After our exhaustive review, I have found that probable cause does not exist to charge a crime in the shooting death of Frank Nathaniel Clark. Roger Echols, Durham County district attorney, March 20, 2017

They said District Attorney Roger Echols’s report on the officer-involved killing of thirty-four-year-old Frank Clark “didn’t add up” and disputed claims that “Scooter Bug,” as he was known, pointed a weapon or fired at Master Officer Charles Barkley before Barkley fatally shot him.

But they also didn’t want to go on the record, because they’re certain, as one put it, “Barkely’s gonna be back on this block.” And that, they said, scares them.

Six of the two dozen McDougald Terrace residents who spoke to the INDY after Clark’s death on November 22 and spoke again on background last weekthe others either declined to be interviewed or could not be locatedargued that something is off about the district attorney’s statement on Clark’s killing, which draws on the State Bureau of Investigation’s report (which has not been released to the public). That version of events, they point out, even seems to contradict the Durham Police Department’s initial five-day report on the shooting, which never mentions that Clark fired two shots at the officers or pointed a gun at Barkley, as Echols’s statement claims.

They also agreed that, should Barkley, Officer Monte Southerland, and Officer Christopher Goss make it out of the DPD’s ongoing internal investigation unscathed, Clark’s death won’t be the last tragedy to unfold in the city’s low-income, mostly African-American neighborhoods.

“We knew they wasn’t gonna charge [Barkley],” a college-age woman told the INDY. “But you watch. Somethin’ gonna happen. Shit. Somethin’ happened way before that man killed Scooter Bug. We don’t want these cops back out here. You hear me, [police chief] C.J. [Davis]? You done better fix this shit.”

According to the DPD’s five-day reportthe only official document the department has released on the incidentBarkley, Southerland, and Goss did not show up to McDougald Terrace in response to a 911 call or any report of a crime in progress. The three, all members of the Violent Incident Response Team, were “patrolling the area” when they “saw a man near Building 60” and decided to “speak with him.” But Echols said Clark was trespassing, which gave officers probable cause to “pat him down.”

According to Echols, a struggle ensued, a shot was fired, and “when the officers were able to focus on Mr. Clark, he had a handgun drawn and pointed towards Officer Barkley.”

That, Echols concluded, gave Barkley justification to fire.

“That’s some bullshit right there,” a middle-aged woman who says she saw the incident told the INDY. “Scooter Bug wasn’t pointing no gun. That’s a lie. I don’t care what they say. That’s a motherfuckin’ lie. Maybe he had a gun. Maybe he didn’t. But I saw it. I saw it. And he was runnin’, not pointin’ no gun.”

The twenty-foot distance between the location of the shell casings and Clark’s body, as well as the autopsy published December 30 by the Office of the Chief Medical Examinerwhich revealed that both shots, one that shattered his femur and another that penetrated his skull, entered the back of Clark’s bodyseem to corroborate eyewitness accounts previously published in the INDY that Clark was fleeing the officers when he was shot.

Echols noted the two shots in his statement and acknowledged that they were the cause of death. But beyond that, he made little mention of the medical examiner’s findings. While he noted the shell casings, he did not examine their proximity to the victim. Nor did he address whether Clark was fleeing when he was shot.


In addition, Echols said none of those interviewed by the INDY or other media outlets made themselves “available to be interviewed by agents with the SBI.” The only witness they found, who is not named in the report, said Clark had a gun before the cops showed up, but the witness apparently did not say that Clark pointed it at the officers or fired it. (The gun, a stolen Smith & Wesson 9mm, had DNA that matched Clark’s DNA profile on it, according to Echols, but not Clark’s fingerprints.)

“Let me ask you somethin’. You seen what’s been happening to black people in America, right? You saw what happened to Trayvon [Martin]. Tell me one time when the motherfucker who killed a black man went to jail or lost his badge,” explained a thirtysomething man who said he witnessed the Clark shooting. “You think I wanna be one of the people who puts his name on this shit? Why? So Barkley can get off and come for me? I ain’t that crazy, man.”

Perhaps the piece of new information in Echols’s statement most supportive of the officers’ narrative was that “firearms testing” had provided “significant evidence that Mr. Clark fired [his weapon] twice.”

But if that’s the case, why didn’t officers mention Clark firing at them in the five-day report?

The DPD has declined to answer that question, or to comment on the Clark shooting in a substantive way, despite numerous requests.

Asked how the city could avoid incidents like the Clark shooting in the future, city council member and mayoral aspirant Steve Schewel acknowledges the complexity of the relationship between police and the public. But when asked if local police take more liberties with members of low-income, African-American communities than they do in affluent, white neighborhoods like Hope Valley, Schewel told the INDY that, in an organization as large as the DPD, it’s reasonable to assume that a handful of officers will cross the line.

He says that during visits to McDougald since the shooting, some residents have told him they “want a police presence” on their block because they don’t feel safe letting their kids play in the neighborhood. But he also says McDougald residents believe they’re being profiled because they’re black.

Still, Schewel says, he remains confident that Davis, the police chief the city hired last year, is a reformer. He says moves such as hiring advocates for LGBTQ and Hispanic residents, along with her calls to deprioritize minor marijuana offenses and end police checkpoints, prove she is moving the department forward.

Schewel also notes that Barkley, Southerland, and Goss remain under investigation by the DPD for their respective roles in Clark’s death.

“I’m confident that Chief Davis will look not just at what happened during that incident but at the officers’ complete histories and make the right decision about whether or not they belong back on the streets,” Schewel says. “And I think that’s appropriate, and I trust she’ll do the right thing.”

The INDY requested an interview with Davis, but a DPD spokesperson said Monday that she “isn’t available.”

“I don’t think we know, or will ever know, what really happened,” says council member Jillian Johnson. “From reading Echols’s letter, there isn’t enough evidence to say one way or another what happened. In those cases, police officers are always going to be given the benefit of the doubt. It’s all part of this system of policing in America that has, I think most people would admit, deep problems. But I do think that if they weren’t police officers, the outcome would be different.”

This article appeared in print with the headline “Scared Silent.”