HOMER, LA — Two police officers crashed a family cookout to harass a man who was not wanted or suspected of any crimes, then shot the man’s elderly father and allegedly planted a gun on him, according to numerous witnesses.
This incident took place in the town of Homer, home to only 3,800 residents. The poor, northern Louisiana town had made it a priority for its 8-cop roster to get “tough on drugs.”
In doing so, Homer Police officers were instructed to stop and question young black males without cause, and to go after certain individuals for targeted harassment. One of these specific targets was 38-year-old Shaun Monroe.
Shaun Monroe was not wanted for any crimes and had no warrants for his arrest. There was no tangible or legal reason that the police should have been harassing him, yet officers were told that if they ever saw him carrying a black bag, that they should stop and search him because the bag “probably contained drugs.” On the afternoon of Friday, February 20th, 2009, two officers intruded upon a family cookout for exactly that reason.
The cookout was hosted by Bernard Monroe, Sr., and his wife Louise, Shaun’s elderly parents. Numerous family members and friends were present, enjoying a day of laughter and food. The Monroes had 5 children, 18 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren, many of whom were present. Bernard, 73, was a retired electrical utility worker and was mute because of surgeries undertaken to survive throat cancer, but was seen sitting and enjoying himself as the day progressed.
Shaun was parked in the driveway, sitting in his car, as HPD officers stalked him from nearby. Officers would later claim that they saw a black bag, but no other witnesses corroborated that. When Shaun got out and mixed in with his family, HPD officers Tim Cox and Joseph Henry marched onto the property without a warrant to question and harass him — an individual that they had been told would be an easy target for a drug arrest, according to the investigation of Louisiana Assistant Attorney General Kurt Wall.
When police attempted to confront Shaun, he backed away, likely because he knew of the unjust methodologies of the local police against his demographic. “[Officers] Henry and Cox entered the [Monroe] property, without permission or cause, and began chasing Shaun Monroe,” a subsequent lawsuit alleged. The cops then entered the house. “Each of these actions was without legal justification,” the lawsuit stated.
The New York Times described the chaotic scene, and the tragedy that came next:
[W]hen Officer Henry called his name, Shaun Monroe darted behind the house, went back around the front and ran inside. Officer Cox followed and chased him through the house, a chase that, the lawsuit argues, was “without just cause” or legal justification.
Shaun Monroe burst out of the front door and was at the front gate when Officer Henry, who was in the yard, hit him with a Taser. Seconds later, Officer Cox reached the front screen door from the inside, witnesses said, as the elder Mr. Monroe was walking up the steps to the porch.
Officer Cox told investigators that the elder Mr. Monroe had picked up a pistol he kept on the porch and was aiming it at Officer Henry. All of the civilian witnesses say Mr. Monroe was carrying only a sports drink bottle.
But this is not in dispute: Mr. Cox shot Mr. Monroe seven times in the chest, side and back. Several witnesses said they saw a police officer later place the pistol next to Mr. Monroe’s body, but the police officers said that was because it had been moved when they were checking his wounds.
Bernard had no conceivable reason to aim a gun at a police officer, and witnesses maintained that he simply stood up from his folding chair and approached the house to see what was the commotion.
“[Officer] Cox, who was inside the Monroes’ house at the time, unlawfully and repeatedly fired his gun through the screen door at Bernard Monroe, Sr., while he was standing harmlessly on his own front porch,” stated a lawsuit.
Louise immediately came outside to comfort her husband of over 50 years, as he lay bleeding on the sidewalk. Bernard’s wounds were fatal and he soon passed away in front of his traumatized family.
“[Officer Cox] just shot him through the screen door,” said Denise Nicholson, a family friend who witnessed the shooting from a few feet away. “After [Bernard Monroe] was on the ground, we kept asking the officer to call an ambulance, but all he did was get on his radio and say, ‘Officer in distress.'”
Officer Cox had only been on the department for a couple of weeks at the time he pulled the trigger. Most concerning was the alleged coverup that transpired, which involved Cox’s partner shifting evidence around in order to manufacture a justification for the shooting. The Los Angeles Times reveals further details:
The witnesses said the second officer [Joseph Henry] picked up a handgun that [Bernard] Monroe, an avid hunter, always kept in plain sight on the porch for protection. Using a latex glove, the officer grasped the gun by its handle, the witnesses said, and ordered everyone to back away. The next thing they said they saw was the gun next to Monroe’s body.
“I saw him pick up the gun off the porch,” Marcus Frazier said. “I said, ‘What are you doing?’ The cop told me, ‘Shut the hell up, you don’t know what you’re talking about.’ “
The shooting shocked the community and inflamed a racial tension that had been brewing for some time because of institutional police harassment.
“People here are afraid of the police,” said Terry Willis, vice president of the Homer branch of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People. “They harass black people, they stop people for no reason and rough them up without charging them with anything.”
Yet policing by fear was the strategy all along, according to Homer Police Chief Russell Mills, who noted the high rates of prohibition-related arrests in the neighborhood.
“If I see three or four young black men walking down the street, I have to stop them and check their names,” said Chief Mills to the LA Times. “I want them to be afraid every time they see the police that they might get arrested.”
The evidence was presented before a grand jury, but they declined to indict Officer Tim Cox on criminal charges for the shooting.
“I am so disappointed,” the Rev. Willie Young, Sr., said to USA Today. “When you have 12 witnesses that say the man did not have a gun and he was gunned down by police, what are you supposed to believe? We are left with the belief that police in Homer have a license to kill.”
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The civil lawsuit that was filed in Claiborne Parish on behalf of the Monroe family sought damages for the wrongful death of Bernard Monroe, Sr., and the emotional distress suffered by family members. The town’s board of selectmen approved a settlement agreement for an undisclosed amount of money.
Despite the settlement, the town did not admit any liability. Tim Cox is still a free man and the only party that was punished was the taxpayers.
In perhaps an unrelated footnote, the Homer Town Council voted to disband the local police department in 2013, instead opting to utilize the services of the sheriff’s department. As of mid-2013, Russell Mills was still employed by the town of Homer as the Town Marshal.
Bernard Monroe is just one of numerous innocent victims that have been killed as a result of America’s violent and malicious War on Drugs. Giving the police such a broad and unnecessary excuse to initiate stops is an invitation for inevitable tragedies. Removing the root cause of the confrontation — attempted prohibition enforcement — would mean that Mr. Monroe and scores of other Drug War casualties might still be alive today.