Huntsville Police release body-worn camera footage from 2019 officer-involved shooting
Published on November 5, 2021
The Huntsville Police Department (HPD) has released a video presentation that includes body-worn camera footage from the 2019 officer-involved fatal shooting of Crystal Ragland.
Until now, the footage was subject to a federal court order limiting its release. The media, specifically AL.com and Ms. Ragland’s family, requested that the federal court order the City of Huntsville to publicly release footage shortly after the dismissal of a federal civil rights claim for excessive force.
Upon considering the positions of both sides in the case, the court directed its release and the City has complied. Without a court order, the City nor HPD would have released the footage, due to its sensitive and graphic nature. The footage is unedited, but the faces of bystanders have been redacted for their privacy.
Following the incident, an Incident Review Board found that two officers acted within HPD policy, and the Madison County District Attorney’s Office determined the officers’ actions were justified.
In May 2021, Ms. Ragland’s family filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Huntsville and the two HPD officers involved in the shooting. The lawsuit included the federal civil rights claim for excessive force.
The City and HPD officers subsequently moved to dismiss all claims. They contended the use of force was lawful because Ms. Ragland presented an imminent threat of serious harm to the officers when she reached for the visible gun in her pocket during the encounter.
In dismissing the federal civil rights claim, the court determined the use of deadly force by the HPD officers was reasonable and therefore justified under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution based on settled legal precedents, including Graham v. Connor.
Specifically, the court said:
“[A]s pleaded and as the bodycam shows, the officers could see the handle of a pistol protruding from Ragland’s right pocket, and just before the officers opened fire, Ragland reached towards that pocket and appeared to grasp the handle of the weapon. Robinson is correct that the officers did not wait for Ragland to draw her weapon, but the court must view the facts from the perspective of a reasonable officer at the scene. In light of the reports that Ragland had been waving a handgun at others, when she reached for and grasped the handle of her firearm, a reasonable officer, given the circumstances, could have believed that Ragland posed a threat of serious harm. Moreover, under the relevant caselaw, the officers were not required to wait until Ragland had ‘drawn a bead on the officer or others before using deadly force.’ As the [Eleventh] Circuit has found, ‘[t]he law does not require officers in a tense and dangerous situation to wait until the moment a suspect uses a deadly weapon to act to stop the suspect.’ Therefore, because the video evidence shows Ragland reaching for her weapon prior to the officers opening fire, the . . . officers acted reasonably.”
In addition to fulfilling its legal obligation, HPD believes the presentation will provide background and context into events leading up to the tragic incident as well as the immediate aftermath.
“This was a tragic incident, for the victim, for our community and for the police department,” said HPD Public Information Officer Sgt. Rosalind White. “Our sincerest condolences remain with Ms. Ragland’s family.”