A grieving father is suing the city of Springfield, Illinois after police tested his deceased daughter’s ashes for drugs.
Body camera footage shows how the disturbing moment unfolded. Dartavius Barnes was driving on 6 April, 2020 when Springfield police officers pulled him over, allegedly for speeding. When officers asked if they could search his car, he complied.
About 20 minutes later, an officer told Mr Barnes he had found ecstasy or methamphetamine in his vehicle. Confused, Mr Barnes asked to see what the police officer was talking about.
When the officer showed him what he meant – a small, gold-coloured vial of ashes – Mr Barnes’ voice rose in horror.
“No, no, no, that’s my daughter, bro!” he shouted. “Give me that, bro! That’s my daughter!”
What the officer had tested were the remains of Ta’Naja Barnes, Mr Barnes’ two-year-old daughter, who died in 2019. Ta’Naja’s mother, Twanka Davis, was convicted of causing the girl’s death through starvation and neglect.
Mr Barnes is now suing the City of Springfield and the six specific officers involved in the traffic stop. In the lawsuit, he says the police unlawfully searched his vehicle, opened the urn without his consent, and desecrated his daughter’s remains.
Police have denied any wrongdoing. In court papers, they admitted Mr Barnes’ account of what happened was accurate, but denied that his “rights were violated.”
In a report that police wrote on the incident, one officer wrote, “I have seen similar items like this before utilized to contain narcotics.”
In the bodycam footage, however, police can be heard grumbling over their mistake.
“I’m just going to give him a notice to appear on the weed,” one officer tells another, referring to marijuana they’d found in Mr Barnes’ car.
“Aside from p***ed-off dad and testing the dead baby ashes,” another officer replies.
Mr Barnes’ lawyers are seeking compensatory damages and a trial by jury, which a judge has set for August 2022.