COLUMBIA – A discussion Tuesday between community members and Columbia police left Winona Coleman-Broadus — the mother of Brandon Coleman, the victim of a shooting death last month — far from satisfied.
"I don't want revenge," Coleman-Broadus said. "I just want justice to be served."
She and her husband, James Broadus, Coleman's stepfather, hoped the meeting would bring answers to some of their many questions. Instead, they said they felt police — including Chief Ken Burton — used the forum to make more excuses for the actions of the man they say killed their son.
Coleman, 25, was shot to death about 3:15 a.m. May 19 near the intersection of North Ann Street and Hinkson Avenue. No one has been charged in connection with the shooting death, and the family has been told that the person who shot their son did so in defense of another person.
Columbia police Capt. Jill Schlude, who was at Tuesday night's meeting with Burton and the department's lawyer, Nicole Volkert, said that's one of the questions at the heart of the ongoing police investigation — whether the person who killed Coleman was defending another person. In the description of the events before the shooting, that person would have been the suspect's father.
"That's the part of it we're trying to sort out," Schlude said.
According to Missouri law, a person can use physical force upon another person "when and to the extent he or she reasonably believes such force to be necessary to defend himself or herself or a third person from what he or she reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful force by such other person," under certain circumstances.
Columbia police Sgt. Joe Bernhard said a suspect voluntarily accompanied police to headquarters after the shooting along with other witnesses. Bernhard would not name any of the people interviewed in connection with the shooting. The suspect remained at the station for 12 hours, Bernhard said. No arrest was made, and the suspect was released.
"We didn't have enough probable cause to arrest him at that time," Bernhard said.
Another question raised at Tuesday's meeting — whether police could arrest the man for felony possession of a firearm — has already been resolved. The suspect is not a convicted felon, Schlude said. He has been charged by MU police with — but not been convicted of — felony tampering with a motorboat or airplane.
No further information was available Thursday from MU police about that incident.
Beyond that, Columbia police have said repeatedly that the investigation is ongoing so they can't provide further details. That's what the crowd gathered at the Second Missionary Baptist Church heard Tuesday.
"Everything is hidden behind, 'It's an ongoing investigation, we can't share that,'" Coleman-Broadus said, referring to the answer Burton gave many times throughout the meeting in response to questions from her and others.
The meeting, organized and publicized by the NAACP, marked the one-month anniversary of Coleman's death. At least 70 people crowded into a small room at the church. Rita Valenciano, a conciliation specialist for Region 7 of the Justice Department, was present to mediate the discussion.
The NAACP began distributing fliers Saturday to draw a crowd for the meeting, local chapter President Mary Ratliff said. But the media were barred from attending, a decision that came about after a meeting between Burton and Valenciano, Ratliff said. The NAACP agreed.
"I thought people would speak freer," Ratliff said. "People wouldn't feel intimidated by the press and would express themselves more without the media."
Still, many attendees seemed to leave the meeting frustrated that no new information had been released.
James Coleman, the victim's uncle, said he came out of the meeting feeling worse than he had going in. But he said he hoped the meeting showed police that the family is serious about getting results.
“We want to let people know that this can happen to them, too,” he said. “Hopefully, it opened people's eyes.”
He alleged that from day one, police have done everything wrong and behaved as if they were the suspect’s attorneys.
“Instead of being in the middle, they are doing everything to advocate for the suspect,” he said.
"The consensus when everyone left (the meeting) was (the police) did more harm than good," Broadus said. "The way they were avoiding questions and avoiding answers, they were putting up a smokescreen."
Coleman-Broadus said that at the meeting, Burton confirmed in public facts she already knew from her discussions with witnesses. For example, she learned that when her son was killed, he was not on the suspect's property as had been previously stated. Burton apologized for that misstatement of fact at the meeting.
She wished he'd gotten it right the first time.
"I felt that he needed to be honest about how Brandon was just near the suspect's property," she said.
She also already knew that there were three weapons at the crime scene: a machete wielded by the suspect's father, a 12-gauge shotgun fired by the suspect, and her son's gun, which had not been fired.
Schlude confirmed that the victim's handgun was found at the scene.
And Coleman-Broadus said she knew already that her son was shot at four times, a fact Burton confirmed at the public meeting.
That's the source of Coleman-Broadus's outrage at the lack of an arrest in her son's death. If the shooting was in defense of another as police have said, why was it necessary for the suspect to shoot at her son four times?
"I asked the police at what point is enough, enough," she said. "When you have fired several times, do you really need to reload and shoot a fourth time?"
Coleman-Broadus said the shooting of her son was the culmination of a fight that starter earlier that day between the girlfriend of her son's friend and another woman. Her version of what happened that night came from her son's friend. This is what he told her happened:
- He or his girlfriend called Brandon Coleman at 3 a.m. to come over to the girlfriend's house to help them. The girlfriend's father was swinging a machete at them. The girlfriend's father was angry his daughter was dating a black man.
- When Coleman arrived, his friend, the friend's girlfriend and the girlfriend's father and brother were outside, and the father had a machete.
- Brandon Coleman pulled out a gun.
- The suspect, the son of the man with the machete, went into a nearby house, came out and shot at Brandon Coleman four times, reloading after firing the first three shots.
Coleman was taken to University Hospital where, his mother said, he was pronounced dead at 3:54 a.m. But she didn't find out how he died until 11 hours later, she said, a fact that pains her. She was looking out the window when a police car pulled up to her house that afternoon, she said.
"My initial response was that something is wrong with someone because the lights were not on," she said.
She can't remember the name of the officer who told her that her son was dead, but she remembers his exceptional kindness. He stayed with her until her husband could get home so she wouldn't be alone. "I wish I could remember his name," she said.
Coleman-Broadus described her son as easy-going guy whom everyone loved. A 2006 graduate of Hickman High School, Coleman was born Nov. 11, 1987, in Columbia to Coleman-Broadus and Larry R. Lee. As a youth, he attended Second Missionary Baptist Church. In 2010, he went to work with the MU Athletics Department as a groundskeeper in the turf management section.
Coleman-Broadus acknowledges that her son made "bad choices" sometimes but didn't have to lose his life.
"The biggest mistake he made was going to try to help a friend that night when he should've said no," she said.
Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.