Family and friends of armed man shot by police seek answers

jalexander@newsobserver.comSeptember 19, 2013 


While Pastor Janet Wall looks on, Norma Burton speaks at a press conference held Thursday at the Durham Police Headquarters. Burton hopes to get answers to why it was necessary for the police to shoot her nephew, Derek Walker, during a standoff in downtown Durham on Tuesday.


In real life, police standoffs like the one that ended in a distraught man’s death in downtown Durham on Tuesday, are rarely like those seen on the screen.

According to police, Cpl. R.C. Swartz, a 12-year veteran of the Durham Police Department and a member of its Special Operations Unit, fired when Derek Walker, 26, raised a gun toward an officer.

“The situations law enforcement officers deal with are seldom like the ones you see on TV or in the movies,” police spokeswoman Kammie Michael said in an email. “They are dealing with dynamic situations involving real-time decision making. The officers spoke with Mr. Walker for approximately an hour before his actions dictated the course of events.”

But family members still have questions.

Walker’s relatives and friends held a press conference outside Durham Police Headquarters on Thursday to demand answers to why deadly force was used to subdue the suicidal mortician.

Norma Burton, an aunt of Walker, wondered if something else could have been done to defuse the situation. She said family members were not allowed to see or speak to him during the standoff.

Former City Councilwoman Jackie Wagstaff, a family friend of Walker’s, said the same.

“The perception is ‘yes, he pointed at us’ but why did they wait one hour to shoot him?” she asked. “He raised the gun several times. What was the overwhelming factor after an hour that (they) decided he would do that? … What is the written policy of the Durham Police Department when it comes to this type of situation?”

According to the department’s Use of Force General Order, “Officers are justified in using deadly physical force upon another person to defend themselves or a third person from what the officer reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of deathly physical force.”

Family members say Walker would not have hurt anyone.

Walker was a gentle, loving person, Burton said. The only person he wanted to hurt was himself, she said.

“He reached his breaking point,” Wagstaff said. “It does not negate what he represents in Durham.”

State records show that Walker had been involved in custody and child support issues since 2008. The latest came Sept. 9 at the Durham County Justice Center, where the boy’s mother filed for full custody of their son.

Walker was involved in his son’s life. Recent Facebook pictures show the two attending a Durham Bulls game, hanging out at the beach and working in a garden at the boy’s school.

But Facebook posts before his death show that Walker wanted and was ready to die because of the dispute.

“If there is really a true and living God and Jesus he wouldn’t put me through this … all I know is that I am a DEAD MAN WALKING,” he wrote.

The presiding judge did not immediately issue a ruling after hearing the case, court records show.

Neither Walker’s parents nor police attended Thursday’s news conference.

Alexander: 932-2008

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