a cool November afternoon in Durham's McDougald Terrace housing projects. A heavily tattooed African-American man was confronted by three police officers. Shots rang out. The man, a thirty-four-year-old named Frank Clark, suffered gunshot wounds to the right thigh and the top left of his head. He died at the scene.

Clark had a criminal record, mostly narcotics offenses. The cops involved—Master Officer Charles Barkley (the shooter), Officer Monte Southerland, and Officer Christopher Goss—have been accused of excessive force during their tenures with the DPD. That's all been established.

Much more about the November 22 shooting remains opaque. And the DPD's release on Friday of its justification for closing an internal investigation into the officers' conduct hardly cleared things up.

The department's narrative is the third official accounting of what transpired in the moments leading up to Clark's death. All three are somewhat different. But this latest version brought a new question to the surface: Why, after a thorough review of the State Bureau of Investigation's inquiry into the shooting, did District Attorney Roger Echols fail to mention the most damning allegations against Clark when he announced in March that his office would not pursue charges against the officers?

Echols said then that after a struggle, Clark drew a weapon and pointed it at the officers—a narrative that, while it conflicts with interviews the INDY conducted with McDougald residents who say they witnessed the incident, seems to justify the shooting.

But why not mention other critical pieces of information included in the new DPD account—that Clark punched Barkley in the face and, with a gun drawn on Barkley, wrestled with Southerland?

Another question: If Barkley had Clark in his sights during the struggle, why did Clark not fall until he was some twenty feet from the spot where Barkley apparently fired? (Photos of the crime scene appear to indicate that Clark's body and shell casings from Barkley's weapon were about twenty feet away from each other.)

Numerous calls to Echols have not been returned. But several residents—all of whom spoke to the INDY on the condition of anonymity, saying they feared reprisals from the officers—say the outcome is exactly what they expected.

"Wake up, Durham," says a McDougald resident in her twenties. She had previously told the INDY within an hour of the shooting that she witnessed the incident. "There are some smart people out there. Use your heads. You know what's going on here."

Asked to elaborate, she only says that "the cops had plenty of time to get their story straight." She laughs when asked why the SBI and DPD were both unable to find any witnesses to go on the record about what they saw.

"You kidding, right?" she says. "Think I'm crazy enough to get myself all up in that? I got two little boys at home. They already scared enough of the cops. You want them [to] get [more] scared cause Mama come home bruised up—or don't come home?"

Another self-identified witness to the Clark shooting has similar fears.

"I can't talk about this shit no more," he says. "[Barkley, Southerland, and Goss are] back. They back. Game's changed now. House won. Feel me? Don't get nobody else killed out here."

The Clark family's attorney, Dave Hall of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, told the INDY via a statement that he was still mulling over what next step—if any—he'll take. But he seemed to share the residents' concerns about the three officers returning to the housing projects.

"It's clear that the City of Durham and Durham Police Department need to begin to build trust between the community and police," the statement reads. "That starts with making sure that these officers are not back in McDougald Terrace or any other directly impacted community."

Durham City Council member Jillian Johnson says the main issue is that neither the SBI nor the DPD could find an eyewitness.

"Their findings come entirely from the officers involved, members of the community who didn't actually see anything, and pretty inconclusive physical evidence," she says. Given the evidence included in the report, it's "reasonable" that the officers weren't disciplined, she adds—the problem is that the "evidence was lacking." 

She's unsurprised but nonetheless disturbed that so many people were either unwilling to speak to the police or afraid of the consequences if they did. 

"I do understand the need for residents in these communities to not put themselves out there," she says. "But it makes it difficult for us as a city to process these events when there's no information beyond the police department."

This article appeared in print with the headline "House Won."

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