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Father of Murdered Infant Alleges Police Dumped Out Daughter’s Ashes During ‘Unlawful Search’


When authorities discovered the body of Ta’Naja Barnes in 2019, the 2-year-old was unresponsive, wrapped in a urine-soaked blanket, and her body temperature was too low to even register a measurement on emergency responders’ instruments due to neglect at the hands of her mother and her mother’s live-in boyfriend. Months after her tragic death, a group of police officers “desecrated” her remains when they took an urn containing her ashes and spilled them on the ground during an “unlawful” traffic stop, according to a federal lawsuit filed by the deceased toddler’s biological father.

According to the 10-page complaint, filed on behalf of Dartavius Barnes, 25, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois, officers pulled him over “without a lawful basis” in April 2020 and began searching his vehicle “without consent, a valid warrant, or probable cause.” During that “unlawful search” the officers allegedly “took possession of a sealed urn containing the ashes of Plaintiff’s deceased 2-year-old daughter inside Plaintiff’s vehicle” then “desecrated and spilled out the ashes” of Ta’Naja Barnes. The court docket shows that the lawsuit was initially filed in Oct. 2020, but the suit is just now getting attention locally and online.

Barnes is suing the City of Springfield, Illinois and Springfield police officers Colton Redding, Brian Riebling, Adam Westlake, Juan Resendez, Nicholas Renfro, and Regan Molohon, claiming their actions violated the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The statute allows people to sue governments or government officials accused of violating someone’s civil rights while acting “under color” of state authority.

The lawsuit asserts that the detainment of Barnes, the search of his vehicle, and the dumping of his daughter’s ashes violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful and unreasonable search and seizure. Barnes additionally alleged that the stop caused severe emotional distress and is seeking compensatory damages and attorney’s fees.

Attorneys representing the city and the officers responded to the allegations in Dec. 2020 by contending that the stop was justified and the officers are entitled to qualified immunity. They have denied that Ta’Naja’s urn was unsealed and spilled.

Barnes has requested a jury trial. The most recent activity on the court docket was on Jan. 26. U.S. Magistrate Judge Tom Schanzle-Haskins set a bunch of deadlines, including an Aug. 2022 trial date:

SCHEDULING ORDER entered by U.S. Magistrate Judge Tom Schanzle-Haskins. TIME LIMITS AND SETTINGS ARE ORDERED AS FOLLOWS: Initial Disclosures due by 2/12/2021; Joinder of Parties due by 9/17/2021; Amended Pleadings due by 9/17/2021; Fact Discovery due by 9/17/2021; Plaintiff`s Expert Disclosure due by 10/29/2021; Defendant`s Expert Disclosure due by 1/7/2022; Expert Discovery due by 3/1/2022; Dispositive Motions due by 4/1/2022. Final Pretrial Conference set for 8/1/2022 at 2:00 PM in Courtroom 1 in Springfield before U.S. District Judge Sue E. Myerscough. Jury Trial set 8/16/2022 at 9:00 AM before Judge Myerscough. Telephonic Status Conference set Tuesday, 3/1/2022, at 9:30 AM (court will place call) before Magistrate Judge Schanzle-Haskins. See written order. (Attachments: # 1 Mediation Memo, # 2 Courtroom Technology Brochure) (LB, ilcd) (Entered: 01/26/2021)

Ta’Naja’s mother, Twanka L. Davis, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the death of her daughter and was sentenced to 20 years in prison and three additional years of supervised release. She is required to finish the sentence in its entirety.

Davis’s live-in boyfriend, Anthony Myers, last year was found guilty of first-degree murder in Ta’Naja’s death. A coroner concluded that the official cause of death was hypothermia. The night before the baby’s body was discovered, Myers and Davis had removed a space heater from the infant’s room—which had a broken window—so they could use it to heat their room. The heat in the home had been turned off.

Read the complaint below.

Barnes v SPD Complaint by Law&Crime on Scribd

[image via WICS/WRSP screengrab]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.