MARKSVILLE, La. – After a police body camera captured two deputy city marshals firing on a car and killing a six-year-old boy, the head of the Louisiana State Police said the video was the most disturbing thing he’s seen.
Nearly a year later, the public is getting its first look at the graphic footage.
The state judge presiding over the murder cases against the two deputies allowed reporters to make copies of the tape Wednesday after a hearing where it was formally introduced as evidence.
Prosecutors and defence attorneys previously described in writing how the footage depicts the shooting, which stops less than a minute into the video. The rest of the nearly 14 minutes of footage shows the stomach-churning aftermath, as the officer with the body camera checks on the lifeless body of Jeremy Mardis while his critically wounded father, Christopher Few, lies bleeding on the pavement.
Prosecutors showed the tape in court Wednesday to support their claim that one of the deputies, Derrick Stafford, had a pattern of using excessive force – including last November’s fatal shooting of Jeremy Mardis in Marksville.
Matthew Derbes, a prosecutor from Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office, said Stafford’s pattern of hurting people he’s arresting also provides a motive for shooting at Few while his hands are raised.
“Motive is something the jury wants to hear,” Derbes said. “Why would they do this?”
Defence attorneys for Stafford and Norris Greenhouse Jr. argue the deputies acted in self-defence. They claim Few drove recklessly while leading officers on a three-kilometre chase and then rammed into Greenhouse’s vehicle as he was exiting it, before he and Stafford opened fire.
“Christopher Few was a suspect before they knew that child was in the car,” said Christopher LaCour, one of Stafford’s attorneys.
While the video doesn’t capture the entire pursuit, state District Court Judge William Bennett noted that the footage doesn’t show Few’s car posing a threat to the officers as they fired.
“That car was not being used as a deadly weapon at that time,” Bennett said. “I daresay it was not even close to being used as a deadly weapon at that time.”
The video from the body camera worn by Marksville Police Sgt. Kenneth Parnell III lacks audio for the first 27 seconds. The deputies began shooting before the audio begins.
Prosecutors say the video shows the deputies firing from a safe distance from Few’s car. Stafford’s attorneys, however, argue the 27-second-long segment without audio makes it impossible to determine if he started shooting before or after Few raised his hands inside the car.
After the shooting and sirens stop, somebody yells at Few to show his hands. Few was slumped over the blood-stained door on the driver’s side of his car when officers approach him.
“Is he hit at all?” Stafford later asked Parnell.
“Who?” Parnell replied.
“The driver,” Stafford said
“Yeah,” Parnell responded.
“I never saw a kid in the car, man,” Stafford said. “I never saw a kid, bro.”
About seven minutes after the shooting, Parnell opened the passenger door to Few’s car, shone a flashlight onto Mardis, nudged his right shoulder and checked for a pulse. Then he walked over to another officer and said he found a faint pulse on the boy.
Donning surgical gloves, Parnell walked back to the boy’s side of the car and shone a light on the boy again.
“Oh, my God,” he muttered.
Several minutes later, a paramedic told Parnell the boy was dead.
Defence attorneys have suggested investigators rushed to judgment. George Higgins, one of Greenhouse’s attorneys, said investigators have no evidence that any of the bullets fired by Greenhouse struck Few or his son.
Higgins asked State Police detective Rodney Owens during Wednesday’s hearing why the deputies were arrested before obtaining results of ballistics tests.
“You didn’t know that Mr. Greenhouse did not shoot anybody when you arrested him?” Higgins said.
Owens acknowledged that he didn’t. But investigators later traced 14 shell casings to Stafford’s semi-automatic handgun and determined four other shell casings recovered at the scene came from Greenhouse’s gun. Of the four bullet fragments recovered from the boy’s body, three matched Stafford’s weapon and another couldn’t be matched to either deputy.
Owens also testified that there isn’t any physical evidence that Few’s car collided with Greenhouse’s vehicle, but he couldn’t rule that out as a possibility.
Stafford and Greenhouse await separate trials on second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder charges.
Stafford, a Marksville police lieutenant, and Greenhouse, a former Marksville police officer, were moonlighting as deputy marshals on the night of the Nov. 3, 2015, shooting.
Stafford’s trial is scheduled to start Nov. 28; Greenhouse has a March 13, 2017, trial date. Bennett refused Wednesday to consolidate the cases for a single trial.
State Police Col. Mike Edmonson cited the video when he announced the arrest of the two officers on Nov. 6.