One year ago, Dartavius Barnes experienced one of the most earth-shattering experiences anyone can live through, when he was stopped by police in Springfield, in April 2020.
The encounter forever etched in his memory, signaled the day where law enforcement officials confiscated the ashes of his daughter Ta’Naja, who died of neglect and starvation in 2019, mistaking it for illegal drugs.
Ta’Naja’s mother and her mother’s boyfriend were arrested and charged for murder in the case of her death.
Barnes was stopped for allegedly speeding and failure to stop at a stop sign on April 6, 2020, The Washington Post reports. He cooperated with officers and exited his vehicle while police searched his vehicle. Prior to the discovery of his daughter’s ashes, he informed officers that he was driving with marijuana inside of his vehicle.
In October Barnes filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Springfield and the Springfield Police Department, citing that officers unlawfully took his two-year-old daughter’s remains and desecrated them by spilling some of her ashes while testing for a substance they believed was ecstasy and meth.
In bodycam footage released by the Springfield Police Department and obtained by WICS and WRSP last month, Barnes can be heard pleading for officers to return his daughter’s ashes once they discover the urn in his car.
“I checked for cocaine, but it looks like it’s probably molly,” one officer says.
“X pills,” another adds in the video.
“Give me that, bro. That’s my daughter. Please give me my daughter, bro. Put her in my hand, bro. Y’all are disrespectful, bro,” Barnes says while handcuffed, realizing that the object is the urn.
Barnes’ father, who was also present at the scene, also pleaded with the officers after he realized they were in possession of his grandaughter’s ashes.
Police claim their test produced a positive result for meth and ecstasy. But they were wrong. The incident points to a string of occurrences where police incorrectly ID drugs in innate objects.
Officers eventually released Barnes and decided against retesting the urn for an illegal substance.
“I’m just gonna give him a notice to appear on the weed,” one said as they sat in their car after the incident.
“OK, aside from pissing off dad and testing the dead baby ashes,” the other responded.
Barnes was later summoned to appear in court for carrying cannabis, but it remains unclear if he was prosecuted or charged a fine for holding.
The officers named in the suit have not yet responded to the legal matter, but in October of last year, after Barnes filed a formal complaint, they denied the allegations and argued they were entitled to “qualified immunity” because their conduct was justified, WICS and WRSP reports.