A vehicle repossession gone wrong early Friday morning left a Decatur man dead from a police shooting, a bystander’s house with 16 bullet holes, and neighbors with questions.
The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency on Friday evening said 39-year-old Stephen Perkins was transported to Huntsville Hospital where he died. Perkins was Black.
“When I was in the military, you couldn’t just blindly fire into a crowd of people, and yet the local police blew up my house with bullets and that’s OK,” said Justin Shepherd, 35, a retired Army sergeant and Iraq combat veteran.
Shepherd lives across the street from the man whom Decatur police said one of their officers shot and killed in the 3900 block of Ryan Drive Southwest after they responded to a call referencing a man with a gun around 1:30 a.m.
According to police, Perkins had pulled a handgun on a tow truck driver during an initial repossession attempt.
After meeting with the tow truck driver, police said they then accompanied the driver back to Perkins’ residence.
“The homeowner exited the residence armed with a handgun and began to threaten the tow truck driver,” police said.
Police said Perkins refused to drop his weapon when ordered and turned it toward one of the officers. That officer then shot him.
According to ALEA, Perkins was “armed with a handgun which was also equipped with a light. During the course of the incident Perkins brandished the weapon towards an officer with the Decatur Police Department, causing the officer to fire at Perkins.”
Hours after the incident, neighbors struggled to make sense of the killing.
“Somebody lost their life over a car,” Shepherd said. “I mean, they could’ve come back during the day and got it if it was that important, but to shoot somebody — were they really trying to stop a threat?
“He has friends that are police officers. He works out with police officers. He’s a family guy; he’s got two kids and a wife. He works. I mean, he obviously cares for his property. He’s a quality person.”
Shepherd called police after he woke up to gunfire. They told him it wasn’t safe to go outside.
“I couldn’t recall the exact number of shots; I just remember it felt like I was under attack.”
Shepherd said he stepped outside anyway because he figured, after hearing bullets strike his house, that he wasn’t safe inside, either.
“I came out and I saw the flashing lights. I saw (Perkins) lying dead in the grass. Once I came outside, they refused to let me go back inside my house because it was an active crime scene. They didn’t want me to contaminate any evidence.”
Perkins was his good friend.
“He was just a big gym guy,” Shepherd said. “He was my personal trainer for a while, and he was a really good friend. We even talked the day before. He’s somebody that, if you were out here working, would offer his assistance. If you needed a ride or whatever, he’d be there. He’d drop what he was doing. He made food for me before.”
The tow truck got what it came for. After Perkins was shot, and before an ambulance arrived, Shepherd said he watched the tow truck depart with the Perkins’ vehicle.
The sound of gunfire also woke Mercedes Caballero, who lives in another residence across the street from Perkins.
“I heard seven to 10 gunshots,” she said. “It did come from the same gun, that’s for sure. I mean, they were back-to-back.”
At first, Caballero said she thought maybe somebody was hunting nearby, because gun violence is unheard of in her neighborhood. Then, she remembered her home’s external-facing cameras, including a video doorbell.
“So, we started looking at the cameras and seeing what was going on. My daughter was like: ‘Mom, that looks like the cops shot him.’
“I said, ‘the cops didn’t shoot him.’
“She was like: ‘Yeah, mom, the cops shot him.’
“I said, ‘What for?’ You know, because he was just a good guy. He talked to everybody, said hello all the time. Just why?”
Caballero said Perkins had always watched out for people in the neighborhood.
“We saw him fall and kind of do the limping type of thing, like he was trying to dodge something or whatever, and then he fell. We just couldn’t believe everything we were seeing.”
Cabellero said police didn’t knock on her door or request any of her video recordings.
ALEA investigators arrived shortly after the shooting to take over from Decatur police, according to Shepherd. They eventually let him go back inside his home at around 7 a.m.
“Nobody gave me a case number,” he said. “I asked if I could have a victim advocate or something. They said you’re not a victim.”
At noon on Friday, Shepherd and two friends surveyed the damage to his house. They took photos. All told, Shepherd said he counted 16 bullet holes. Several bullet entry points were clearly visible around both windows flanking his front door. One had pierced a green wooden shutter. Six to seven bullets also landed near a second story window.
Shepherd said he already had difficulty sleeping from combat-related PTSD. Luckily, he said, no one inside his home was injured by the stray bullets.
According to police, officers rendered first aid to Perkins and called for medical assistance following the shooting.
“The subject was transported to Huntsville Hospital where he succumbed to his injuries,” police said.
No police officers were injured. Per department policy, police said the officer who discharged a firearm will be placed on administrative leave.
ALEA said the investigation is ongoing and once complete the findings will be turned over to the Morgan County District Attorney’s Office.