Groups seek investigation

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK. -- From left, Dartaniel Lewis, brother of Darneisha Harris; New Black Panther Party Member Rahim X; and Rev. Raymond Brown and Cleveland Warren of National Action Now hold a press conference Monday evening at Carl Williams Park in Breaux Bridge to show support to the family of Harris, who was killed by a police officer on Dec. 2.
Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK. -- From left, Dartaniel Lewis, brother of Darneisha Harris; New Black Panther Party Member Rahim X; and Rev. Raymond Brown and Cleveland Warren of National Action Now hold a press conference Monday evening at Carl Williams Park in Breaux Bridge to show support to the family of Harris, who was killed by a police officer on Dec. 2.

Death of teen leads to demand

Activists, community members and relatives of a 16-year-old who was shot and killed by a Breaux Bridge police officer demanded an independent investigation Monday into what they characterized as excessive force against an unarmed teenager who panicked.

Darneisha Harris was shot on the evening of Dec. 2 after she drove into a police car responding to a disturbance and then struck a bystander and two parked vehicles, according to an account from State Police.

Family members have said Harris was in the area when a fight broke out and likely panicked trying to get away when police arrived.

“We want an independent investigation from the federal government,” said Rev. Raymond Brown, head of the New Orleans-based civil rights group National Action Now.

Brown spoke Monday at a news conference and candlelight memorial service that drew a crowd of about 45 people to Carl Williams Memorial Park in Breaux Bridge.

Brown was joined by representatives of the New Black Panther Party, community members and relatives of Harris.

“It wasn’t right what happened,” Stan Harris, her uncle, said. “I hope everything comes to light.”

Brown said that even if Darneisha Harris was driving “wildly,” police had options beyond deadly force, including shooting to disable the car or trying to physically remove her from the car.

“He did not have to use that level of force,” Brown said.

Breaux Bridge police have declined comment on the shooting and requested that State Police investigate the incident, which is routine in officer-involved shootings.

Brown said the investigation should be conducted by federal officials because they are even further removed from local influence. “If it is determined that the police officer acted appropriately, we are going to have to live with that,” he said.

State Police have released no details about the shooting other than a general scenario.

Still unclear is whether Harris’ car was stopped or moving when the shooting occurred and how many shots were fired.

Neither State Police nor local officials have released the officer’s name.

Brown said it is his understanding that the officer is white.

Harris is black, but not enough details are known about the incident to speculate on what role race might have played, Brown said.

Breaux Bridge Mayor Jack Dale Delhomme said city officials readily agreed to allow the use of a city park for the news conference and memorial service on Monday.

“We are trying to diffuse any animosity,” he said.

Delhomme also confirmed Monday that the officer “is no longer on patrol until after the investigation.”

State Police spokesman Trooper Stephen Hammons said Monday that he could not speculate on when the state investigation will be complete.

Hammons has said the report will be handed over to the 16th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, which could decide whether criminal charges are warranted against the officer.

One of the rare local cases in which police officers were charged criminally for the use of deadly force involved a similar set of circumstances.

Prosecutors unsuccessfully pursued manslaughter charges against two Rayne Police officers who shot and killed 29-year-old Derrick Francis of Lafayette in 2003 after responding to reports that he was ramming other vehicles on a busy street.

The officers fired a total of 20 shots at Francis, 10 during a brief chase and 10 more after his car became trapped between two other vehicles.

The unarmed man was struck three times while in the vehicle.

An Acadia Parish jury in 2006 acquitted the officers, who had argued that Francis was rocking his car to free it from the wedge and could have endangered pedestrians in the area if he was not stopped.