Derrick Kittling, a 45-year-old Black resident of Alexandria, was shot by a yet-to-be-named deputy in central Louisiana on Sunday. Kittling was rushed to a local hospital after the shooting, according to Louisiana State Police, but he succumbed to his injuries later that afternoon. His death has the mostly Black community of Alexandria in mourning, and dozens of residents turned out to protest on Monday.
Louisiana State Police are now investigating the deadly encounter between Kittling, the civilian brother of a high-ranking state police official, and a Rapides Parish sheriff’s deputy that began as a routine traffic stop and ended with an alleged struggle and the fatal shooting of the Black motorist. This shooting comes as Louisiana State Police have faced widespread public scrutiny in recent years; the agency has been under federal investigation due to a pattern of excessive force used against Black men, and repeated attempts to cover up these incidents.
The shooting of Kittling occurred around 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 6, according to the Louisiana State Police. The Rapides Parish deputy pulled over the driver for a reason that has not yet been made public. During the traffic stop, the state police claim a “physical confrontation” occurred, during which the two struggled over the deputy’s taser. State police claim that Kittling gained control of the taser. After that, the police say, the unnamed deputy shot Kittling.
There is body-camera footage of the incident, according to state police, but it has not yet been made public. Local community activist and close family friend Tony Brown, who is speaking to local media on behalf of the family, told VICE News that Kittling was shot in the head during the encounter.
Though state police are still investigating, the office confirmed to VICE News on Tuesday that Kittling was also the brother of Lt. Col. Kenny Van Buren, who has served as deputy superintendent of Louisiana’s Bureau of Investigations since January 2021. Van Buren will not be involved in the “thorough and impartial” ongoing investigation, state police spokesperson Daniel “Scott” Moreau said.
The family of Kittling has retained Benjamin Crump, the civil rights attorney who’s represented dozens of families in high-profile police brutality cases over the last decade, as well as attorney Ron Haley, who’s represented the family of Ronald Greene, a Black motorist killed in state police custody in 2019, according to Brown.
Those close to Kittling, including his sister, described him as loving and caring.
“He was a family man,” Kittling’s sister wrote in a Facebook post. “You would do anything to help anybody. You would see a person without any shoes and you would go buy them shoes, clothes, food, making sure that person was okay. You had the heart of gold! I’m hurting so bad.”
“I’m so sorry you had to leave me in such a tragic way,” Kittling’s daughter said in her own Facebook post. “You didn’t deserve to be killed [...], not by someone who’s supposed to protect us from these crimes.”
Local residents and family held a protest and vigil for Kittling Monday night at the location where he was killed.
“We understand that the police department for the state is investigating,” civil rights activist Norris Guillot Jr., a lead organizer of Monday’s protest, told the news station. “However, as an agency that oversees other agencies in the state, we do not really have the trust or integrity that they believe that they will come with the truth.”
Sheriff Mark Wood of the Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office asked for the community’s patience as the investigation continues, in a statement published on the office’s Facebook page Monday.
Widespread community trust in the Louisiana State Police and the Rapides Sheriff’s Office, however, is low. One of its own officers, Jacob Brown, was indicted last year for violating Aaron Larry Bowman’s civil rights when he allegedly left the Black motorist with a broken jaw, broken ribs, and a laceration to the head after a 2019 traffic stop.
Last year, federal prosecutors opened an investigation into the 2019 in-custody death of Ronald Greene. While state authorities initially reported that the 49-year-old died from injuries sustained in a car crash following a brief car chase with state police, and that he resisted arrest, police body-camera footage released two years after the incident showed several officers beating and tasing Greene, even as he apologized for leading them in the pursuit and pleaded with them to stop.
Princella Talley, a local journalist, told VICE News that his death is also a snapshot of the bigger issues regarding local law enforcement.
“Derrick’s death is painful and significant, and unfortunately, it is one of many about police brutality in Alexandria, Louisiana,” Talley said. “No more sweeping stories like Kittling’s and Rick’s under the rug. It’s time for accountability.”
Brown echoed Talley’s sentiment.
“The Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office has a systemic problem of violating, particularly people of color’s, rights,” he said. “Attorney Ron Haley already has at least three active lawsuits against the Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff Mark Wood for civil rights violations.”
While the exact circumstances of Sunday’s shooting are still being investigated, the details bear a striking resemblance to a deadly police encounter that prompted days of protests in Michigan earlier this year. In April, a 26-year-old Black Congolese-born motorist named Patrick Lyoya was shot and killed by Grand Rapids Police officer Christopher Schurr during a traffic stop. Lyoya tried to flee the scene, and Schurr tackled him and tried to tase him during a brief struggle. When Lyoya grasped at the taser, Schurr pulled out his service weapon and shot him in the head.
Lyoya’s death drew national attention, with the likes of the Rev. Al Sharpton and civil rights attorney Ben Crump demanding justice on behalf of his family. Just last week, a Kent County Judge ruled that Schurr, who was fired from his job in June, will face trial for second-degree murder. The decision marked a major victory for community residents who were devastated and outraged by Lyoya’s killing.
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