Federal Officials Close Review into the Death of Darrius Stewart
Memphis, TN – The Justice Department has announced that the independent federal review into the fatal shooting of Darrius Stewart on July 17, 2015, in Memphis, Tennessee, found insufficient evidence to support federal criminal civil rights charges against Memphis Police Department (MPD) Officer Connor Schilling.
Officials from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Western District of Tennessee met today with Stewart’s family and their representatives to inform them of this decision.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Tennessee, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) conducted a comprehensive independent review of the circumstances related to Stewart’s death. This included a review of witness statements, video footage, and other information obtained during the 2015 investigation conducted by the MPD and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI). Additionally, federal investigators consulted with the Shelby County Medical Examiner and a TBI forensic scientist.
In conducting the review, federal authorities were tasked with determining whether Schilling violated federal law by willfully using unreasonable force against Stewart. Under the applicable federal criminal civil rights statute, Title 18, United States Code, Section 242, prosecutors must establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a law enforcement officer willfully deprived an individual of a constitutional right. To establish willfulness, federal authorities must show that the officer acted with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids. This is the highest standard imposed by law. Mistake, misperception, negligence, or poor judgment is not sufficient to establish a federal civil rights violation.
In this case, civilian witnesses saw a physical confrontation between Schilling and Stewart. It is uncontroverted that Schilling and Stewart engaged in a violent struggle for several minutes before Schilling shot Stewart. Video evidence shows that at one point Stewart was able to get on top of Schilling. Based on these eyewitness accounts, the statement of the officer involved, the video, and the physical evidence, there is insufficient evidence to disprove Schilling’s assertion that he needed to use deadly force against Stewart.
Federal authorities further determined that there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Schilling’s second shot was unreasonable. Much of the evidence tends to show that the second shot followed only a few seconds after the first. Since eyewitness accounts and physical evidence both indicate that the second shot came very soon after Stewart stood up in close proximity to Schilling, the evidence cannot establish that the threat initially posed by Stewart had abated at the time of the second shot. Under the law, the use of deadly force is justified when an officer has reasonable cause to believe that a suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm, either to the officer or to others. In this particular matter, the evidence does not disprove Schilling's account that he used no more force than he reasonably believed necessary to protect himself and to stop a perceived threat.
Based on a careful and thorough review, federal investigators determined that there is insufficient evidence to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Schilling violated Section 242. Accordingly, the federal review of this incident has been closed without prosecution. This decision is limited strictly to an application of the high legal standard required to prosecute the case under the federal civil rights statute; it does not reflect an assessment of any other aspect of the incident.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Tennessee, along with its law enforcement partners, remains committed to investigating allegations of excessive force and will continue to devote the resources required to ensure that all serious allegations of civil rights violations are thoroughly examined. The Justice Department will aggressively prosecute criminal civil rights violations whenever there is sufficient evidence to do so.