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HPD releases body camera footage in shooting death of Crystal Ragland

Published: Nov. 5, 2021 at 12:13 PM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - On Friday, the Huntsville Police Department released body camera footage of an officer-involved shooting of an Army veteran.

In May 2019, Crystal Ragland was shot by officers after residents say she was pointing a gun at people from inside her apartment. Two weeks ago, a federal judge dismissed the wrongful death suit filed in this case by Ragland’s sister Brandie Robinson.

The wrongful death lawsuit was filed in May 2021. It claims that HPD officers used excessive, unconstitutional force during Ragland’s shooting death. A federal court ordered the City of Huntsville to release the body camera footage for this incident following the lawsuit’s dismissal.

In the video, the two officers approach the apartment manager who made the initial 911 call. The manager stresses to the officers that Ragland is a veteran who came into the apartments through a housing program, and has chronic PTSD and a traumatic brain injury. The manager also said Ragland has a history of being unstable.

Watch the full HPD release in the below video. WARNING: This video contains footage that some may find disturbing.

The officers then approach Ragland’s apartment, one knocking on the front door and the other standing by Ragland’s patio door.

You then see Ragland come out through the patio door and tell the officers she is unarmed. The officers ask Ragland to put her hands up, and you then see Ragland reach in her pocket for her weapon.

The officers shot Ragland multiple times. She falls to the ground and the officers immediately call for medical attention. Ragland was taken to the hospital where she later died from her injuries.

As for the two officers involved, they were initially placed on administrative leave. Both officers returned to full duty following an incident review board and clearance from the District Attorney’s office. HPD also says no procedure changes were made, as policy and protocol were followed.

Tune in to WAFF 48 at 4 p.m. for more from Madison Scarpino.

Martin Weinberg, the attorney for Ragland’s estate, says in a statement:

Earlier this week the City of Huntsville was ordered by Federal Judge Abdul Kallon to release body-cam-worn footage of the death of Crystal Ragland which occurred at the hands of City of Huntsville Police Officers. The city’s attorneys have fought this release vigorously for over two years much like they did in the William Parker murder by former officer Ben Darby. Ultimately the court ruled that this is a judicial record.

The court stated as rationale for releasing the video “alleged systemic issues in policing are at the forefront of the public consciousness, sparked by countless instances of excessive force by police officers in recent years. Particularly relevant to this case, African Americans and those experiencing mental health crises are victims of police violence at disproportionately high rates.”

We will have more comments after the video is released but want the public to understand that this is happening after lengthy opposition.

This is a tough day for the Ragland family and we ask for your continued prayers. Brandi Robinson, a sister of Crystal Ragland , filed an affidavit with the court weeks ago asking that this video be released.

This was a short interaction with the police that was handled badly and a mentally ill Veteran died.

While the case was dismissed we are processing an appeal to the 11th circuit on a number of grounds.

A Huntsville Police Department spokesperson released the following statement:

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.”

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