3 On Your Side Investigates: The Silent Witness

Analysis of Keith Murriel’s final moments on body camera highlight violations, possible criminal behavior of indicted officers
Published: Jun. 22, 2023 at 7:39 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - While the fate of three indicted former Jackson police officers remains unclear following the death of a man in their custody, a 3 On Your Side analysis of body camera footage from the incident reveals possible violations of departmental policy that -- if followed -- could have kept that suspect alive.

The analysis also explores the legal ramifications of those officers’ alleged actions after a Hinds County grand jury indicted two officers for depraved heart murder.

What began as a violent confrontation on New Year’s Eve last year ended silently in the back of a Jackson police car as the last hour of Keith Murriel’s life played out in front of those officers’ body cameras.

“When one of them shoots your a**, don’t say nothing,” Officer Kenya McCarty said to Murriel during their first encounter.

McCarty had been dispatched to make Murriel leave the Extended Stay hotel on Beasley Road after the property’s security guard said he was trespassing.

While the footage from McCarty’s bodyworn camera never shows her face, it does demonstrate the level of frustration she’s having with Murriel.

Repeatedly, she tells him to leave the hotel parking lot, but he tries to walk back again several times.

McCarty’s colleague, Officer Avery Willis, pushes Murriel several times in an effort to get him moving away from the property.

Their language escalates, but the two officers let him walk away.

When Murriel leaves, McCarty vents to the security guard and her fellow officer, Avery Willis.

“I’m sorry, I can’t be disrespected like that, that many times, and he’s just standing there,” she said.

Five minutes later, Murriel comes back.

Immediately, Willis tackles the 6′3″ man and starts telling him to put his hands behind his back.

Within seconds, one officer starts using their taser against Murriel, in what’s called drive stun mode, a lower power setting used by police to force someone to comply.

It’s not working.

By the time Officer James Land arrives, Murriel has already been stunned at least 35 times, according to a 3 On Your Side analysis of the video. He would end up being tased more than 50 times over the course of a sixteen-minute period.

It takes those officers another 12 minutes to get Murriel into the patrol car, stuffing the man inside on his stomach.

Body camera footage shows nobody actually opened the door to check on the suspect until AMR arrived nearly an hour after he was placed in the vehicle.

Immediately, the paramedic notes that Murriel is not responding to him.

“Is he breathing?” Willis asks.

“I don’t think so,” the paramedic said.

The crew loads Murriel onto a stretcher and into the AMR ambulance, where three officers take turns performing chest compressions for several minutes.

Murriel never regains consciousness and is pronounced dead before the night ends.

“If you don’t watch the video, and you listen to the officers, they’re narrating an entirely different scene than is happening in front of your eyes,” University of Nevada law professor Addie Rolnick said. “I was surprised in some places by how blatant the disregard for the facts seem to be.”

Rolnick watched the entire 90-minute interaction between the three officers and Murriel.

She said the officers described things during the encounter to justify their actions while it was happening.

“The narration seems to be designed to make it sound like it’s defensible to use certain levels of force and to respond in certain ways. But when you’re watching the video, none of what they’re talking about seems to be happening,” Rolnick said.

One example of that: McCarty keeps saying that Murriel is resisting more than the video actually shows.

“From the way the officers were narrating, it sounded as if they were dealing with someone who was sort of at the ‘active aggression’ level. They kept saying things like, stop kicking me. So there was a story being told that suggests that he was doing something much more active, but the video doesn’t show [that],” Rolnick said.

Active aggression is defined in JPD’s use of force policy as “physical actions and/or assault on an officer.”

Rolnick said it looks like Murriel’s behavior, though, doesn’t rise past the level of what’s called ‘defensive resistance’, where he may not give his hand to them to be handcuffed, but he’s not fighting them directly.

In other words, Rolnick said she believes the tasing may not have been justified.

That policy also states officers must notify their supervisor as soon as possible after use of force events and requires them to render or request medical aid “as soon as reasonably possible.”

In this case, AMR was notified at 8:12 p.m., approximately 14 minutes after the officers first stunned Murriel.

3 On Your Side combed through hundreds of pages of JPD’s general orders, looking for other possible violations, too.

Our analysis of the body camera footage from that night shows McCarty told JPD dispatch about the taser use thirteen minutes after they first tased Murriel, but did so only after a bystander called 911 and reported the officers’ actions.

“There’s a citizen on the phone saying that you’ve tazed that person out there about 4 times and he hasn’t heard anybody ask for AMR,” the dispatcher said.

McCarty, who was still trying to get Murriel into the video at that point, responded.

“We’re still working with him right now, that’s why we called for additional units, but yes, taser has been deployed,” she said.

The conversation with the dispatcher then continued privately, never transmitted to the public through scanner traffic, but captured on body camera.

“He’s fighting. All units out here, while he’s in the cuffs, possibly high off PC or something,” McCarty said.

The dispatcher again asks for clarification on medical assistance.

“Do you need AMR called or what? Nobody said he was tased,” the dispatcher said.

“Go ahead and roll ‘em, dispatch, but we still trying to get him in the PC [police cruiser],” McCarty said.

JPD’s taser policy has specific requirements when it comes to medical considerations.

It says anyone exposed to taser activation “should be monitored regularly while in custody” and “officers should use a restraint technique that does not impair respiration.”

For most of the ordeal, body camera footage shows Murriel on his stomach, and officers placed him on his stomach again while he was inside the patrol car and triple restrained, according to McCarty.

The department’s taser policy does not specify how many times someone can be tased or stunned, but points out that any person getting “more than three standard 5-second cycles from the taser shall be transported to a medical facility.”

“In looking at the totality of the use of force, my thought was, you know, at any time, please use something else, please go to another type of force as opposed to the continuous use of the Taser over and over and over again,” said law enforcement expert Adam Coughran.

AMR would not arrive until 58 minutes after dispatch notified them.

While the delay in ambulance service isn’t the officers’ fault, JPD’s use of force policy requires officers to render or request medical aid “as soon as reasonably possible,” yet they chose not to open the door and check on Murriel while they waited.

Former Officers McCarty and Willis appear to have violated JPD’s body camera policy, too.

At 8:44 p.m., Willis noticed McCarty took her body camera off.

“Why the f— is your camera pointed at the sky?” Willis said, laughing.

McCarty kept her camera there for more than half an hour while she filled out paperwork.

A few minutes after Willis called her out, he took his body camera off, too, and set it on his dash, where it would remain for nearly 20 minutes.

The department’s policy says “officers will continue to record until the conclusion of their involvement in an event” and they shall be worn “above the midline of their torso and in a position designed to produce an effective recording.”

Attorneys argue some of what happened that night is also the supervisor’s fault, too, in a federal civil case.

It alleges Sgt. Cazinova Reed is liable for his officers’ failure to render medical aid.

“Sarge, I promise you we didn’t have no choice. Go look at him,” McCarty told Reed when he arrived at the scene, but Reed never bothered to do that.

The body camera footage verifies Reed never checked on Murriel or asked his subordinates to do so, arriving after they placed the suspect in the patrol car.

“Once he was there, he now became responsible for what was going on, and then the actions taken there afterwards, or maybe in actions that were taken there afterwards,” Coughran said.

Reed had only been a sergeant for six months before the incident.

Though Reed had been told his officers used a taser on Murriel, he didn’t make sure parts of that policy were enforced, where someone who’s been tased has to be monitored and cannot be in a restraint position that affects their breathing.

And that is part of his job, according to those general orders.

Under section 200-8, which details supervisor responsibilities, it states “supervisors will actively prevent such violations or interrupt them as necessary to ensure efficient orderly operations” when possible, meaning Reed could have stepped in and ordered his subordinates to check on Murriel because their actions were likely violating policy.

Still, Coughran believes Reed won’t likely be charged criminally.

“He wasn’t there for any of the use of force, he wasn’t there to stop it or change it. He was really coming in after the fact. And so the culpability for you know, a criminal charging section after the fact, as a DA has probably shown...that isn’t necessarily there,” Coughran said.

Reed remains employed by the department.

McCarty and Willis are charged with depraved heart murder; Land, with manslaughter.

When did their actions become criminal?

Rolnick said it starts with the tasing, and whether those officers knew how dangerous that could be.

“They would argue that they didn’t know. But then when you couple that with the complete indifference to the possibility that he might be injured, or might need care and the kind of callous talking about it, it then starts to look a lot more like depraved heart murder,” Rolnick said.

Essentially, if they had gotten him medical assistance quickly and effectively, it would be much harder to argue murder in this case, Rolnick added.

But she believes the issue starts even before the first instance of violence, when Willis tackled Murriel to the ground, unprovoked.

“There’s times where they ask him things like, are you supposed to be here? And he just doesn’t answer. So he doesn’t, he’s not even arguing. And he’s certainly never doing anything that even could I think be construed as a threat,” Rolnick said. “The only thing that they have to argue that he was threatening is that he was there. And he was large. And they don’t say it, but large and Black. There’s no behavior to suggest that he’s posing any danger. So it’s sort of it’s this idea that he needs to be taken down.”

McCarty’s attorney, Francis Springer, said his client is not guilty of that charge and questions whether she violated any policies that night.

Attorneys for Willis and Land did not respond to our requests for comment.

Additionally, the public still has yet to get any information on why Murriel acted the way he did that night.

Officers say he appeared to be under the influence of something, but that has yet to be determined.

The family’s attorney said they’ve been denied a copy of the autopsy report, which would presumably include a toxicology report.

The only thing released in the case: Murriel’s cause of death was cardiac arrhythmia and the manner of death was a homicide.

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