10 Cases People Are Urging Be Reopened Amid Global Calls For Justice For Black Lives
Some of these pushes are paying off, as several cases have been reopened.
by Jon Greig
June 10, 2020 at 3:51 pm
The outrage over George Floyd's killing at the hands of police has prompted thousands of people to sign petitions and support calls for other investigations to be reopened.
With a renewed social focus on Black lives that have been lost unjustly, families across the world are hoping the new movement will reinvigorate cases that have gone cold as well as those that some suspect were prematurely closed.
As calls for Breonna Taylor's killers to face punishment grow by the day, other cases are reemerging into the public eye.
Here are some of the cases people are asking for police to reevaluate.
1. Shukri Yahye-Abdi
The case gained notoriety at the time because the police investigation found that Yahye-Abdi was with two other girls at the river before she died. According to the BBC, one of the girls admitted to police that she threatened to kill Yahye-Abdi but later said it was a joke, a fact the police used to shut the case and leave both girls unnamed.
"If you don't get in the water I'm going to kill you," one of the girls told her foster parent about the incident, according to reports leaked to the BBC.
Yahye-Abdi's mother, Zam Zam Ture, has long said her daughter was terrified of the water and would never try to get in unless she was pushed or forced. She also told the court that Yahye-Abdi and one of the girls previously had some kind of dispute.
The case has caused renewed outrage because of the facts that have been released. Burnham said he has already received more than 6,000 emails about Yahye-Abdi.
During an appearance on British TV show the Big Debate, Burnham said, "Clearly it's unresolved [be]cause of the nature of the level of concern. So what I can say … I will look into the case again and I will consider the call for a further investigation into it."
In spite of concerns about how the two girls were involved, the Greater Manchester Police repeatedly referred to Yahye-Abdi's death as an accident, leading the Independent Office for Police Conduct to start an investigation into the police officers' actions in the case.
— John Boyega (@JohnBoyega) June 8, 2020
Actor John Boyega recently tweeted out a petition for Yahye-Abdi, and more than 700,000 people have signed it.
2. Tamla Horsford
People on Twitter have recently demanded police reopen the case of Tamla Horsford, who was found dead in November 2018 the night she attended a birthday party in Forsyth County, Georgia and their calls have been answered according to WGRZ.
The mother of five had dozens of injuries, but other people at the party said she died accidentally after falling off of a balcony while intoxicated.
"It's impossible to get the injuries that she had from one fall," Horsford's friend, Michelle Graves, said.
The only reason the public found out about the case is because the local courthouse fired employee Jose Barrera for trying to access files about Horsford's death. Barrera was at the party where Horsford died and is the boyfriend of the woman who owns the house where the party was hosted, according to local news outlet WSB-TV.
ICYMI: County employee fired for accessing police reports into a death he witnessed. pic.twitter.com/kgRJWcV9QZ
— Mike Petchenik (@MPetchenikWSB) February 11, 2019
Graves was not satisfied with the explanation she was given about her friend's death, so she began asking more questions. The other people at the party filed a lawsuit against Graves for talking about the situation, and Barrera used his courthouse position to get her address, phone number and contact information for her family.
Despite the questionable nature of Horsford's death, it was ruled an accident, and the case was closed.
But recently, attorney Ralph Fernandez sent a letter to the 40-year-old's husband, Leander Horsford, telling him that there were a number of problems with how the case was handled. In a letter obtained by Forsyth County News, Fernandez said there were numerous things that were strange in how police dealt with Horsford's case.
Autopsy photos were missing, the crime scene had been tampered with, evidence was clearly mishandled and many of the witness statements conflicted, according to Fernandez, who wrote, "The truth never had a chance here.”
In an explosive letter, lawyer for the family of Tamla Horsford, a Forsyth County woman who died under mysterious circumstances at a house party in 2018, says his review of evidence “reflects that homicide is a strong possibility.” pic.twitter.com/3AC4CeWjmD
— Mike Petchenik (@MPetchenikWSB) June 6, 2020
Naturally, Horsford's husband also still wants answers.
“I want the truth of what’s going on, because I mean, the stories I’ve heard so far, none of them make sense. And if they don’t make sense, usually there’s a reason they don’t make sense,” Leander told Forsyth County News.
Horsford was one of 12 people at the overnight party, and guests told police they were all drinking heavily. Horsford went outside to smoke around 2 a.m. and was found dead the next morning, according to the official police account.
The Daily Mail received an audio recording of the subsequent 911 call, in which Barrera, who found Horsford, can be heard saying, "She's lying in the yard, basically on the patio downstairs.. She's not moving one bit. She's not breathing. I'm noticing a small cut on her right wrist. She's not breathing whatsoever. I don't know if this cut was self-inflicted."
Nearly 600,000 people have signed a petition asking for police to reopen the case. The petition also notes that the lead investigator in the case, Andy Kalin, is a friend of Barrera.
3. Kendrick Johnson
More than 1.2 million people have signed a petition calling for the investigation into his death to be reopened.
Warning: the below images are graphic.
Kendrick Johnson was brutally beaten and murdered in his highschool gym in 2013. They want you to believe he “tripped putting on his shoes and rolled into the mat and suffocated.” One of the suspects father is a former FBI agent. His organs were removed from his body before even pic.twitter.com/JEObkPwxWb
— Jason (@realJasonPineda) June 6, 2020
Both attorney Benjamin Crump and Kim Kardashian have tweeted about Johnson's case in recent days, bringing a renewed spotlight to the situation.
— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) June 6, 2020
What happened to #KendrickJohnson in 2012 is HORRIFIC, yet his killer was never held accountable. Please sign this petition & spread the word that federal authorities need to reopen this case, so Kendrick & his family can get the justice they deserve!! https://t.co/7ORW7ugLCn
— Ben Crump (@AttorneyCrump) June 6, 2020
The 17-year-old was a high school student in Valdosta, Georgia, and the petition calling for an investigation includes a number of claims about who was actually behind Johnson's death.
"Both Brian Bell and Ryan Hall, who is Brian Bell’s friend, had met Kendrick Johnson in the gym and then Brian Bell killed Kendrick Johnson. Brian Bell has also stated that he killed Kendrick Johnson multiple times over the phone," the petition stated.
But police with the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office said Johnson somehow got stuck in the mat while looking for his shoes and died.
The family had their own autopsy done and shared it with CNN. The outlet reported that Dr. William Anderson found blunt force trauma to Johnson's neck.
"This is unexplained — most very, very likely inflicted, as opposed to something he caused himself, inflicted by another — and therefore needs to be investigated as an open homicide investigation. I've never had a case that I can recall where the prosecution actually was told that this may well be a homicide — the prosecution being the state, the police and so forth — and then they didn't bother prosecuting. It's mystifying," Anderson said.
4. Javier Ambler
Javier Ambler's case has gained attention in recent days because of its larger implications. Ambler was killed by police who tased him four times as he said, "I have congestive heart failure. I have congestive heart failure. I can’t breathe."
Officers pulled Ambler over because he allegedly did not dim his headlights. But what has caused outrage is that the officers who killed Ambler were filming an episode of A&E's Live PD during the situation and possibility that the circumstances could've affected how they handled the situation.
"It is of very serious concern to any of us who are in law enforcement that the decision to engage in that chase was driven by more of a need to provide entertainment than to keep Williamson County citizens safe,” Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore said.
Local news outlet KVUE noted that the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office has tried to stop news outlets from getting any information about Ambler's case, and it is only because of documents obtained by the KVUE Defenders and the Austin American-Statesman that we know what happened.
Moore told KVUE that both Live PD and the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office have refused to share information with her office about what actually happened, and the only information the department has released is that officials deemed Ambler's death a "justifiable homicide."
In May, the attorney general of Texas had to force the sheriff’s office to release any kind of record of Ambler's death, which it reluctantly did.
The sheriff denied any wrongdoing in a tweet, blaming the lack of information on other departments that did not ask him for more documents.
In her scramble to justify why it has taken her office so long to address the Ambler incident, the Travis County D.A. says our Department is stonewalling. Nothing could be further from the truth. We remain ready to assist the investigation in any way. https://t.co/py2dEnzauW
— Williamson County Sheriff Chody (@SheriffChody) June 9, 2020
Moore said on June 3 she plans to take the case to a grand jury to force the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office to give her office more information about what happened.
5. Darrien Hunt
Darrien Hunt was killed by police in 2014 while cosplaying with friends in Saratoga Springs, Utah.
Police say they shot Hunt after seeing him with a sword in his hands, which turned out to be a $30 imitation piece. Nearly 100,000 people have signed a petition asking for Hunt's case to be reopened.
"He was chased then shot from behind 6 times by officers Cpl. Matthew Schauerhamer and officer Nicholas Judson outside of a Panda Express parking lot in Saratoga Springs, Utah. State autopsy results reveal Hunt was not attacking. The evidence was caught on the restaurant’s cameras," the petition said.
It adds that Hunt's mother, Susan, was offered a $900,000 settlement to stop speaking about the case, which she turned down.
According to the Utah County Attorney's Office, police were justified in killing Hunt because they "felt their lives were threatened," the petition adds.
Darrien Hunt was a cosplayer who was shot holding a plastic sword while in cosplay. the officers said they fired because they feared public safety. he was shot 6 times, at least four of them in the back. please help reopen his case, he still doesn’t have justice pic.twitter.com/s4HI6PGQqz
— kate ✿ dancing queen (@hatsumeei) June 7, 2020
Thinking of Darrien Hunt, the 22 year old cosplayer who was killed by 2 white Saratoga Springs police officers in 2014. Police “say” he lunged at them with a sword he was cosplaying with, but he was shot in the back……
— glyn ???? | BLACK LIVES MATTER (@glynderella_) June 6, 2020
Posts about Hunt have racked up hundreds of thousands of shares and likes, with many people asking for authorities to reopen the investigation into the shooting.
6. Alonzo Brooks
The family of Alonzo Brooks has long sought for authorities to reopen his case. And they did just that, with the FBI and Justice Department announcing that they would be looking into what happened to Brooks in 2004.
According to Fox4 in Kansas City, Brooks was partying with friends on April 3, 2004, but never came home. It was nearly a month before a group of his family and friends found his body nearby.
Because of the lengthy time between when he died and when his body was found, the cause of death for Brooks was undetermined.
The kids who attended the party denied knowing what happened to Brooks, and the case was closed by the local police department. His family has suffered in anguish about his disappearance and told Fox4 that nothing about the case made any sense.
It seems like federal investigators agreed because last year the Justice Department reopened the case. In a statement from the FBI, questions have been raised about the potential racial motivation behind Brooks' death and the police conduct after his body had been found.
According to the FBI, Fox4 and statements from Brooks' family, the 23-year-old was one of only three Black people who attended the 100-person party at a farmhouse in La Cygne, Kansas.
Brooks' aunt told Fox4 that the family heard rumors that Brooks was attacked for flirting with white girls at the party, was tortured and then was killed.
“He’s the only one of color who never came home. Everybody else went home. Nobody just disappears. You know somebody knows what happened,” said his brother Billy Brooks.
Investigations by local, state and federal law enforcement agencies have yielded few answers because party attendees denied knowing what happened to Brooks.
Last Thursday, U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister and FBI Special Agent in Charge Timothy Langan held a press conference where they offered a $100,000 reward for information about the case that leads to an arrest and conviction.
McAllister said, after spending months working through 16 years of evidence, witness statements and more, they had decided to reopen the case.
“We are investigating whether Alonzo was murdered. His death certainly was suspicious, and someone, likely multiple people, know(s) what happened that night in April 2004. It is past time for the truth to come out. The code of silence must be broken. Alonzo’s family deserves to know the truth, and it is time for justice to be served,” McAllister said according to a press release.
In the release, investigators said they are approaching the death as a racially motivated crime. Prosecutors said openly that since Brooks' death, witnesses have told them that either Brooks was attacked for flirting with a white girl or was simply attacked by white men at the party because he was Black.
The statement also questions the local sheriff’s department and other law enforcement agencies that searched near the farmhouse and could not find Brooks' body for weeks, destroying any chance at physical evidence that may have identified his killer.
“I have stood under the trees on the bank of Middle Creek where Alonzo’s body was found. It is a quiet place of profound sadness to one who knows its history, but no answers are there. I am convinced, however, that there are people who know the answers, people who have been keeping terrible secrets all these years and bearing a horrible burden. We are asking one or more of them to come forward now and to lay down that burden at last, so that we can ease a family’s suffering, and serve the cause of justice,” McAllister said.
Langan and another FBI agent noted that the case was strange because so many people were in attendance, yet everyone said they do not know what happened to Brooks.
“There are many unanswered questions that surround Alonzo’s death. Someone knows something, and we are hopeful that with the passage of time and this significant reward, this renewed effort will produce results and provide closure for the Brooks family,” Langan said.
7. LaVena Johnson
LaVena Johnson was a U.S. Army private who, according to a Change.org petition, was found "shot to death inside a burning tent with a broken nose, black eyes, broken teeth and acid burns on her genitals in July 2005, on Balad Military Base in Iraq."
The Army concluded after an investigation that Johnson took her own life, but her family has always disputed those findings considering the disturbing injuries she had when she died.
She was only 19 years old. The new petition is calling for the Army to reopen Johnson's case.
John Johnson, LaVena's father, told St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 that he had spoken to LaVena days before her death and that she excitedly told him and his wife that she was eager to start a new job on the Army base. She spoke at length with them about the family's plans for Christmas.
“When you come and tell me my 19-year-old daughter didn’t value life and that’s all she did, she valued all life. You tell me she committed suicide, but you didn’t tell me what she did. Whether she jumped off a bridge. They didn’t give me any information,’’ he said.
Special agents from the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command determined after an investigation that LaVena shot herself in the mouth with her M-16 rifle.
John refused to accept that and spent years investigating her death with his own team, enlisting family members and experts to help him, according to NPR.
He disputes every part of the Army investigation and told St. Louis Public Radio that he believes she was raped and murdered.
In his interview with the radio station, the distraught father went down the list of facts that did not make sense. One of her superiors that he spoke with said she was happy the day before her death and showed no signs of sadness.
John said the size of the M-16 made it impossible for his daughter to be able to shoot herself with it, considering her short arms. He added that the Army never found the bullet that killed her. There was also no suicide note, and after having her body exhumed, it was clear she had been beaten before her death.
“All of us can’t be wrong about the evidence that we’ve compiled. It is awful, awful, awful compelling. And, unfortunately, LaVena got lost in all of this and just lost everything trying to be a good American citizen," John said.
At various times since her death, petitions have been started to have her case reopened, but the Army has stood by its investigation, saying in a statement that "there are many misrepresentations of the facts being circulated on the internet that are false and unsubstantiated.’’
The most recent petition, started three weeks ago, has more than 90,000 signatures. According to St. Louis Public Radio, LaVena was the first female soldier from Missouri to die in the Iraq War and was only days away from turning 20 when she died.
“They plucked out part of my heart. I can’t get it back. But I’m going to fight until I get justice for her. We’re just going to keep doing what we can to keep our story alive,” John said.
He also spoke of his late daughter with human rights organization Protect Our Defenders.
8. Kenneka Jenkins
On social media, people have been clamoring for investigators to reopen the case of Kenneka Jenkins. The petition asking federal investigators to look into her death was created six months ago but only recently gained steam.
Chicago residents and people around the country were horrified by Jenkins' death.
During this time, can we PLEASE use our power to REOPEN Kendrick Johnson’s and Kenneka Jenkins murder cases? They were wrongfully closed, these were no “freak accidents”. They need justice. pic.twitter.com/1ojUYX40Ku
— Burger Queen (@Haileynicholl) June 4, 2020
Nineteen-year-old Jenkins was found dead in a Crowne Plaza Hotel freezer on September 10, 2017, after attending a party with friends. Those friends say she "disappeared after they briefly left her alone in the hotel hallway to retrieve her car keys and cellphone from inside the room" according to The Washington Post.
Police initially said Jenkins walked into the freezer alone and got locked in, but her family has never accepted that version of the story.
The petition that has more than 350,000 signatures says Jenkins was found in the freezer with her breasts exposed, pants pulled down and pockets pulled out as if someone had searched in them.
The police released multiple videos from security cameras showing Jenkins stumbling through the hotel's empty hallways.
Police admitted that none of the videos show Jenkins going into the freezer but said that they do not believe there was any foul play after interviewing those who went to the party.
"There is no camera that shows her physically entering the freezing and no camera angle that is missing or was broken," Rosemont police said in a statement to ABC7 in 2017.
"The scene of the incident was processed by evidence technicians to include high precision 3D measurement imaging and crime scene analysis. Our detectives also have created video recordings of the scene to include the believed path Kenneka Jenkins took from the hotel room to the freezer, supported by surveillance video," the statement said.
Others who reviewed the security footage from the hotel said Jenkins was alone the whole time as she stumbled through the basement.
"From me looking at the video, she was trying to find her way back upstairs to the lobby and she was checking the doors just trying to find her way upstairs," said Andrew Holmes, a community activist in Chicago who spoke to ABC7 after looking through the footage.
The medical examiner for Cook County said that after looking through the evidence, they believe Jenkins' death was an accident and was caused by hypothermia and intoxication due to alcohol and topiramate, a prescription drug, ABC7 reported.
Her family still does not accept their findings and sued the hotel in 2018 for negligence.
9. Darrius Stewart
Darrius Stewart was just 19 when he was shot and killed by police during a 2015 altercation in Memphis.
In February, Darrius' mother, Mary Stewart, filed a federal suit against former Memphis Police Officer Connor Schilling for killing her son during a traffic stop, Commercial Appeal reported.
The courts have not been kind to both of Darrius' parents, who have filed multiple lawsuits against the city of Memphis and Schilling for what happened to their son.
The country was outraged when it was revealed that in 2016 Schilling was given a disability pension for post-traumatic stress disorder related to his killing of Darrius.
According to Commercial Appeal, Schilling will receive about $2,300 per month for the rest of his life in addition to a 70% subsidy of his monthly healthcare premiums.
Despite repeatedly being struck down by the courts, Darrius' family is hoping the latest global movement for justice will result in some kind of resolution.
A new petition for Darrius has amassed nearly 200,000 signatures.
"As a direct and proximate result of the actions or omissions of the defendant … Stewart was killed, and his constitutional rights under the United States Constitution and Tennessee Constitution were violated," the latest lawsuit states.
10. Bobby Russ
Students at Northwestern University have spearheaded a push for police to reopen the case of Bobby Russ, a student who was killed by police 21 years ago.
Russ was on his way to visit his mother before he was killed by officer Van Watts IV, who is still employed by the Chicago Police Department.
In a feature story last year, Northwestern publication Inside NU delved deep into Russ' story and explained that the $10 million given to his family following a wrongful death lawsuit did little to provide solace for those who loved him.
At the time of the incident, an officer alleged that Russ was driving erratically and that he tried to stop him. A chase ensued, and other officers joined in, including Watts.
Russ crashed his car and was sitting in the front seat when they approached his vehicle. What happened next is hotly disputed, but there was a struggle between Russ and Watts that ended with Russ being shot.
As he bled to death, Russ was ripped out of the car and handcuffed on the pavement.
“What kind of traffic stop gets you murdered?” Russ' mother told Inside NU.
Northwestern junior Duncan Agnew is now calling on Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Police Department Superintendent David Brown to take action and finally fire Watts.
“I just was so disgusted as I read through (the story) and to find out that this Chicago police officer is still employed by the department to this day, and he only faced a 15 day suspension when this happened back in 1999 for ‘procedural violations.' I think the present moment definitely kind of combined to make this petition gain traction,” Agnew said.