The video footage comes from the body camera of one of the officers who shot Massey, Eufaula Police Chief Ralph Conner. A lawyer for Massey’s family says the footage—in which Conner can be heard saying “fuck” multiple times—refutes the officers’ claims that they shot Massey because they believed they were in imminent danger. (Massey’s family filed an ongoing civil suit against the officers and the Eufaula department in July 2015.)
The fatal incident began when Officer John Phillips pulled over Joshua Kelly, 30—along with Massey, who was riding in the passenger seat—for making an illegal lane change on October 17, 2013. Phillips believed that Kelly’s car matched a description of a vehicle that was allegedly “carrying a load of marijuana through town.” After making the stop, Phillips claims, Kelly became “loud, boisterous, aggressive”:
According to Phillips’ statement to investigators, the driver, 30-year-old Joshua Kelly, stepped out of the car. Massey, who was 6’8” and nearly 300 lbs., remained in the passenger’s seat. Phillips told Kelly to get back in, and he did. Phillips then called for a back-up unit. Kelly again stepped out of the car. He asked Phillips why he had pulled him over, and Phillips told him he pulled him over for an improper lane change and because his registration tags were obscured. Kelly became “loud, boisterous, aggressive,” Phillips later told investigators, and he handcuffed him.
As they spoke, Conner arrived.
The video picks up from there. In it, Phillips yells at at Massey to put his hands on the dashboard. It appears then that Massey leans over to the driver’s side of the car. The car rolls forward. Within seconds, Conner shoots Massey once, and Phillips shoots him three more times. Buzzfeed notes that the video shows “Conner pointing his gun at Massey before the car’s engine turned on and then firing when it rolled forward seconds after starting up.”
The officers claim that they were worried that Massey was going to roll over Phillips with the car. Phillips told investigators after the shooting that he also wasn’t sure where the shot Conner fired came from: “Everything was so quick, so instantaneous. At that time, I didn’t know if [Massey] had shot and he’s trying to stay down to keep from us returning fire.”
Mario Williams, the lawyer for Massey’s family, told Buzzfeed, “Officers cannot just shoot people based on absolutely irrational perspectives about a scenario. This was an absolutely unreasonable shooting.”
In 2014, a grand jury declined to indict the officers.
Conner, who was hired as Eufaula’s chief in early 2013, had shot an unarmed black man three decades before, when he was an investigator with the Montgomery Police Department. In 1983 Conner shot 22-year-old Bobby Joe Sales in the back after Sales fled from an attempted police stop, the Associated Press reported at the time. Sales survived. Montgomery locals protested the shooting.
Conner’s defense? He said he believed Sales was reaching for a gun. He was not charged in relation to the incident.