COLUMBIA — Chief Boone County Prosecutor Dan Knight has decided not to charge the person who killed Brandon Coleman on May 19.
Knight determined that Dustin Deacon, 21, was legally justified in shooting Coleman under Missouri self-defense or defense of another laws. Knight also cited the role that race played in the incident on both sides.
"I have talked to members of Brandon's family about this terrible tragedy," Knight said in a news release Wednesday. "Understandably, they are heartbroken. ... They would like for me to file charges against Dustin for killing Brandon. I cannot do so."
Coleman's mother, Winona Coleman-Broadus, said she learned of the decision Wednesday morning. She said prejudice played a part in the outcome. If a black man had killed a white man, there would have been an arrest right away, she said.
"I told Dan Knight, 'Just thank God when you say your prayers tonight that you're Caucasian,'" Coleman-Broadus said.
Knight said the outcome would have been the same even if the races had been switched.
“Just like all cases I have ever handled, I base my decision on the evidence, the law and my ethical responsibilities and not on the race of the participants,” he said.
Coleman was killed after an altercation in the yard of the house where Deacon lived with his father, Rolland Deacon, 57. Coleman was holding a gun to Rolland Deacon’s head when Dustin Deacon shot him, according to Knight's investigation into the events of that night.
A slight triggers a fight
In a summary of the evidence that Knight said he examined — including police reports, audio and video recordings of witness statements, physical evidence and multiple visits to the scene of the shooting — he describes how the incident began on May 18 after Dustin Deacon was hospitalized following a car crash.
Dustin Deacon’s girlfriend, Jordyn Perry, 18; his sister, Stephanie Deacon, 20; and a juvenile, 16, whose name was not released; visited Deacon in the hospital. When Deacon asked to see his girlfriend first, his sister and the juvenile left the hospital in anger.
"Sadly, this senseless dispute that began at the hospital would set off a chain of events that would lead to the death of Brandon Coleman," Knight's summary of evidence states.
When Deacon was released from the hospital that night, the dispute continued over the phone. Stephanie Deacon picked up her boyfriend, Jyrus Cammack, 24, who joined in the verbal fight. During this argument, Deacon, who is white, and Cammack, who is black, used offensive racial terms against each other.
The report states that Dustin and Rolland Deacon didn't approve of the relationship because Cammack is black.
The two groups agreed to meet and fight, but Perry and Dustin Deacon didn’t show up at the agreed location. Cammack, Stephanie Deacon and the juvenile then went to the house where Dustin Deacon, Rolland Deacon and Perry lived to start the fight. Stephanie Deacon later admitted to law enforcement that she likes to fight.
A fight leads to a shooting
When the three arrived at 506 N. Ann St., Rolland Deacon grabbed a corn knife, which is like a machete, and tried to get his daughter, her boyfriend and the juvenile to leave, according to Knight's summary of evidence. Dustin Deacon and his girlfriend were also at the house.
That's when Cammack, Stephanie Deacon and the juvenile got Coleman involved. Someone contacted Coleman and asked him to come and help keep Rolland Deacon out of the fight. He agreed and called a friend to pick him up and bring him to the house.
While driving to the house, the friend saw that Coleman had a .40 caliber semi-automatic handgun, which she'd seen him buy for $564.90 at a pawn shop earlier that day.
When Coleman arrived at the house, where the group was in the yard, he had the handgun with him. At the time, Coleman had methamphetamine and marijuana in his system, according to the toxicology report.
Coleman approached Rolland Deacon and pointed his loaded gun at his head, threatening to shoot him. Dustin Deacon grabbed a 12-gauge shotgun.
Cammack told police that Rolland Deacon swung the corn knife at Coleman but missed when Coleman backed away. While Coleman was holding his gun on Rolland Deacon, the older man swung again at Coleman and missed.
Dustin Deacon was standing 35 to 50 feet away when he saw that Coleman had his gun pointed at Rolland Deacon’s head. In fear that Coleman would shoot his father, he fired at Coleman four times in rapid succession, hitting him three times. Coleman dropped his gun, and Rolland Deacon stepped on it, so Coleman wouldn’t pick it up. Rolland Deacon asked for someone to call 911.
When officers from the Columbia Police Department arrived, Coleman was still alive. He was pronounced dead at University Hospital at 3:15 a.m.
Dustin, Rolland and Stephanie Deacon, Perry, Cammack and the juvenile gave statements to the police that night. Dustin Deacon admitted to shooting Coleman in fear for his father's life.
A mother and community outraged
Winona Coleman-Broadus was livid about Knight’s decision Wednesday afternoon.
“I’m furious,” she said. “That’s putting it the nice way.”
She said the racial overtones of the killing overshadowed justice.
“I wanted to believe that there is not as much as racism in this town as there truly is,” she said. “Racism is alive and well, and they did everything they could to keep from prosecuting those two Caucasian men. African Americans are guilty until proven innocent.”
Mary Ratliff, president of the local NAACP chapter, also said she was angry at the racial overtones in this case.
"This is bigger than Brandon," Ratliff said. "A black man was killed by a white man; he was shot down four times, and no one was willing to let a jury decide his fate. That is unacceptable."
Members of the NAACP decided to meet Wednesday to discuss their next steps. Ratliff said she has been in contact with the national chapter of the NAACP and the Department of Justice.
“We’re going to let the world know,” she said.
Knight said he was left with no legal choice in the case. Shell casings recovered from the scene and statements from witnesses confirmed that Coleman was shot three times and that Deacon didn't continue shooting him once he had fallen and was no longer a threat.
According to Missouri law, a person can defend another person who is being subjected to “unlawful force.” Had he survived, Coleman could not have claimed he was holding a gun to Deacon's head in self-defense because he initiated the attack — a precedent set in the 2002 case State v. Hughes. If Coleman had withdrawn from the encounter or communicated that he was backing down, he wouldn't have been considered the aggressor, but he never did, according to Knight's findings.
In Missouri, wielding a knife to hold someone at bay without the intent to stab them is not considered deadly force, as established in State vs. Westfall. Knight wrote that a jury could have concluded that Rolland Deacon was waving his knife around blindly to hold Coleman off, and that it wasn’t deadly force.
Knight also emphasized that Columbia Police never sent a probable cause statement to the Prosecutor's Office. The probable cause statement is a sworn affidavit by a police officer that he or she believes a crime has been committed.
"I think it is safe to say that members of the Columbia Police Department share my opinion that no crime was committed, ..." Knight wrote in the report.
Assistant Chief Jill Schlude agreed with that assessment.
"Based on everything that was in (Knight's) letter — and some things that aren't — we did not feel that we could sign a probable cause statement," she said.
But police wanted to be certain they hadn't missed anything in their assessment of the evidence, so they asked Knight to review it.
Schlude said that police have met with members of Coleman's family several times. She said she knew they would be unhappy with the outcome.
"We're hoping they take some comfort in the fact that this (case) was looked at by a lot of different people on our side and the prosecutor's side to make sure that the lawful defense standard was met," she said. "(Knight) did a great job, whether people agree with the decision or not."
Brandon Coleman's life
In interviews earlier this year, Coleman's parents and employers described him as a role model and hard worker — a depiction that contrasts starkly with Knight's report.
As a child, he loved nature and collecting baseball cards and participated in Boys 2 Men, a youth group focusing on helping young boys build strong character and integrity.
“My son was not a thug," Coleman-Broadus said in a previous interview. "They are not going to assassinate my son's character. We are going to let them know that the life that was taken was that of an upstanding person.”
In high school he played defensive tackle for the Hickman Kewpies under coach Arnel Monroe.
"There's some kids, when you see them walking down the aisle to graduate, you worry about," Monroe said. "Brandon wasn't one of them.”
Knight expressed empathy for Coleman’s family.
“I think this was a tragedy,” he said. “It’s a very sad situation. I have expressed my sympathy to Brandon’s family, and I know that it’s been a very tough situation for them to say the very least.”
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