Six months after fatal Old Town shooting, a family still has questions

09/02/2012 5:00 AM

08/05/2014 9:54 PM

Brenda Bryant now has a copy of the autopsy report, shedding some light on how her son died on the night Wichita police shot him after a March concert in Old Town.

The report goes into some detail, including that Marquez Smart had a tattoo on his chest saying “Fear No Man.” And that he was shot five times, all the bullets hitting from behind, in his back, his hip and his arm.

In other words, Bryant said, her son was turned away from the officers who shot him, and probably not a threat.

Four other people were shot and wounded in that March 10 confrontation, which police say occurred when Smart, 23, fired a handgun into a crowd, only steps away from uniformed police officers, who drew their weapons and went after him.

Bryant said it makes no sense that her son started it. He had no criminal record, didn’t own a gun as far as she and his father know, and lived life as a gentle and loving soul, she said. “Marquez was like my son, my best brother, my best friend all in one person,” she said.

She and her son’s father, Randy Smart, wonder whether several people in that crowd were hit by police gunfire.

“He was a good kid, outgoing, he lived with me, and he got up every day and went to work,” she said. He worked at a retirement community, helping take care of elderly people, she said. When he left work, he’d go to his 72-year-old grandmother’s home and give the elderly woman her insulin shot.

“I just feel like he was gunned down for no reason,” she said.

Police declined to comment, saying that the case is still under investigation by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and District Attorney Nola Foulston. Lt. Doug Nolte, a police spokesman, said police follow strict department rules about when to fire. One circumstance in which they could fire is during an “active shooter” situation, where the person with the gun is still a threat, Nolte said. Officers in those situations are trained to fire until the threat is stopped, Nolte said.

It’s been almost six months since Wichita police shot and killed Marquez Smart in Old Town. Bryant says the half-year delay in hearing findings of fact from the Sedgwick County district attorney has been agonizing.

Kelly Otis, the district attorney’s chief investigator, said a decision by Foulston about whether officers acted lawfully will come, but only after all tests are analyzed.

“We did an initial review of this incident after it happened, and have been awaiting the results of several forensic tests,” Otis said. “We’re now doing a full review and won’t comment until that review is finished.”

It is not unusual for Foulston to take several months in determining whether officers acted within the law during a shooting. Her Aug. 24 ruling clearing police officers of wrongdoing at the Dollar General Store shooting came 10 months after that October confrontation.

Frustrated with the delay, Bryant has attended a meeting of Occupy Wichita, which organizes protests and criticizes police.

Bryant said she does not agree with blanket criticisms of the police, or with assumptions by some critics that officers routinely do things badly.

“I do not hate them,” she said. She knows there are many good officers.

She said she and her family have known Police Chief Norman Williams for years. “A good friend to our family,” she said. She remembers seeing Williams as they both walked through the Wichita River Festival one afternoon last year. She says she gave him a hug, and he asked how she and her family were getting along.

But on the night her son died, as she stood outside the hospital, she said she saw Williams striding toward the entrance, shortly after the shooting. She said he pretended not to notice her, as she stood in anguish on the sidewalk.

“And when I called out to him, he did not stop,” she said. “He wouldn’t even look at me.”

And that’s how police have communicated with her in nearly six months since, she said: telling her and Marquez’s father nothing about why their son died.

Since October, five people have been killed and nine wounded in confrontations with police. Bryant says she and her son’s father don’t understand why police, if her son was running away, couldn’t have used a Taser or some means other than guns to stop him. Police announced after the shooting that officers shot Smart because he fired shots into a crowd while walking south on Mosley. Williams, in a news conference, said there were on-duty and off-duty officers there when the shooting started, that they chased the man with the gun, and yelled at him to stop and drop it.

When he refused, they fired, chased him into an alley, and fired more shots, this time killing him.

Six months later Bryant is left with the questions, and Marquez Smart’s 1987 Cutlass, which he was trying to fix. People have asked whether she’ll sell it.

No, she tells them. She wants to fix it the way Marquez wanted.

“That’s his car.”

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