Jason Downs, a Baltimore lawyer who represented the family of Freddie Gray, called a press conference on May 14, 2018, to demand more transparency from the Jackson government on behalf of the family of Crystalline Barnes, 21, who died in an an officer-involved shooting.
Photo by Ko Bragg
JACKSON A lawyer for the family of 21-year-old Crystalline Barnes, who died in January when two Jackson Police Officers shot into her car following a traffic stop, stood alongside Barnes' young children and family members Monday as he demanded more transparency from the Jackson government. Jason Downs called Barnes' death an "egregious case" and named one of the officers he believes pulled the trigger.
Jason Downs of Downs Collins Law Firm in Baltimore told reporters that an independent investigation showed that JPD Officer Rakasha Adams was directly involved in the shooting of Crystalline. Downs said his investigation showed that Adams had admitted in writing to having difficulty concentrating and that she is easily irritated and angered.
"We have an officer that admits to being easily angered walking the streets of Jackson armed with a gun," Downs said. "We believe that these factors play a role in Officer Adams' unjustified decision to shoot at Crystalline."
Downs said he has an idea about who the second officer at the scene could be, but could not confirm his identity as of yet. He hopes any witnesses his office has not yet spoken to will come forward. The Jackson Police Department said it cannot confirm any of the details shared at the press conference, but that the two officers involved in Barnes' death are still on paid leave per JPD policy.
Holding the presser the day after Mother's Day, Downs pointed to Barnes' children to illustrate the impact of her death.
"Crystalline's two children had to spend Mother's Day without their mother," he said. "Today, nearly four months after Crystalline was shot in the back of the head, the Jackson government still has not updated the family, nor have they updated the public as to the results of their alleged investigation."
Downs was one of the lawyers who represented the family of Freddie Gray in Baltimore following his in-custody death in 2015 resulting from a severed spinal cord. The attorney said his investigation shows that Barnes was shot from behind in the back of the head, which he believes contradicts JPD's account of what happened.
In January, Jackson Police Department spokesman Sgt. Roderick Holmes said the officer who pulled Barnes over in a traffic stop in the 1400 block of Fernwood Drive called an additional unit for assistance. Barnes allegedly pulled away and did a U-turn "to evade the responding unit," Holmes said.
"(Barnes) later stops and began driving in reverse toward that officer who had exited the patrol vehicle just prior," Holmes' statement reads. "The officer then discharged their weapon into the vehicle before safely jumping out of its path and the suspect's vehicle collided with the patrol vehicle."
Holmes said Barnes then drove toward the other officer, who also discharged his or her weapon into the vehicle. That's when Barnes collided with a nearby utility pole just off the roadway.
Downs said his investigation shows that there were no bullet holes in the front windshield or in the front of Barnes' car.
"The investigation shows Crystalline was driving forward, she was shot in the back of the head, and there were absolutely no bullets that traveled through the front of Crystalline's vehicle. The Jackson government has completely failed to address all of these factors—the Jackson government has been silent," Downs said.
Downs also takes issue with the lack of transparency around officer-involved shootings in the City of Jackson. During the press conference, Downs mentioned the U.S. Department of Justice's recommendations to release names as early as 48 hours following the incident, as some cities across the nation have chosen to do, especially since the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
The Jackson Free Press has reported that in 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice advised police departments to release names of officers involved in critical events, including shootings, within 72 hours of the incident. The DOJ report said that departments can take steps to ensure officer safety during those brief delays.
Jackson, however, has a longstanding policy of remaining tight-lipped throughout the investigation into officer-involved shootings, keeping the public blind about officers' names, whether or not officers get indicted following deadly shootings, or if some of the same officers have been involved in multiple incidents.
"The United States Department of Justice also notes that when a police department fails to provide names of officers after an officer shoots and kills a civilian, that erodes the trust between the community and the police department," Downs said Monday. "The Jackson Police Department has utterly ignored the United States Department of Justice, so we conducted our own independent investigation."
Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba developed an officer-identification task force in March to help decide whether to change City policy on not identifying officers following officer-involved shootings. Since the group began meeting in April, the task-force has held three meetings, but has mainly discussed organizational topics rather than delving into the meat of their task.
Downs said he was aware of the task force but that Jackson is still not operating with transparency. He hinted that the City may face a lawsuit if it does not change the policy of keeping the officers' identities and other details hidden.
"We are hoping that Jackson begins to share more information with us, information regarding the identity of the shooters, information regarding exactly what led to the shooting, why there are no bullet holes to the front of the vehicle at all, how she crashed head on, but they claim she was driving backwards somehow," Downs told the Jackson Free Press.
"We'd like answers to these questions, and we're hopeful that although they haven't done it as of now, we're hopeful moving forward."
Email city reporter Ko Bragg and read more coverage at jfp.ms/policeshootings.