Family of Black man killed by Bay Minette police demand answers

Officer's name withheld but returns to duty; no body cam footage, autopsy released

By Allison Marlow
Managing Editor
allisonm@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 9/20/22

BAY MINETTE — Tamara French’s voice broke. Her pain literally caught in her throat, causing her to pause and catch a breath before she continued speaking.As she did, each word fell louder …

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Family of Black man killed by Bay Minette police demand answers

Officer's name withheld but returns to duty; no body cam footage, autopsy released

Posted

BAY MINETTE — Tamara French’s voice broke. Her pain literally caught in her throat, causing her to pause and catch a breath before she continued speaking.

As she did, each word fell louder and stronger than the last.

She said she didn’t intend to stand and speak before Bay Minette City Council Monday night, but she couldn’t sit there any longer. She needed to know why her brother, Otis French Jr., was shot dead after a traffic stop conducted by a Bay Minette police officer.

“I came here so you could see a broken sister’s face,” she said. “How did the traffic stop lead to his death? That is my question. I want an answer. I need an answer. I’m not going away until I get it.”

Investigators say French Jr., 32, was pulled over for a taillight issue and was asked to exit the car on Aug. 20. According to investigators, French Jr. and the officer began fighting, and French Jr. reportedly pushed the officer to the ground and tried to flee. When the officer caught up with him, they said he unsuccessfully attempted to tase him. Officials said he wrestled the Taser away from the officer and that the officer responded by shooting him.

On Monday, Sept. 19, community members came to a Bay Minette City Council meeting to express their anger and frustration that at the one month mark the family still has no answers as to why he was shot. In the month since the shooting, no information, including an autopsy report, has been released to the community or the family.

When speakers came to the podium, some cried. Some yelled. Some described allegations of “deplorable acts and reprehensible underhanded tactics being deployed by officers” against the African American community that occurred long before French Jr., who was Black, was killed.

The council and mayor responded to the speakers only once.

“You have legitimate concerns, but you’re not going to come up here and impugn me or impugn the council like that,” Mayor Bob Wills said.

Joshua Brown, a community leader, said after the meeting that those gathered Monday requested one thing: justice.

“Justice is the end goal. Justice is knowing what happened that led to this. Justice is knowing why was he stopped, why did a taillight dictate for him to get out of the car? What happened in the interaction that triggered O.J. to run,” Brown said. “There are so many questions. Justice is transparency. It is accountability. It is holding all city leadership and officials accountable for their actions and decisions."

Brown said it is hard for the community to accept any account of the story since no official reports have been released, including body camera footage or the autopsy report. Brown said French Jr.'s family does not even know how many times he was shot.

The outrage is fueled by a sense that city leaders simply don’t care, Brown said.

“Mayor Wills may not be able to say much on the actual open investigation, but there are some things he can say to address the pain and fear in the community,” Brown said. “His reluctancy to do so speaks volumes."

Other speakers on Monday expressed outrage that the officer responsible for French’s death has returned to duty. Officials have not released the name of the officer involved in the shooting.

“If the city has investigated and cleared the civil servant who is paid with tax dollars, the citizens should know the details of the evidence that cleared him. Do you mind sharing those details?” Samantha Johnson asked the council.

Johnson also called for the resignation of Wills and Bay Minette Police Chief Al Tolbert.

When the last speaker finished, the mayor immediately called for the meeting to adjourn.

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