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TRYON — Down a dirt road, past a rusty gate, in a small white home with plywood siding and a chimney in need of repair, Ralonda Wilson lives and looks for peace.
On a hot, July Saturday night in 2008, Oklahoma City Police Officer Grant Brooks shot and killed her oldest son, 18-year-old Daryl Ray Wilson.
Ralonda Wilson sued the city in 2010. It wasn’t about money, she said.
She wanted Brooks’ badge. At the very least, she wanted an apology.
She got neither; but in 2012, Wilson received $8,000, part of an $80,000 civil court settlement, the only settlement city officials can recall paying in a police-shooting incident in the last decade.
Documents filed in the court case provide details about Wilson’s death that normally would not be available for public inspection in police-shooting cases.
Those include a supplemental police report in which Brooks tells investigators his version of what happened the night of July 19, 2008. Brooks, 23 , said he’d arrived at the Oklahoma City Police Department’s Hefner station on the northwest side for an overnight shift. It was the first day of a week-long, heat wave that would see temperatures soar into the triple digits. About 10 p.m., the rookie officer headed out alone to answer a call about a car being stolen at an apartment complex.
Near NW 63, he heard what he thought were five to 10 gunshots coming from the east, about two blocks away, in the Twin Lakes Apartments in neighboring Warr Acres.
Brooks drove into the complex, where several people gathered outside pointed him toward a nearby building. As he approached, Brooks saw an Oldsmobile with dark-tinted windows driving in reverse. The officer turned on his emergency lights and siren, but the driver sped up and crashed backwards into a parked Cadillac.
Brooks said he stepped out of his patrol car and from about 15 yards away, screamed several times at the car’s driver to put his hands up and get out of the car.
The driver’s door “exploded open,” and Wilson got out, Brooks told investigators.
Brooks said he was “terrified at that moment and knew he was going to be shot.”
He said he started praying that if the suspect fired, “he would either miss him or hit him in the vest.”
As Wilson turned toward Brooks, the officer said he yelled at him to stop. Wilson kept turning and extended his right arm. Brooks said he couldn’t see Wilson’s hands, but thought he had a gun.
Brooks fired twice. One bullet struck the car, the other the back of Wilson’s head. Wilson fell to the ground. A silver cell phone Wilson had been holding dropped to the pavement. Police later recovered a gun from under the driver’s seat.
“He did have a gun in the vehicle,” said Kirsten Palfreyman, Ralonda Wilson’s attorney. “But, our position was, it’s kind of immaterial as to the use of force the officer used. When you’re using force, it has to be, ‘What’s the immediate threat to the officer and others?’ He (Wilson) didn’t have a weapon, he was several feet away from the car.”
Palfreyman said Brooks did not follow proper procedures, including when he failed to shine a light on Wilson before firing his weapon.
“Our contention is, if he had done the proper procedure, illuminated like he was supposed to, he would have seen it’s certainly not a gun,” she said.
According to his deposition, Brooks said he forgot to turn on the illumination feature on his weapon. He said he didn’t use his flashlight because it was too hard to hold along with a gun. After he fired two shots, his hand-held radio malfunctioned, delaying his call for back-up. He wasn’t able to administer aid to Wilson right away because he was holding at gunpoint two juveniles who had been passengers in Wilson’s car.
After the shooting, Brooks spent five and half months on administrative leave and restricted duty. Oklahoma City police chief William Citty ordered that Brooks receive remedial training on traffic stops and practice on a firearms training simulator. Brooks completed the training in about a day and then returned to regular duty, Brooks said in his deposition.
Brooks declined to be interviewed for this story.
Rick Smith, head of Oklahoma City’s litigation division, also declined to discuss the case.
Since the incident, Brooks has been promoted to sergeant.
Almost six years after her son died, Ralonda Wilson, 40, recently sat on a couch at her home about 50 miles northeast of Oklahoma City. She shares her rural property with 10 dogs.
“It’s something to take care of,” she said. “Something that keeps me company and keeps me busy.”
She held up a picture herself at 16, holding Daryl as a baby.
Daryl lingered three days in intensive care before dying. He donated his organs to five people, she said.
“A part of me died when I lost Daryl,” she said. “I miss him every day. He was my oldest son. My best friend. He was a good kid. He’d help anybody. He had friends, he had so many. What they made him out to be is not so.”
At the hospital, Ralonda learned Daryl had a week-old son. The boy, Jeremiah, now 5, lives with his mother in Oklahoma City.
“Everyone who loved my son got a part of him back,” she said. “His mannerisms, everything is just like my son, and it’s amazing. It’s almost like I got a second chance,’’ Wilson said. “I know it’s not my son, but God gave me another chance to show, I love my son, and I will be there for my grandson to get him through this. It’s the best gift I could ask for.”
With Jeremiah, she hopes to atone for a troubled past that included addiction and imprisonment. Part of the settlement, $16,000, goes to the boy and will be held in trust until he turns 18. The rest of the settlement went to another relative and the lawyer.
“I want to be for my grandson what I couldn’t be for my son, and help him through this loss of his father, because he’s going to be angry,” Wilson said. “I’m trying to get him interested in the farm life and animals, and not the city life and the things that goes on.”
Wilson this week bought Jeremiah a colt with the same coloring as a favorite tan-and-brown puppy. The child named the horse Buddy.