'We are his voice today': Wilson citizens hold protest in honor of Jared Lakey, against police brutality
A crowd of around 70 people gathered outside of Wilson City Hall on Friday afternoon. Amid several cries for an end to police brutality and small-town corruption, one man's yell could be heard above the others, “His name is Jared Lakey and we are his voice today."
Chants from the crowd followed, with the words “Justice for Jared” sounding down Main Street. Jared Lakey, 28, died on July 6, 2019 after reportedly being tased more than 50 times in four minutes by two former Wilson police officers.
The protest held in Wilson on Friday afternoon was organized a few weeks after the two officers, Joshua Taylor, 26, and Brandon Dingman, 34, were charged with second-degree murder for Lakey’s death.
“They were on duty the day that their warrant went out,” said one of the protest organizers, Shannon Smith. One of the main causes for the protest was the length of time the officers remained on duty after an investigation was launched into the incident that led to Lakey’s death in 2019.
Carter County Sheriff Chris Bryant told the Ardmoreite in July 2019 that CCSD sent a single deputy to assist, and after reviewing the case and starting an investigation, Bryant made the decision to refer the case to the OSBI for further investigation. Wilson Mayor Frank Schaff also confirmed the incident at the time, but provided no further details.
The two officers remained in their positions for more than a year, even after they turned themselves in for charges of second-degree murder in early July 2020. Schaff declined to comment on the decision.
“It’s just small town corruption that’s down here,” Smith said. “Being down here in Wilson, normally people don’t hear about this town, so they just kind of swept it under the rug like his life didn’t matter and it did — everybody’s life matters.”
Lakey’s death in 2019 was devastating for many family and friends. Erika Graham, who was also involved in organizing the protest, said she grew up with Lakey and is very close with some of his family members.
“This personal situation hit me hard just because their family alone has gone through a lot in the past five years,” Graham said. “He’s not the only one that they’ve lost.”
After his death in 2019, Graham said several rumors and accusations about Lakey went around the small town, making his death even more difficult to process. “(The officers) just got to walk around as if nothing happened while his family is living here in town, getting slandered because they’re wanting justice,” Graham said.
Graham recalled Lakey fondly, describing him as someone who could brighten up the whole room with his laughter and smile. “He was hardly ever in a bad mood — and if he was, you normally didn’t see him out and about. He was just joyful. He was always laughing and he loved to play the guitar — he was a free spirited kind of person,” she said.
Graham wasn’t the only one who had fond memories of Lakey. Several of the crowd members at the protest also affectionately remembered him, one man stating that “he would give you the shirt off of his back.”
In addition to justice for Jared Lakey, protestors held signs calling for “no more small-town corruption” and shouted, “I want a police force I can trust.” Many also called for charges against a deputy from the Carter County Sheriff’s Office who assisted the Wilson officers, but was not charged with a crime.
The deputy arrived on scene after the officers had tased Lakey several times and the deputy placed Lakey in a neck restraint, according to an incident report the CCSO deputy authored. The neck restraint caused Lakey to go unconscious and he was placed in handcuffs.
In his incident report, the deputy stated that Lakey “was acting very agitated” and appeared to be under the influence of intoxicants — things that attorneys for Lakey’s family dispute in a civil lawsuit filed in late May. The deputy cited these reasons for using a neck restraint.
District Attorney Craig Ladd also commented on why there were no charges filed against the deputy, stating that the use of force expert who reviewed the case did not believe the force used by the deputy was excessive based on the circumstances and information the deputy received from the Wilson officers upon arriving on the scene.
After the details of the OSBI investigation were released, along with body cam and dash cam footage of the incident, Graham said she believes the facts show that the officers were in the wrong.
“Now that all of the facts are out, that he was not doing anything wrong and he had no drugs in his system, his family just wants justice as far as ‘Hey look how you slandered my son, much less killed him’,” Graham said.
Above all else, the protestors collectively wanted Jared Lakey’s name to be known and to state to the world that his life mattered.
“We’re here to show you that’s not the person he was. We want to show you the good person he was,” Graham said. “We want to remind you of how he made everyone feel. No more pushing stuff under the rug.”