New body camera footage sheds light on Ta’Naja Barnes’ father suing the City of Springfield and the Springfield Police Department for mistaking the toddler’s ashes for drugs and for unlawfully testing them.
Dartavius Barnes, Ta’Naja’s father, filed the complaint against the city and the police department on October 6, 2020. In the suit, Barnes claims his vehicle was unlawfully searched on April 6, 2020, when he was pulled over in Springfield.
Barnes says the Springfield officers placed him in handcuffs while searching his vehicle without consent, a valid warrant, or probable cause. Barnes says officers took a sealed urn of his daughter’s ashes during the search, unsealed it, opened it without consent, and spilled out the ashes.
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The complaint named Officer Colton Redding, Officer Brian Riebling, Officer Adam Westlake, Officer Juan Resendez, Officer Nicholas Renfro, and Officer Regan Molohon of the Springfield Police Department.
According to incident reports, Barnes was pulled over for speeding through an area following reported gunfire. Barnes was handcuffed and detained. While one officer investigated the shots fired, walking up and down the block, another searches Barnes’ car with his permission.
New body camera footage from that night shows the entire incident.
“You got anything in your car?” an officer asks.
Barnes responded, “Not really,” before admitting he had marijuana.
“No problem if I search?” the officer asks Barnes.
“Yeah, go ahead,” Barnes responded.
According to the report, police found an illegal amount of marijuana and what they thought was ecstasy or meth. Officers used a narcotics test kit during the search. The container the officers find is Ta’Naja’s urn.
The footage shows the officer wrapped the container in his plastic glove, and it was placed with other evidence. An officer then went to tell Barnes the container tested positive for meth or ecstasy. Barnes appeared confused and asked to see what they found.
The officer retrieved the container, and when it was shown to Barnes, the reaction was immediate.
Barnes yelled, “No, that’s my daughter,” and tried to reach for the urn.
Officers went to test the contents again but decided to believe him and gave the urn to Barnes’ father, who was waiting up the street.
After 21 minutes in the back of the police car, Barnes was released and given the notice to appear.
In their response to the suit, Springfield police officers said they’re “entitled to qualified immunity as their conduct was justified by an objectively reasonable belief that it was lawful.”
Police found 2-year-old Ta’Naja Barnes unresponsive and wrapped in a urine-soaked blanket inside her home on February 11, 2019. She was later pronounced dead at a hospital in Decatur.
The toddler’s mother and her mother’s boyfriend would go on to be arrested on murder charges in her death. They were sentenced to two decades in prison.