Aunt of man killed by police questions actions
The aunt of a distraught, armed man who was shot by police said Thursday she thinks officers could have handled the fatal standoff differently.
“I believe Derek would not have hurt anyone,” Norma Burton, Derek Walker’s aunt, said at a press conference in front of Durham Police Headquarters.
Walker, 26, was shot by a Durham police officer after an hourlong standoff Tuesday at the downtown CCB Plaza as he pointed a gun at officers and bystanders. He was pronounced dead at Duke University Hospital later that day.
Burton said her nephew wanted to be a police officer since he was 12. He later planned to start a funeral service and run it with his son when the child was older.
“He went to Atlanta to pursue his dream of being a mortician,” she said. “Along the way, he touched so many lives. I think that our lives are measured by how we impact the lives of others, and he impacted so many, many lives.”
She said it breaks her heart to know that her nephew’s last words on earth were: “Oh God, oh God.”
“He was calling on the name of the Lord, all the way to his death,” she said. “I pray that no one else has to go through that. Things should have been handled differently.”
Community activist Victoria Peterson, who helped organize the press conference, faulted the Durham Police Department for not having a psychiatrist on scene to help talk Walker down.
“Why doesn’t the department have someone licensed in mental health to deal with [similar situations],” she asked.
But Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez said Wednesday that several of his officers trained in mental-health issues were at the standoff, trying to persuade Walker to stand down.
Peterson also complained that some of Walker’s family wanted to speak with him at the standoff, but weren’t allowed to.
Also speaking was former Durham school board member Jackie Wagstaff, who said she had known Walker most of his life.
“He was a fine, wonderful young man,” she said. “He worked, and he loved his son and family. Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with mental-health issues, we never know what a person’s breaking point is.”
Wagstaff said Walker’s family has questions about why non-lethal force wasn’t tried before he was shot.
“Things like stun guns, rubber bullets and bean bags could have been used,” she said. “Derek was not intending to hurt anybody, but was asking police to take his life.”
But Lopez said Wednesday that his officers acted with restraint, and only fired once after Walker continued pointing his handgun at police and bystanders.