HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — After nearly two weeks of questions the City of Huntsville has said it has paid $89,132 to assist the defense of police officer William ‘Ben’ Darby, who was convicted of murder May 7.
In a news release Huntsville also provided an unusual chronology of Darby’s job status. The city said Police Chief Mark McMurray had asked on May 11 for a disciplinary hearing to be set for Darby concerning his future employment and a hearing was set for May 24. Darby had been on paid leave.
But, the news release goes on to say that Darby is no longer on paid leave.
“However, Mr. Darby is no longer on paid administrative leave,” the news release said. “He is now on accrued leave with pay, having availed himself to certain rights under federal law. As a result, his formal hearing has been postponed and will be promptly rescheduled to a later date following a change in his leave status.”
It is not clear when that status change took place or how long the city has to wait before scheduling the disciplinary hearing.
News 19 asked the city for clarification following the news release this afternoon. The city said it cannot provide any further detail and pointed to this language in the release, citing federal privacy laws.
“This means the City, per federal law, will be unable to offer any further comment or details regarding Mr. Darby’s employment status and/or the disciplinary process until his leave status changes.”
Darby, 28, was convicted May 7 of murder in the April 2018 on-duty shooting death of Jeffery Parker at Parker’s home on Deramus Avenue. Parker had called 911 and told the dispatcher he planned to shoot himself.
Darby, the third officer on the scene, was inside Parker’s home for 11 seconds — and asked Parker several times to drop the gun he was pointing at his own head — before fatally shooting Parker with a shotgun. The Huntsville Police Department cleared Darby in the shooting about a month after the incident, but he was indicted by a Madison County grand jury in August 2018.
Following that indictment in August 2018, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle urged the city council in to help pay for Darby’s defense. The council agreed to pay up to $75,000 and later, after the defense asked for an additional $25,000, voted to cap its support of Darby at $125,000.
In Alabama, a court-appointed lawyer defending a murder case can’t receive more than $4,000 total, with no exceptions.
News 19 had asked the City of Huntsville multiple times how much it has spent on Darby’s defense. A city spokesperson said Wednesday they were still waiting for billing from Darby’s attorneys.
Darby’s murder trial lasted a week. Jurors deliberated about six hours over two days before convicting Darby. The defense had argued the armed Parker was a threat to Darby and other officers at the scene. The prosecution contended Parker was not aggressive and did not constitute an imminent threat to Darby.
Darby’s lawyers have vowed to appeal the verdict. Madison County Circuit Judge Donna Pate ordered a pre-sentencing investigation and allowed up to six weeks for that process to be completed. Judge Pate hasn’t set a sentencing date yet. Darby faces a sentence between 20 years to life in prison for the murder conviction.
The city’s release is below:
HUNTSVILLE, AL – Please see the following update from the City of Huntsville’s Legal and Human Resources departments:
Public Employee Due Process
Trey Riley, City Attorney
On May 7, 2021, William Darby received a Guilty Verdict on the charge of Murder in the Circuit Court of Madison County, Alabama. Within hours of that decision, Police Chief Mark McMurray notified the Alabama Peace Officers’ Standards and Training Commission (APOSTC), which supervises training and certification of law enforcement officers in the State of Alabama, of the verdict. Accordingly, APOSTC froze Mr. Darby’s certification preventing him from acting as a law enforcement officer.
Based on these developments, and under the guidelines of the City of Huntsville’s Personnel Policies and Procedures Manual, Chief McMurray, as Department Head, initiated a Request for a Formal Disciplinary Hearing on May 11, 2021. Mr. Darby was notified, and the City’s Human Resources Department scheduled a hearing for May 24, 2021.
These policies and procedures are informed by long established federal constitutional and legal principles applicable to all government employees. Specifically, government employees have a vested right in their employment, and before they can be deprived of those rights they are entitled to due process, which is notice and an opportunity to be heard before an impartial tribunal.
Following these procedures, Mr. Darby was initially placed on paid administrative leave, pending resolution of the disciplinary hearing process. As has been explained in an open City Council meeting by the Director of Human Resources, Byron K. Thomas, this action was in accordance with usual employment procedures – the same as would be applied to other City employees similarly situated.
However, Mr. Darby is no longer on paid administrative leave. He is now on accrued leave with pay, having availed himself to certain rights under federal law. As a result, his formal hearing has been postponed and will be promptly rescheduled to a later date following a change in his leave status.
These elements of the City’s personnel policies and procedures are mandated by federal law and uphold employee rights for which the City must abide. Additional details as to an employee’s leave status are also covered by federal privacy laws.
This means the City, per federal law, will be unable to offer any further comment or details regarding Mr. Darby’s employment status and/or the disciplinary process until his leave status changes.
Darby’s Legal Expenses
To date, the City has paid $89,132.39 in legal fees for Mr. Darby. Council approved up to $125,000 in legal expenses. The budget for the Legal Department has a category under the Operational section (as opposed to the Personnel section) entitled “Outside Legal Services.” This account covers legal expenses incurred by several City departments. Funds paid for Mr. Darby’s legal defense were/are being paid out of that accounting category, subject to limitations placed by Council in two different Resolutions (18-653 and 19-39).
What is “Due Process” in Government?
Byron K. Thomas – Human Resources Director
Federal and state labor laws provide due process protections for government employees. Derived from the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, it means government must respect legal and property rights owed to a person. Government employees have a “property interest” in their jobs, which is their salary, benefits and vesting in the retirement system, and are entitled to due process before they can be terminated.
This does not mean government employees may retain their jobs under any circumstance. It does, however, require advance notice they will be dismissed and the opportunity to be heard at a formal hearing. The government must show that it has a good reason for terminating the employee, and the employee has a chance to argue that he or she should stay employed. If an employee is unhappy with the outcome of the formal hearing, he or she may appeal the decision to City Council.