Earlier today, when the Durham Police Department released its account of what happened November 22 in McDougald Terrace to justify an officer-involved shooting that left Frank Clark dead, it marked the third official dissemination of a narrative regarding the case. But each account offers a different version of just what unfolded that morning—and all three contradict statements provided to the INDY by self-described eyewitnesses the day of the shooting and in the weeks after the incident.
The first report, released November 29 by the DPD, lacked detail. The department later noted that none of the officers involved contributed to the accounting. It reads:
“Master Officer C.S. Barkley, Officer M.D. Southerland and Officer C.Q. Goss, members of the Violent Incident Response Team (VIRT), were patrolling in the area of Wabash and Dayton streets around 12:30 p.m. All three officers were wearing standard Durham Police Department patrol uniforms. Master Officer Barkley and Officer Southerland were driving unmarked patrol cars and Officer Goss was driving a marked patrol car. Officer Southerland saw a man near Building 60 and got out of his patrol car to speak with him. Master Officer Barkley pulled up and he and Officer Southerland started talking to the man. During the conversation, the man, later identified as 34-year-old Frank Nathaniel Clark of Durham, reached for his waistband and a struggle ensued. During the struggle, the officers heard a shot, Officer Southerland fell to the ground, and Master Officer Barkley fired his duty weapon in response.”
More than two dozen purported eyewitnesses interviewed by the INDY said the narrative was untrue: Clark was not holding or pointing a gun when he fled from the officers, but Barkley started shooting anyway. Dave Hall, the Clark family’s attorney and a lawyer with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, criticized the report for containing “spotty and inconsistent facts.”
DPD officials declined several requests from the INDY for comment and instead cited an ongoing investigation being conducted by the SBI, an investigation that Durham City Council members asked Governor Cooper to expedite so that District Attorney Roger Echols could put the matter to rest. It would take nearly five months for Echols to do so. The DA would ultimately determine that no charges would be filed against the officers, citing a thorough review of the SBI investigation file. The following is from his report:
“On the morning of November 22, 2016, Durham Police Department Officers C. Barkley, M. Southerland and C. Goss were on duty and working as members of the Violent Incident Response Team. These officers were patrolling the McDougald Terrace Community. Before leaving the area that afternoon, Officer Barkley saw an individual walking between buildings that he wanted to encounter. According to the officers, they often approach people in the areas that they work that they don’t recognize because some people are trespassed from the properties and this helps keep crime down. Officer Southerland first encountered the individual that Officer Barkley described, later identified as Frank Nathaniel Clark. Officers Barkley and Goss arrived very shortly thereafter. During the officers’ encounter with Mr. Clark, he physically resisted the officers’ attempt to pat him down and a struggle ensued. Officer Southerland suffered a serious knee injury during the struggle but he was not shot during the struggle. During the struggle the officers heard what sounded like a gunshot. When the officers were able to focus on Mr. Clark, he had a handgun drawn and pointed towards Officer Barkley. Officer Barkley drew his service weapon and eventually fired several shots at Mr. Clark.”
From Echols, we learned that after the alleged struggle, Clark drew a weapon and pointed it at the officers, leading to his demise at the hands of Barkley’s service weapon. Echols also noted that the type of patrol that started the confrontation was, more or less, common practice. (The three officers were not responding to a 911 call or a crime they believed was in progress, but rather simply patrolling the Durham Housing Authority community.)
From a criminal standpoint, Barkley, Southerland, and Goss were in the clear. But each remained on administrative leave to allow the DPD to conduct an internal investigation. (Except Southerland who, unbeknownst to Police Chief C.J. Davis had returned to active duty January 12 in what Davis characterized as a mistake.)
Which leads us to today’s announcement. The DPD’s latest narrative goes into far more detail than Echols’s justification for not prosecuting the officers. And the DA left out some pertinent information—that Clark was shaking uncontrollably, presumably because he was nervous about being approached by the cops; that he “punched Officer Barkley in the face” before the struggle, in which he “yank[ed] something from waistband” and “fired his gun.” Neither of those items were in the district attorney’s report.
But this is where things get odd.
“After the shot was fired, Officer Barkley backed away from Mr. Clark not knowing for certain from where the shot came. Officer Barkley then saw that Mr. Clark had a gun and was still struggling with Officer Southerland. While the struggle continued, Mr. Clark pointed his gun at Officer Barkley who drew his weapon in response. Officer Barkley did not fire his weapon fearing he would strike Officer Southerland,” the report reads, seemingly indicating some kind of a standoff or perhaps a perceived hostage situation involving Southerland. “Officer Southerland, believing he was shot as the pain in his knee intensified, pushed Mr. Clark away from him. As Southerland was falling, he drew his weapon as well. As Clark turned to flee, he pointed his gun back in the direction of Officer Barkley, and fired a second shot causing Officer Barkley to begin firing at Mr. Clark. Officer Barkley fired six shots, striking Mr. Clark twice.”
Photographs of the crime scene viewed by the INDY offer an interesting contribution to this narrative. One picture shows a distance of some twenty feet from the location of the shell casings from Barkley’s gun and Clark’s body. And the autopsy report seems to support what eyewitnesses said: Clark was shot from behind. So how does a close-contact struggle involving a convicted felon with a gun, who has fired that gun, end in a man being shot twenty feet away from the scene of that struggle?
The INDY has reached out to Echols and the DPD for answers to these questions. As of now, we’ve heard nothing back, but will continue to pursue them.