CRESTVIEW — Crestview Police Officers Brandon Hardaway, William Johns and Evan Reynolds have been indicted on manslaughter charges for their involvement in the Oct. 14, 2021, death of Calvin Wilks, who died after being shot with stun guns several times.
"I'm praising God for justice," Wilks' sister, Linda Maples, said after news of the indictment was released. "My brother didn't deserve to die that night. The police job is to serve and protect, not to kill."
A grand jury met Monday in Okaloosa County and examined the circumstances surrounding the death of Wilks, which occurred during an encounter with Crestview police, a State Attorney's Office news release said.
Wilks, 40, died at North Okaloosa Medical Center the day after he was hit several times with a stun gun during the encounter with police. The Office of the Medical Examiner had determined the manner of death was a homicide.
The Crestview Police Department has placed the officers on suspension pending the outcome of the judicial process.
“As a law enforcement agency, we must trust the justice system we are charged to enforce.” Police Chief Stephen McCosker said in a news release. “We will continue to cooperate with all parties involved as we await the outcome of the upcoming trial.”
At a quickly called press conference Tuesday morning, Lewis Jennings, the president of the Okaloosa Branch of the NAACP, issued a short statement regarding the arrests.
"We are pleased the critical first step in holding these officers accountable has been accomplished," Jennings said. "We remain hopeful justice will be served."
The officers had been on administrative duty since March, where they had been able to continue "meaningful work inside the Police Department," according to previous reporting. A fourth, unidentified officer had also been placed on administrative duty, but just the three men were indicted.
Jennings said immediately following the news conference that he did not know the circumstances surrounding the fourth officer.
On the night of the incident, police responded at about 2:45 a.m. to a home at 300 Hospital Drive. A caller had reported hearing a person screaming “stop, please stop,” according to police.
When officers arrived at the address given by the caller, Wilks answered the door. Officers say Wilks eventually grew combative and resisted arrest by pulling away and kicking the officers, according to the officers.
Wilks was then shot with a stun gun in the hip and restrained. Wilks became unresponsive while being assessed by EMS, police reports noted, and he was taken to the North Okaloosa Medical Center, where he died a day later.
The family challenged the police narrative and accused the police officers of watching Wilks struggle without rendering aid.
Maples said Wilks had been hit with stun guns at least five times inside of his own home and officers stood over him for some time before rendering aid.
"Too many lives have been lost to hate behind a badge. Protect and serve is laughable," she said. "My brother was one of those lives lost to hate."
In early November, family and friends of Calvin Wilks Jr. gathered on the steps of the Crestview Police Department to voice their concerns about the circumstances that led to his death on Oct. 15. They were joined by members of the NAACP and other community leaders.
Those in attendance questioned the police version of events leading up to Wilks' death and called for action.
“It was extremely painful to watch 45 minutes of body cam footage and witness those who had a duty to protect and serve our brother handle him with extreme anger,” Wilks’ sister, Camile Akins, said at the time.
“The hardest thing to watch was even when it became clearly evident that our brother, our loved one, was in serious need of medical assistance after having been tased numerous times, officers stood over his body and watched as his health quickly declined to the point where my brother stopped breathing,” she continued. “They never administered any aid while waiting for EMS to arrive.”
“I believe that the family has shown quite a bit of restraint in the last few weeks, and now they’re seeking the answers to what has happened to their son, their brother, their father, their friend,” NAACP representative Sabu Williams said at the November gathering. “The NAACP is determined to work with them all the way.”
Family members told those gathered in November that Wilks often went by the childhood nickname of “Whistle," and was “dearly loved” by his family and friends.
Akins called his loss unbearable.
“We miss his ability to make us smile and laugh; his oftentimes eccentric and deep conversations, and his presence,” Akins said in November. “We miss witnessing the fulfillment he found in everyday life. Most of all we miss his love that he had for his family, friends and children.”
Bart Fleet, the personal representative of the estate of Calvin Wilks, has appointed Crestview lawyer Gillis E. Powell to represent the estate in a wrongful death action.
"Mr. Wilks might have been poor, but he felt pain just as much as the fat cats of the world and he didn't deserve to be tased to death and placed in a neck hold in his own home by these police officers who showed up without a warrant or anything else," Powell said in a statement. "The grand jury got it right."
Okaloosa County Emergency Medical Services and the Crestview Fire Department were called to the scene after the stun guns had been deployed. The Crestview Police released a press release last year that said officers were concerned Wilks was “potentially under the influence of drugs.”
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement took the lead in an investigation of the death and the Okaloosa NAACP became involved shortly after Wilks' death.
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.
This article originally appeared on Northwest Florida Daily News: Calvin Wilks case: Crestview police officers indicted for manslaughter