Almost a month after the Aug. 30 death of Maurice Taggart, new developments have surfaced including a credible source who confirms Taggart was shot once in the back and once in the upper shoulder and that there was likely an exit wound from one of the shots.
The fact that Taggart was shot in the back has created a narrative that has been described as contrary to the description given by the Pine Bluff Police Department, which has said shooting was in self-defense.
Several eyewitnesses who were exclusively interviewed by The Pine Bluff Commercial expressed concern over Taggart's death. Some said they were also interviewed by the Pine Bluff Police Department, but that the interviews did not take place for days or in some cases not until weeks after the incident.
Original reports released by the Pine Bluff Police Department stated police went to 1 Hillcroft St., located near the Pine Bluff Country Club, because of a shooting. When they arrived, they found that two men had been shot, 43-year-old Maurice Taggart and his son, 26-year-old Justice Taggart. Both were taken to Jefferson Regional Medical Center where Maurice Taggart died from his injuries. Justice Taggart survived.
According to witnesses, the homicide began as a domestic disturbance, police said.
"During the altercation both Taggarts fought over a pistol resulting in them shooting each other," Lt. David DeFoor stated in a news release sent at 5:35 a.m. on the day of the shooting.
The police report on the incident from Officer John Woods said that when he arrived at the Taggart house, he spoke to Taggart's wife, Shawndra Taggart, who is the Jefferson County clerk. Woods said she told him that her husband had gotten into a fight with her son and that her husband had shot her son.
"Officer P. Meachem and I went to the back of the residence and noticed one Black male wearing a red shirt with blue jeans, lying on the ground near the stairs at the back door (later identified as Maurice Taggart)," Woods wrote, "and another Black male wearing a blue shirt with grey sweatpants lying on the ground next to the carport (later identified as Justice Taggart). Both males were bleeding through their shirts from their upper body areas. Both males had gunshot wounds on their upper body areas."
Woods also said there was a pregnant woman at the scene who was also covered in blood. The woman was later identified as Justice Taggart's girlfriend, Shatia Johnson, 26.
"She was holding J. Taggart saying, 'He needs help,'" Woods wrote.
Woods said that he and Meachem found a brown 9mm Smith and Wesson handgun lying in the bushes next to the carport. The scene was then secured and both of the men were taken to Jefferson Regional Medical Center, Woods stated in the report.
Concerned neighbors said that they knew Taggart to be a "great guy" and were "eager to see what the police investigation turns up" considering the scene of the crime was cleared of all police personnel by sunrise.
One witness stated they "heard a gunshot, heard arguing and saw some people behind Maurice's house fighting near the carport in a physical confrontation followed by more gunshots that slowed the fight down separating the group from one another.
"I didn't realize Maurice was morbidly wounded at the time," said the eyewitness, who, like several others in this story, asked not to be identified because they didn't want to be seen as interfering with the investigation or didn't want their name associated with the investigation. "He didn't appear to be in distress. I was shocked when he died."
The witness stated they never saw a gun in the hands of the persons who were fighting and did not know where the gunshots came from.
"They were actively fighting when the shots occurred," said the witness.
Witness statements also suggested that Taggart did not die immediately.
"He appeared wounded but he didn't look like he was dying," said a witness. "He was just kind of sitting there on the steps afterward...[after the gunshots were heard by the witness]. He walked up on the patio which is just right there and he sat down on the steps on the patio."
A witness stated the fighting involved more than two people and that there was a concern that the video cameras weren't working.
Another witness said they saw a third unnamed individual with "no shirt on with shorts running around" who later disappeared, and they described the scene of the aftermath as appearing "chaotic" as onlookers observed from a distance.
A FRIEND IN NEED
As narratives began to formulate placing others at the scene, like Arkansas State Trooper Oscar Bullard, a neighbor, and Jefferson County Justice of the Peace Lloyd Franklin Jr., The Pine Bluff Commercial reached out to those individuals. The Pine Bluff Police Crime Scene Log confirms Bullard's at-the-scene presence at approximately 0235. It also lists other law enforcement officials who responded.
Franklin verbally confirmed his presence at the scene in response to a phone call he received from Sheriff Lafayette Woods Jr. In a statement to The Commercial, Franklin said an urgent call from Woods woke him up.
"He told me something had happened at Shawn's [Shawndra Taggart's] house and he was about to go see what was going on and that he had already called dispatch," said Franklin.
According to Franklin, who lives near the Taggart's residence, he and Woods have all been friends with Maurice and Shawndra since their school days, and while "this was not his story to tell, he showed up that night for both of his friends."
Franklin said because he lived close by, Woods knew Franklin could probably get to the house quickly, but by the time he got there, the son was being taken to one of two ambulances that were on site.
"When I got there they were wheeling the son out on a stretcher," said Franklin, who said there were Pine Bluff police, Jefferson County Sheriff's deputies and Bullard already on site along with two ambulances that arrived shortly after each other. After they got the son into one of the ambulances, emergency personnel then started working to get Taggart into the second ambulance.
Franklin said he knew Bullard was also a nearby neighbor and may have responded because he heard the gunshots. Franklin also stated he was not aware of the shooting until he arrived at the scene.
"Shawndra is a good friend and a colleague. When I got the call from Woods and he knew I was closer, the people who are close, you rally up and go check on your people," he said. "Maurice is my friend too. I'm friends with both of them. I was showing up for both of them to help diffuse the situation."
Franklin expressed his frustration with the rhetoric and rumors of the investigation being put out there by others and the open-ended statements that are leaving people to draw their own narratives that he said are false.
"As a friend you respond," he said. "You don't question it. You get up and go as any friend or family member would do for someone in trouble."
According to the MECA report, Woods arrived on the scene at 2:50:30 but made a call at 2:22:01 that states that 4100 (JCSO Sheriff Woods) called and said to have deputy 19 go to the county clerk's house.
Woods told The Commercial he was sensitive to what was happening and even though Shawndra Taggart was the elected official, he felt there were lines of privacy that people should respect.
He did say, however, that he received a direct phone call from Shawndra Taggart at approximately 2 a.m., but was not definite of the time. The call woke him up.
"I knew Franklin was closer and could get there, but now I feel bad that I called him. I called him because somebody who is a familiar face needed to get there," Woods said.
Woods said they all are like family and have close relationships. Taggart and Woods were fraternity brothers as well.
"I'm the one who called him," said Woods. "He was close to both Maurice and Shawndra. I knew he could get there quicker than me."
Bullard said that, while he was present on the scene, he could not issue a detailed statement due to the State Police's policies and procedures.
"I was contacted by Detective [Steve] Rucker that same day to issue a statement, which I have already provided to the Pine Bluff Police Department," said Bullard. "Because this is an open investigation, any information regarding my statement will have to be issued by the Pine Bluff Police Department."
Details of the 911 calls to the Metropolitan Emergency Communications Association are listed in chronological order by different operator identification numbers and the caller details. In some cases, it appears that all calls at some point were happening simultaneously. (On Sept. 2, The Commercial published the recording of the 911 calls of the homicide. Here is a link to the recording: arkansasonline.com/92taggart911/)
The first operator identification number details the first 911 call, according to the MECA call log, at 2:18:43. That caller, according to the log at 2:20:16, said there was a fight and gunshots were heard.
The second operator identification number details the second call at 2:19:27 in which the caller advises the operator of "1 shot."
At 2:20:11 of that same call, the location of the shots was sought, and at 2:20:14 of that call, it was noted a male had been hit in the chest.
At 2:20:50 of that call, it is noted that "Maurice is the male who shot the male."
2:22:15 the notes read: "male with the gun is still on the scene."
2:22:41 the notes read: "the male is now bleeding from the mouth."
2:23:13 the notes read: "male that got shot took the gun from the person who shot him."
2:23:28 the notes read: "caller keeps screaming to come to the back."
2:24:05 the notes read: "EASI was notified as soon as the call came in."
2:25:47 EASI was notified of a second victim, according to the notes.
The third operator identification number details that a third call came in at 2:19:53. The log says the caller advised that a father and son were fighting.
The fourth operator identification call was noted at 2:22:01 and reads 4100 (JCSO Sheriff Woods) called and said to have deputy 19 go to the county clerk's house and that 210 was notified that it was county personnel's residence.
2:23:02 EASI was notified, according to the notes.
2:25:27 the notes read 232 adv. scene secure, EASI needs to step it up.
At 2:25:32 the notes read 245 adv it's two victims and at 2:32:07 119 adv needs crime scene tape.
The MECA Call Detail Report also shows the code "dispatch" at 2:20:19 to the PBPD and at 2:22:09 they were en route. Also en route at 2:22:34 was the PBFD.
At 2:22:49, according to the MECA call detail report, the first PBPD unit arrived on the scene followed by several more arrivals and dispatches of PBPD and PBFD between 2:25:37 all the way until 3:18:13. The first Jefferson County sheriff deputy, according to the report, was en route at 2:22:09 and arrived at 02:31:08 followed by more deputies minutes later.
According to the MECA report, Woods arrived on the scene at 02:50:30.
The Pine Bluff Crime Scene Log shows responding officer J. Woods arriving on the scene at approximately 0224, Sgt. S. Washington at approximately 0227 and the PBFD at approximately 0231. At approximately 0232, EASI Paramedics Unit 265 arrived, and at approximately 0234, EASI Paramedics Unit 268 arrived. State Trooper Oscar Bullard, according to the log, arrived at 0235 followed by Lt. C. Briggs at 0242, Crime Scene Tech Cassie Miller at 0246, Chief Denise Richardson at 0252, Assistant Chief Hadley at approximately 0300, Detective Chris Wieland at 0305 and Detective Steve Rucker at 0320.
The medical examiner's report on Taggart's death has not been made public, but a person familiar with the report said it showed that Taggart had been struck by two bullets, one in the back and one in the upper shoulder, and that there had been what appeared to be an exit wound, suggesting that one of the bullets that struck Taggart's son could have first hit Taggart.
The police department's description that the son and father were fighting over a gun when they were both shot has left some in law enforcement questioning the initial finding.
One of those, a person who has worked in law enforcement across three decades who asked not to be identified because they are not involved in the investigation, said the idea that Taggart was killed in self-defense is a stretch.
"It's difficult to imagine a self-defense scenario in which someone gets shot in the back," the officer said. "Not that it's impossible, but it seems highly unlikely that the police department's public presentation of the facts fully and accurately describe the situation. You don't struggle over a gun and have two or three shots fired. Usually, there's one shot. The fact that, at a minimum, there were two shots and probably three shots fired suggests a more complex scenario than the police have portrayed."
Another aspect of the investigation that has been roundly criticized is the statement made by Police Chief Denise Richardson. The day after Taggart was killed, Richardson went on the radio to say that Justice Taggart would not be charged. The running commentary was that Richardson's conclusion was premature given that Taggart's body had not even been taken to the state medical examiner's office when she made the statement.
The officer also found the chief's statement troubling.
"She was absolving the son some 30 hours after the incident," the officer said. "That fact is, you don't even have a medical examiner's report before you start making conclusional statements. In many cases, in less than 48 hours, you may not even know who all the witnesses are. At that point, there are a lot of stones to be turned over."
Richardson did not return a phone call on Friday and did not answer a text about the case on Saturday when The Commercial asked if the case had been closed or if it was still active.
Even the time it took to process the scene has come into question. One witness said the crime scene technicians were gone less than two hours after the incident happened.
"I can't imagine that crime scene being released for at least four or five hours," the officer said. "I have been called to much simpler crime scenes that took hours to process. The fact that this one was done so quickly suggests the people on the ground were prompted to wrap it up."
Other observations from the officer were questions about the manner of the investigation.
"What I want to know is how many shots were fired in total and were they all from the same gun," the officer said. "And as an investigator, I would want to know if either of the bullets that struck Maurice also hit the son. I would also want to know if the police department tested the hands and clothing of everyone at the scene for gunshot residue."
Gunshot residue, the officer said, would help answer two questions.
"One is whose hands were holding the weapon when it was fired," the officer said, "and with regard to the victim, such evidence would show the presence of powder burns and stippling that are indicators of proximity."
Asked if people have the right to refuse to be tested for gunshot residue, the officer said they do.
"At which time, if this had been a real investigation, you would be secured in the back of a patrol car and the investigators would go and get a warrant to be able to conduct the tests," the officer said.
Richardson was also asked Saturday in a text if the people at the scene had been tested for gunshot residue. She did not respond.
Other questions from the officer concerned the shell casings found at the scene and clothing worn by Taggart and his son, as well as a check of a particular cellphone.
"The thing that really concerns me is the wife's cellphone," the officer said. "If this was a domestic disturbance and someone was killed, typically the first place that law enforcement looks is to the spouse."
Nothing has been said about the case from the police department since the shooting, but some in the local law enforcement community as well as Taggart's neighbors and many members of the community have expressed the desire to see a thorough police investigation conducted. Whether that has happened or is happening is unknown. A full report from the state Crime Lab may take months to complete, one official said, suggesting that the case could not be closed at least until that information was available.
"Police would tell you they are not obligated to provide a story to the public about a murder investigation," the officer said. "But the police report on the investigation has failed to adequately explain the physical evidence at the scene. To me, that's a problem."