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3 On Your Side Investigates: The Untold Story of Crystalline Barnes

Court documents reveal holes in JPD’s officer-involved shooting investigation
Updated: Jun. 3, 2021 at 6:35 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - The killing of 21-year-old Crystalline Barnes by Jackson police in 2018 still raises questions about whether those officers’ actions were justified because reports from the scene -- even the officers involved -- contradict what the department told the public.

Court documents revealed in a $10 million federal civil suit against the officers also show discrepancies in JPD’s handling of the investigation into Barnes’ death and questions about what happened when she encountered them on January 27, 2018.

“You have a young mother of two who is driving in the city of Jackson, and she’s being pursued by a police officer,” said Tiffani Collins, lead attorney for Barnes’ family. “You have 22 shots fired on a residential street at a vehicle that is driving away from you.”

Collins said there’s no evidence of any circumstances that would justify the “death penalty” for someone who had allegedly committed a traffic violation.

“What could she have done from that point that they had to take her life? It was very heartbreaking. And it still is,” Barnes’ legal guardian Lenda Burns said.

A news release that day from JPD said the shooting stemmed from a traffic violation, claiming Barnes ran a stop sign and forced another driver off the road.

Then-spokesperson Sgt. Roderick Holmes said Barnes tried to drive away when an officer pulled her over, then tried to hit both officers with her vehicle -- hitting a patrol car in reverse -- before being fatally shot.

The department’s response served as the only version of events that existed at the time; hardly any reporters had photos or video of the crime scene on Fernwood Drive that could have provided an independent account of what happened.

That’s because JPD didn’t tell the public about what happened until nearly six hours after the deadly confrontation.

Court documents now show that narrative from JPD -- which every news outlet carried -- wasn’t even accurate.

“The number of red flags make it very clear that this wasn’t as clean and clear cut, as the Jackson Police Department would like to claim that it was and that there was serious evidence of misconduct on the part of both of these officers,” Collins said.

Those officers -- Rakasha Adams and Albert Taylor -- also gave accounts that differed from each other and even changed in subsequent interviews.

WLBT attempted to reach out to them for interviews, but the attorneys for the officers instructed their clients not to talk to reporters without council present and declined to make them available for comment.

3 On Your Side reviewed photographs from the scene, an analysis of the 23 shots fired that day and statements from the officers involved to recreate the sequence of events that led to Barnes’ death.

The recreation, which took place on a closed street, includes details that are heavily disputed.

Incident reports show Officer Adams had been following Barnes for several minutes when Barnes turned from Overstreet Avenue onto Fernwood and lost control of her vehicle -- possibly from slick conditions -- hitting an embankment.

3 On Your Side Investigates: The Untold Story of Crystalline Barnes
3 On Your Side Investigates: The Untold Story of Crystalline Barnes(WLBT)

Officer Adams stopped near the corner.

From there, Barnes then accelerates away from Adams, heading west.

The plaintiff’s expert, William Harmening, claims Adams began firing here because of the shell casings near the corner and the firing pattern, with several bullets hitting the driver’s side.

Officer Taylor, approaching Barnes from the opposite direction, then positioned his vehicle in the wrong lane, against traffic.

Taylor later said in a deposition he was in the correct lane, but crime scene photos show Taylor’s car still on the wrong side of the road.

3 On Your Side Investigates: The Untold Story of Crystalline Barnes
3 On Your Side Investigates: The Untold Story of Crystalline Barnes(WLBT)

Barnes swerved to the left, striking a portion of Taylor’s patrol car.

Taylor and Adams would tell investigators Barnes hit the patrol car head-on, but photos show only a portion of the left bumper was damaged.

The plaintiffs said Barnes tries to drive away from the patrol car and curb.

3 On Your Side Investigates: The Untold Story of Crystalline Barnes
3 On Your Side Investigates: The Untold Story of Crystalline Barnes(WLBT)

According to her own accounts, this is when Adams exits her vehicle, firing the first shots, through the driver’s side.

Barnes then tries to make a U-turn and head east on Fernwood.

The plaintiffs said Taylor got out and ran forward, firing at the back driver’s side.

Taylor would later say under oath he, not Adams, actually fired first.

At some point, a bullet strikes Barnes in the back, yet she completes the U-turn and drives east, away from both officers.

Evidence from the scene shows they continued shooting, now positioned on opposite sides of the vehicle.

That’s when another bullet hits Barnes fatally the back of the neck, and her vehicle continues moving away from officers until it strikes a utility pole.

Taylor said he fired because he saw Barnes driving toward Adams.

Adams said she fired because she was defending Taylor, despite evidence suggesting she might have fired before Taylor’s vehicle was even struck.

Adams’ reasoning also doesn’t explain why she continued shooting after the vehicle drove away from him and past her.

Adams fired seventeen times at the vehicle.

3 On Your Side Investigates: The Untold Story of Crystalline Barnes
3 On Your Side Investigates: The Untold Story of Crystalline Barnes(WLBT)

Not one bullet was fired at the front of the vehicle, despite conflicting reports that Barnes was trying to hit both officers by driving forward at some point.

“These officers obviously thought this was a threat from the movements made at the very end to assault both of the officers so they responded as they’re trained,” said attorney Francis Springer, who’s one part of the legal counsel representing officers in the case. “Unfortunately, Miss Barnes died as a result of that.”

Springer is also former law enforcement, so he understands more than most what happens in tense situations.

“What the law has to look at is what the officers perceived, because we’re looking through to things that the officers didn’t have, we’ve got hindsight, we know now, things that the officers didn’t know then,” Springer said.

Springer wouldn’t directly address certain aspects of the case, but did talk briefly about how the officers’ recollections didn’t match.

“What I can say is this was a fluid situation. I think their stories weren’t 100% together because they’re both at different locations or observing different things,” Springer said. “I think some some facts were misconstrued by the expert on the other side, of course, that’ll be a question for the jury.”

A grand jury no-billed Adams and Taylor in this case, but Collins said that doesn’t necessarily mean the two were innocent.

“What evidence were they presented? The officers have different accounts, the evidence shows a different account. So which account was presented to the members of the grand jury?” Collins said.

Adams had also been no-billed in another officer-involved shooting death that year, when she shot and killed Nathaniel Fleming at Mayes and Lampton streets after she claimed Fleming attacked her with a knife.

That incident happened a few months before Adams encountered Barnes, which 3 On Your Side confirmed through multiple sources in the weeks following Barnes’ death.

JPD’s investigation determined that the two officers violated departmental rules: specifically, failing to inform dispatch that they were involved in a pursuit and disobeying the department’s no-pursuit policy.

There’s also no evidence presented thus far in the case that those officers even notified a supervisor once shots were fired.

Instead, Adams said they reported that the vehicle was on fire and requested the Jackson Fire Department show up.

“Obviously, protocol wasn’t being followed. Obviously, you have these two officers who are essentially rogue at this point,” Collins said.

The court documents show JPD’s own investigation raises questions, too.

Harmening said the city never produced diagrams showing the location of shell casings and it appeared detectives did not attempt to determine the trajectories of any of the shots because no analysis or chart was produced for this case.

Harmening said he had to use photographs to approximate the location of shell casings and used bullet impact photos to determine from where they originated.

Collins said they also couldn’t even get transcripts of internal affairs interviews with these officers, only summaries, meaning someone could leave something out and they’d never know.

“When you purposefully choose to destroy interview tapes, or interview recordings, or to make them unavailable, you’re creating a situation where people are gonna question your transparency and your integrity. It’s a very simple issue to resolve, the question becomes, why are you choosing not to resolve it?”

Those transparency concerns echo what a 3 On Your Side investigation revealed in 2019: JPD withholding information from incident reports in the Barnes and Fleming cases, information that wasn’t produced in full until WLBT’s legal counsel got involved.

Collins and Springer have tried resolving what they can with experts to provide in some cases what police couldn’t or the city wouldn’t.

Springer says his expert refutes a lot of what the other side is claiming, but didn’t offer specifics.

“If this case goes to trial, I expect that both experts would testify. And a jury will listen to that. And they’ll decide whose story all they think makes the most sense,” Springer said.

Collins said the fundamentals of the case are far more basic than that.

“You don’t need an expert analysis to see that this does not add up to the story that’s being presented by JPD,” Collins said.

Neither the Jackson mayor’s office nor JPD responded to WLBT’s requests for comment on this story, saying they could not comment on legal matters.

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