MARKSVILLE — A police sergeant who witnessed the shooting of a father and his 6-year-old son by two deputy marshals in November told authorities he didn’t fire his weapon because he “didn’t fear for his life,” according to a State Police report.
The statement by Marksville police Sgt. Kenneth Parnell was released by the state Attorney General’s Office on Thursday after a grand jury indicted the two Marksville deputy marshals, Norris Greenhouse Jr. and Derrick Stafford, in the death of Jeremy Mardis, the 6-year-old, and the wounding of his father, Christopher Few.
The two deputy marshals are accused of chasing Few until he was pinned in his small SUV in a bend near the gates of a shuttered state park. Greenhouse and Stafford are accused of firing into the driver’s side window, killing Jeremy, an autistic first-grader buckled into the front passenger seat, and wounding Few.
The report says a video at the scene captured by Parnell’s body camera during the shooting shows that Few has his “empty hands raised and visible when gunfire becomes audible.”
Greenhouse and Stafford, the arrest report says, opened fire on the car when Few “no longer posed an imminent threat or danger of death or great bodily harm to” them.
The 13-minute, 47-second video has not been released to the public.
The 12-member grand jury began hearing evidence in the case about 1 p.m. Thursday and walked into an upstairs courtroom at 4:20 p.m., where Jeremy’s two grandmothers, Samantha Few and Cathy Mardis, and his father were sitting.
As state District Judge William Bennett read out the indictment, Jeremy’s grandmothers cried and comforted each other while Few, wearing jeans and a blue polo shirt, sat quietly next to them. His hair was cropped short, revealing scarring across his forehead.
Prosecutors declined to comment on what evidence or testimony was presented to the grand jury.
But Few, who was shot twice and spent more than a week in the hospital following the shooting, was in the courthouse all afternoon except for a few smoke breaks he took on the building’s back steps. His mother, Samantha Few, said he was in the courtroom because “he’s a witness.”
Immediately after reading out the indictment, Judge Bennett lifted a sweeping gag order that had barred anyone associated with the case from speaking with the media or releasing any information.
One of the key pieces of evidence in the case, according to State Police Superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson, is the footage taken by Parnell’s body camera.
The night Greenhouse and Stafford were arrested, Edmonson said the video contained “one of the most disturbing scenes” he’d ever watched.
Cathy Mardis, Jeremy’s 46-year-old grandmother, arrived at the Marksville courthouse with the boy’s other grandmother, Samantha Few, on Thursday morning, hours before the grand jury began hearing the case.
Cathy Mardis said she wants the body camera footage of the shooting to be released to the public.
“There may be some graphic, disturbing images but I think it needs to be seen,” she said.
Cathy Mardis said she hadn’t seen the video herself but that hearing Edmonson’s description of it, which came during a televised news conference announcing the arrests, made her feel “physically ill.”
Cathy Mardis, who drove to Marksville last night from Mississippi, said her daughter, the boy’s mother, hasn’t been able to fully deal with the loss of her son. Jeremy has a younger sister who still asks about him, she said.
“It has been pure hell. I can’t explain what it is like to bury your 6-year-old grandchild,” said Cathy Mardis, who was wearing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle T-shirt in memory of her grandson’s love of the cartoon characters. “You have to decide what to bury him in, whether you are going to do an open or closed casket. It was open, and you could tell there had been trauma.”
The funeral director warned the family not to touch the boy’s head because of the injuries, she said.
After the indictment was announced, Cathy Mardis started to cry.
“We can’t get Jeremy back, but we got what we wanted for now,” she said.
Defense attorneys for both Stafford and Greenhouse said outside the courthouse they hadn’t had a chance to review the evidence against their clients.
“I believe there was a rush to judgment and that Mr. Stafford needs his day in court,” said Jonathan Goins, Stafford’s attorney.
Goins said he believes authorities hadn’t properly vetted evidence before making the arrests and that the race of the officers — both Stafford and Greenhouse are black while the victims are white — led authorities to make arrests quickly and the case to be sensationalized in the media.
Attorneys for Greenhouse said in a written statement that their client “has always maintained his innocence” and that “we expect Mr. Greenhouse to be fully exonerated of all criminal charges.”
Greenhouse and Stafford were among four officers present at the shooting, which occurred following a brief chase that began about 9:30 p.m. on Nov. 3.
Only Greenhouse and Stafford fired their weapons, according to State Police.
The State Police report does not indicate why the deputy marshals initiated the chase of Few, who was unarmed. Greenhouse, patrolling alone in a marked Ford Crown Victoria, was the first officer to begin chasing Few. Stafford and Lt. Jason Brouillette, working together in a second marked patrol car, joined the chase shortly afterward.
Stafford, Parnell and Brouillette all worked full time for the Marksville department while Greenhouse, a reserve officer in Marksville, worked for the Alexandria City Marshal’s Office, an agency that also employed Stafford part-time.
Brouillette and Parnell have been cleared of any wrongdoing, the town’s mayor, John Lemoine, said Thursday. Parnell has returned to work with the Marksville Police Department, Lemoine said, while Brouillette is on sick leave.
Stafford, a lieutenant and shift supervisor who’d worked for the department for eight years, has been suspended without pay, Lemoine said.
Greenhouse is free on bail after his parents posted a $1 million property bond. A condition of his bail required him to surrender his firearms and his law enforcement certification.
Greenhouse, Stafford and Brouillette were moonlighting for the Marksville Ward Marshal’s Office, a tiny agency that generally handles subpoenas and court papers for Marksville City Court, and had been serving warrants and looking for traffic violations at the time of the shooting. Parnell, who captured footage of the shooting on a body camera, was on duty for the Marksville Police Department at the time.
Stafford is being held at the Rapides Parish Jail in lieu of $1 million bail. His attorney has filed a motion asking a judge to reduce that amount, which Stafford maintains in court filings he cannot afford. A hearing on the motion is scheduled for next Thursday.