Slain Black Missouri man’s family calls for coroner’s ouster

Feb 3, 2022, 1:02 PM | Updated: 8:40 pm

BOURBON, Mo. (AP) — The family of a Black Missouri man killed by his neighbor has called for the resignation of the county coroner over his handling of the case as well as his social media posts that they describe as racist.

Rod Chapel, a lawyer for Justin King’s family and president of the Missouri NAACP, in a letter Wednesday to multiple state coroner oversight boards described Crawford County Coroner Darren Dake’s social media posts as “overtly racist and dehumanizing.”

King, 28, was fatally shot by a neighbor Nov. 3 in a trailer park in Bourbon, Missouri, a town of 1,600 residents about 75 miles (120 kilometers) southwest of St. Louis.

A coroner’s inquest and Crawford County Prosecuting Attorney David S. Smith agreed the shooter killed King in self-defense. But King’s family, civil rights leaders and other neighbors have questioned why the shooter wasn’t charged.

In the letter calling for an investigation, Chapel pointed to a 2017 Facebook post in which the coroner likened the Black Lives Matter movement to the Ku Klux Klan, writing that “KKK and BLM are the same racist coin.” The social media post was first reported by The Daily Beast.

Chapel said Dake’s posts “demonstrate his reluctance and preconceived biases which prevent him from completing his professional responsibilities in a way required by statute.”

In a statement posted on his Facebook page Thursday, Dake said racism was not a factor in the investigation of King’s death. He said Chapel has racist “bias against law enforcement and Caucasian people.”

“I will assure you that no county official involved in this investigation did anything inappropriate or used any form of bias during this investigation,” Dake said.

He said his Facebook comments were taken out of context but doubled down on his criticism of Black Lives Matter, calling it a “hate group.”

“Close inspection of my words will show that I was calling out ALL prejudice, including that of the hate group, BLM,” Dake said.

Chapel said Dake discriminated against King’s family during the death investigation, describing his treatment of them as “antagonistic, unhelpful and overtly inconsiderate.”

“I have seldom seen a coroner act with such antagonism and callous disregard for victims of murder,” Chapel wrote.

Chapel said Dake failed to provide a photo of King’s body to the jury performing the inquest, then asked jurors to sign a false statement that they had seen photos of King’s body. Dake did not respond to that allegation in his Facebook post, and an Associated Press call to his office seeking comment was not immediately returned Thursday.

The Crawford County prosecutor said King was initially angered on Nov. 23 when a neighbor accused him of letting her dogs off their chains. Smith said the man who eventually shot King went to King’s home to calm him down. King’s interior surveillance video and audio showed a “friendly interaction” ending with King saying to the man, “Love you, bro,” Smith said.

But about 50 minutes later, King’s behavior changed drastically for a reason that even his girlfriend and daughter, who were present, didn’t understand, Smith said. King’s security video showed King running out of his home, yelling incoherently, Smith said.

The video showed King banging on the man’s door, then eventually making his way into his home. Smith said there was no video footage from inside that house, but a struggle spilled outside onto a porch. Smith said the shooter had a gun in his hand and King fell to the ground. He had been shot three times, including a fatal shot to the heart.

The shooter told authorities that King had threatened to kill him, threw one TV across the room and damaged another. The man said he grabbed a gun and tried to run away but King caught him, leading to the fatal encounter.

Missouri’s “castle doctrine” law allows for deadly force against intruders.

The inquest into King’s death marked the second coroner’s inquest in six months to examine the suspicious death of a young Black man in Missouri.

Derontae Martin was 19 when he died in April during a party at the Madison County home of a man with a history of making racist comments and social media postings. Investigators determined Martin killed himself, but a subsequent coroner’s inquest jury found he died by “violence,” not suicide.

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Slain Black Missouri man’s family calls for coroner’s ouster