MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A white Memphis police officer won’t face federal civil rights charges in the shooting death of a 19-year-old black man, the federal government announced Tuesday.
U.S. Attorney Edward Stanton told reporters that a federal review found insufficient evidence to file charges in the 2015 shooting of Darrius Stewart by Officer Connor Schilling. Stanton added that the review by the Justice Department found that Schilling did not willfully or with a “bad purpose” deprive Stewart of his rights.
The Justice Department announced in December that it was reviewing the shooting, which had sparked peaceful protests in Memphis. Stewart’s shooting occurred in the months after the deaths of black men at the hands of police in Missouri, New York and elsewhere aggravated racial tensions in the country.
Stanton said that federal prosecutors and FBI agents reviewed witness statements, video footage and other information during their investigation.
“Based on the eye-witness 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,” Stanton said.
In July 2015, Stewart was a passenger in a car stopped by Schilling for a headlight violation. Authorities said Schilling ran Stewart’s identification and found that the teen had outstanding warrants from Illinois and Iowa, including one for a sexual abuse charge from 2009, when Stewart was 13. Schilling had put Stewart in the back of his squad car, without handcuffs, as he checked on the warrants.
Dispatchers then told Schilling that Stewart should be arrested. As the officer approached the back of the squad car to handcuff Stewart, he kicked open the door, grabbed the handcuffs and starting beating the officer with them, authorities have said.
As they fought on the ground, Schilling fired his service weapon, according to authorities. The teen died at a hospital of two gunshot wounds, a medical examiner found.
The phone rang unanswered at the office of Art Quinn, Schilling’s attorney, on Tuesday afternoon.
Schilling has said he shot Stewart because he feared for his life. He retired due to a disability, police said, in a move that allows him to receive disability pay. Activists had called for his firing.
Schilling’s retirement also allowed him to avoid an administrative hearing on police department violations related to radio procedures and handcuffing techniques in the Stewart case, police said.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation issued a report of more than 800 pages on the shooting. Video shows Schilling and Stewart wrestling on the ground, and the medical examiner told investigators Stewart was shot from no more than 4 feet away. Two witnesses said Stewart was shot as he ran away; Schilling has said Stewart ran after being shot, then collapsed about 60 yards away
A grand jury declined to charge the officer, despite a recommendation from Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich that he should be charged with voluntary manslaughter and employment of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony.
Stewart’s family filed a civil lawsuit against the city of Memphis earlier this summer that accuses the police department of having policies that make it “okay to shoot first and ask questions second.” The city is challenging the lawsuit.
Carlos Moore, an attorney for Stewart’s father Henry Williams, criticized the Justice Department for declining to seek an indictment and present the case to a jury at trial.
Williams said he was hurt and shocked when he heard Schilling was not being charged.
“It seems that the Department of Justice didn’t put enough effort into trying to prosecute Officer Schilling because he took a civilian life that wasn’t supposed to have been taken,” Williams said.