Two Fort Worth officers accused of needlessly choking, kicking and firing a stun gun at a Black man during a fatal 2013 drug raid have been cleared of civil liability his death.
Jurors took less than 30 minutes Wednesday to return their decision in a civil trial weighing officers’ culpability in the incident that killed 34-year-old Jermaine Darden, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.
The man’s family filed a wrongful death suit alleging excessive force by police after Darden, a local auto mechanic and father of two, suffered a heart attack and died in the raid. The trial finally got underway this week, more than six years after his passing.
Kenneth East, an attorney for one of the officers named in the suit, said his client is “relieved” after being cleared of any wrongdoing.
“There is no celebration, just relief,” he told the newspaper, adding: “This officer served as the point man in one of the most dangerous jobs that an officer can do.”
The incident unfolded May 16, 2013, when Fort Worth officers executing a “no-knock” warrant stormed Darden’s home without warning, according to court docs. Witnesses said police choked, kicked, punched and shocked the man with a stun gun as they struggled to place him under arrest.
The officers forcing Darden onto his stomach and applying pressure to his back also made it difficult for him to breathe, the filings state.
However, authorities contend Darden, who weighed about 350 pounds and was reportedly struggling with underlying health issues, ignored officers’ demands and remained non compliant. One of the officers testified that he “resisted until the moment he was handcuffed.”
“On most people a Taser works,” East told the jury in his closing remarks on Wednesday. “But Darden immediately pushed back up. The officer thought he was resisting.”
“He (Darden) died from a severe underlying coronary disease and his own struggle,” the attorney added.
The Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Darden passed away from natural causes with sudden cardiac death associated with high blood pressure and the use of restraints. This week, the jury weighed evidence suggesting the victim may not have died had officers not shocked him and restrained him, rolling him onto his stomach.
Fort Worth policeman W. F. Snow, who was involved in the deadly arrest, recalled Darden telling him he was having trouble breathing and others in the house shouting at officers that he was asthmatic.
“I believe he told me that he could not breathe,” Snow testified. “I was still trying to focus on getting him into custody. “I wasn’t ignoring him.”
Officer Javier Romero, the second officer exonerated in the case, told the court that officers had no knowledge of Darden’s medical issues or the severity of his condition prior to the raid.
“I heard people say he had asthma but I didn’t do anything about that,” he testified. “I was just trying to get him under control by the safest means possible.”
Wednesday’s ruling dealt a huge blow to Darden’s family and their lawyer, Daryl Washington, said he believed the evidence was overwhelmingly in favor of the claims laid out in their suit. While the officers responsible for Darden’s death were ultimately absolved, the lawyer said he hoped the trial would make officers think twice before using lethal force.
“Sadly, Jermaine Darden was killed in his own home,” he told the Star-Telegram. “If the Fort Worth Police Department would have taken the responsibility to properly train its officers, perhaps Atatiana Jefferson would still be alive today.”
Jefferson, 28, died after being shot by a Fort Worth officer in her mother’s home in October. A neighbor had called the police non-emergency line to request a wellness check after noticing the front door to the home was open and the lights were on late at night.
Washington said he plans to appeal the Darden case to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
“The Constitution should protect everyone, regardless of race, sex, religion, position or their economic status in life,” he added.
Watch more in the video below.