There are fewif any losses one can experience in life worse than the loss of a child; this everyone can agree upon. On Jan 31, Velma Jean Humphrey, whose son Patrick Humphrey had a history of mental health problems, decided to call 911 and ask for help as her search for a refill for his medicine had been unsuccessful. Her hope was the medics or a trip to the emergency room could give him what he needed. Patrick had never been a problem nor had there been any history of violence.
At approximately 3:15 a.m., a medic and his assistant entered the home and rushed into Patrick’s bedroom. It is unclear whether proper EMS procedure was followed, but what is clear is Patrick did not give his consent to the medics to help him and repeatedly requested for them to leave his room. At some point the argument turned physical when Patrick then forced his way outside of his home, and police were called to assist the medics. In a conversation with Headland EMS chief Chad Hughes, he refused any comment citing patient confidentiality acts and stated we can only give copies of our records to the victim. In this case he’s deceased. When asked if the law allows the “next of kin”, in this case the mother Velma Jean Humphrey, to receive them as a matter of law, he acknowledged they did, but then ridiculously questioned whether Patrick Humphrey’s mother could be considered next of kin, and said he would not release the records to her or anyone else.
What can be agreed on by all who were present is the first officer on the scene, Tony Franks, who goes by the name “Big Tiny” and weighs nearly 300 pounds, arrived, and Patrick, in a state of confusion, banged his hands on the police car door. As the obese patrolman attempted to open his door, Patrick grabbed him briefly, and the officer discharged his weapon which grazed Patrick’s chest. Patrick then quickly retreated into his neighbor’s yard saying he was sorry. The large overweight patrolman slipped to the ground, unable to get up without assistance due to his size, and then asked Patrick’s mother to help get his vehicle into park. At this point what should have then been a deescalation of violence according to police department training, an inexperienced officer with a questionable past arrived on the scene with his weapon drawn.
According to multiple eyewitnesses, Smith approached Patrick Humphrey and ordered him to “Get on the ground” multiple times. Patrick, clearly unarmed, then moved at a diagonal route to cross the street to return to his home and mother less than 20 feet away. Patrick, with palms open and hands extended, repeatedly shouted he was unarmed did not have a gun and “I ain’t got nothing”.
Patrolman Tony Smith then, instead of following the police procedures of and deescalation in the department’s Use of Force Policy, which he had signed and acknowledged his full understanding of, made the decision to not use a taser or wait for any further backup which was moments away. Instead he nervously fired his weapon which struck Patrick Humphrey in the lower torso and resulted in his death.
The policeman then approached a fallen Patrick, saw his mortal wounds and empty hands, walked over to his mother profusely crying saying he was sorry and became sick vomitting in her front yard, falling to his knees and throwing his firearm on the hood of a nearby car. Patrick, bleeding with a severed artery, lay in the street unattended.
It is not always easy for any officer to make a decision to use deadly force nor can at times there be a clear decision according to two highly decorated officers who train police departments we spoke with. What is clear is that officer Smith did not choose to deescalate the situation or use any of the techniques he had been trained to subdue an unarmed Patrick Humphrey. Whether this action is criminal or just incompetent police work is unclear.
But what can be determined about the Patrick Humphrey shooting by Patrolman Tony Smith is clear. Patrick, by according to eyewitness accounts and his mother, lay unattended for close to 10 minutes while he bled to death and minutes are everything in trauma care. His mother was prevented from going to him as a dying Patrick reached out to her for help.
What is also clear is the subsequent investigation into the shooting, at best, is absurdly incompetent or clear evidence of corruption. Three witnesses exist, and authorities have known this since the morning of the shooting. At the D.A’s direction two primary eyewitnesses have not been allowed to tell their story. Strangely, under the direction of this district attorney, Doug Valeska, investigators have purposely not interviewed them. Law enforcement officers know they were present and have commented to me that this is one of the worst cases they have ever known.
Repeatedly, the advocate of the family, local pastor Kenny Sharpton Glasgow has requested the police report for the family and has been denied. This behavior is the core of Glasgow’s complaint and continued struggle against a police department, that we discovered after investigating, has serious credibility issues and what appears to be a pattern of racial harassment among its residents. At first, I must confess, I was highly skeptical that anyone would be treated differently by the Headland Police Department and could not see the logic in a march Pastor Glasgow held where a small group marched through downtown Headland demanding justice. I was very mistaken and have been appalled at the conduct of the police department and blatant disregard for state law. I am further concerned when our community’s retired judges and law enforcement officials speak quietly that there is something very wrong here, and its quickly becoming an embarrassment to our community.
The Alabama code and the office of the Attorney General’s previous opinions are crystal clear in this matter, and it is not legal for Headland Police Chief Mark Jones or District Attorney Doug Valeska to withhold this document from the public.
This newspaper has asked, twice been refused, once after being told once if I provided them with the appropriate legal reference, they would give me a copy. I did, and have further provided the department with the attorney’s general opinion on the matter. Yet, the police department still insists on violating state statues and withholding these records from the family and public. After the third discussion with Sergeant Langley of the Headland Police department he stated we are not going to give out the police report as we have been told not to, when asked who told him this, he stated, you need to ask Doug Valeska for it. After I asked him point blank what authority does Doug Valeska have in the operation of the Headland police Department to violate the attorney general’s opinion and the state law that compels them to release the report, he merely said,They have to do what they are told by him and informed me he was going to end the conversation.
Why and who is to hold them responsible for such a continued violation of law? This, to quote local Pastor Kenny Sharpton Glasgow, is how they operate, Instead of a open and transparent police department based on law and policies, under Chief Mark Jones they have chosen a very different path that breeds distrust and fear into the local community.
And, indeed, several people we spoke with gave stories of racial harassment, routine public use of racial slurs and described what appears to be a pattern of racial intimidation and persecution by some members of the police department. I’m a conservative republican who wears muddy boots, drives a truck, have roots here dating back to before the civil war (not that any of that should matter but in reality it does) and I can now attest to this as well. After days of mulling over what I saw and heard directly from the police department, the EMS director and credible members of the Patrick Humphrey’s community I have known for decades, it left me stunned and asking one simple question.
How is it possible that the witnesses were not interviewed in not one investigation but two as directed by District Attorney Doug Valeska?
There are only two conclusions a reasonable person might come to:
- The D.A’s office and investigators at his direction are grossly incompetent.
- There is something very wrong going on and the federal authorities- in this case the Department of Justice and FBI, need to step in and investigate what the district attorney’s office has done and why primary witnesses (some of whom we have known for over 15 years and are highly credible) appear to be purposely excluded to prevent their testimony and the motivations behind it determined and appropriate parties removed from office and prosecuted.
One final note - some in the local press and city government have stated that this is a racial issue. I strongly disagree. This is a moral, legal and ethical issue and when a mother’s plea for justice is not answered …we as a community must hear it.
Truthout has licensed this content. It may not be reproduced by any other source and is not covered by our Creative Commons license.