It was 8:30 p.m. on Halloween night, and Christopher Turner Jr. and his girlfriend had just gotten home from a Central Methodist University football game in Kansas.
Turner, 24, plays right defensive tackle for the team, and both are seniors at the small private college in Fayette, about 30 miles northwest of Columbia.
The team suffered a grueling defeat that day, and Turner was exhausted. All he wanted to do was go to bed. But less than an hour after he arrived home, the couple’s roommate, 22-year-old Torrance Evans, rushed into the house.
A fellow member of the football team, Evans was panicked and on the phone with their coach. Outside, police had surrounded their rental house and were calling for Turner to come outside.
Two months earlier, Turner, who is Black, was charged with assaulting a man he swears he’d never laid eyes on. As part of his release agreement from jail, Turner had to wear a GPS monitor on his ankle and was allowed out to go to classes, work and participate in school activities.
Police had seen Evans, who is also Black, driving home from a liquor store. Since they were calling for Turner to come outside, the three students believe officers must have mistaken him as the driver and intended to arrest him for violating the terms of his release.
Turner says as he went to open the door officers busted it down with guns drawn. He dropped to his stomach. His girlfriend threw her body on top of him, pleading for officers not to shoot.
Still on the phone with Evans, Turner’s coach, David Calloway, heard everything.
“It was shocking,” Calloway said. “Just young men screaming, ‘I don’t want to die. I don’t have a weapon.’ Being on the other end of the phone, listening to them cry for help and scared, it was shocking.”
This was the second time in three months that police kicked down Turner’s door in the middle of the night.
But this time, Turner said, felt different. He believes his girlfriend, Janice Steacy, 21, saved his life that Halloween night.
“If she wouldn’t have been there, I probably would have been another story of an officer killing an African American,” he said about his girlfriend, who is white.
Turner faces 15 years in prison for the alleged assault. After the incident on Halloween his bond was revoked, forcing him to spend two weeks in the Howard County Jail. Before he was released again on Nov. 24 he caught COVID-19, and not long after the jail closed because of an outbreak.
Turner has no previous criminal record, no history of violence and earns high praise from his coach and professors. He majors in criminal justice, and before his arrest local police knew Turner from his work training K-9 police dogs.
So why was he the target of two late-night house raids? His attorney, Kylar Broadus, thinks he knows why.
Turner is one of the few Black students living off campus, Broadus said, and is dating a white woman.
Broadus, who is Black, was born and raised in Fayette. He says interracial couples are frowned upon in a town that’s no stranger to racism. In fact, a committee of city and university leaders was set up over the summer to study race relations in the community.
The Fayette police chief insists that race played no part in Turner’s plight, but Broadus doesn’t buy it.
“The system is going to make some charge stick on these young men, like it has many other young men and other young women, just because they’re Black,” said Broadus, adding that Fayette isn’t “immune” to the national problem of systemic racism.
The first time police came for Turner was just after midnight on Aug. 7.
Turner says he awoke to loud banging on his front door. Wearing only his boxers, Turner says he put his dog away and went to unlock the door, but police busted it down before he had a chance.
“He had his gun partially drawn, ready to engage me,” Turner says of the first officer through the door. “I said, ‘I’m naked and you have your hand on your gun.’ And that’s what made him put his gun all the way back into his holster.”
According to the probable cause statement, a man identified as R.W. told police that Turner hit him with a car on Aug. 5, then got out and fought with him.
R.W., who is also Black, is not a student but lives in Fayette — and he’s the only witness.
R.W. claimed that Turner beat him up because he thought he’d stolen Steacy’s phone several months before.
Turner said he had never seen R.W. before he was arrested. He now knows that R.W. lives at the house where Steacy’s lost phone “pinged” several months ago.
When the police arrested Turner, they repeatedly insisted that he knew R.W.
“[The officer] told me his name and I was like, ‘Who is that?’” Turner said. “I’ve never heard of him. I’ve never seen him.”
R.W. had just been released from the local jail the day of the attack, after being there since July 24 for a domestic violence charge. As a condition for his release, he was prohibited from seeing “the victim or her child” and had agreed to take anger management classes.
Broadus contends that the more likely suspect would be someone related to the domestic violence victim, and not “a random college student.”
However, Fayette Police Chief Jeff Oswald said in an interview with The Independent that Turner is the only suspect.
At the time of the alleged assault, Evans says he was with Turner going to pick up a pizza for Steacy from Casey’s General Store. They didn’t go near the area where the assault allegedly occurred because it’s not on the route from Casey’s and their home, Evans said.
After dropping off the pizza with Steacy, Evans and Turner say they went to a friend’s house in Columbia.
Cpl. Timothy Wells of the Fayette Police Department wrote in the probable cause statement that police arrived at Steacy’s door at 10:50 p.m., less than an hour after they responded to R.W.’s call.
Officers told Steacy that Turner was suspected of using her car to hit someone. While at the house, Wells spoke with Turner on the phone and told him to contact the police about the incident.
Turner didn’t follow up, Wells wrote in his report, so the officers came back to the home two days later around 12:30 a.m. to arrest him.
Turner said that he told Wells on the phone on Aug. 5 that he wanted to speak with Oswald and asked Wells to have the chief call him. He now doubts that Wells gave the chief the message.
Oswald couldn’t be reached to confirm whether or not he received the message. But in a previous interview, Oswald said officers regularly execute warrants in the middle of the night.
“That doesn’t go against any department policy,” Oswald said. “No, serving a warrant at 12:30 a.m. in the morning is fine.”
Broadus began representing Turner in early November.
Up until last year, Broadus had been working as a civil rights attorney in D.C., but he came to Columbia for a medical procedure.* During his long recovery, he began working with Chapel Law firm led by Nimrod Chapel Jr., who is president of the Missouri NAACP. Chapel is co-counsel on the case, with Broadus serving as the lead counsel.
Broadus learned about the students’ case from a community organizer with the Kansas City community group Reale Justice Network, who helped Turner get out on bond after spending weeks in jail in August.
“They have the wrong people,” Broadus said, “and the evidence will show that.”
Perception and reality
Steacy and Turner met on campus last year, and they quickly fell in love.
In February, they rented a small house off campus with Evans.
A couple weeks after they moved in, they say they noticed officers from the Fayette Police Department driving by their house regularly.
When the pandemic shut down campus, Turner and Steacy decided to stay in town and work. But the drivebys became more frequent, Steacy said, up to four times a day.
“This town does not like interracial couples,” Steacy said.
Oswald said the drive-bys would have been “normal patrol.”
“An interracial couple, that’s nothing new,” he said.
Fayette’s Black population makes up about 15.9 percent of the 2,700 residents, according to the U.S. Census. This year, discrimination has been the focus of many discussions in the small town and on campus.
In April, three Black Fayette residents employed as custodial workers at Central Methodist for decades filed lawsuits against the university. They claim they faced racial discrimination from a white supervisor.
Earlier this year, a photo of another Black football player was hanging in the dorm hall and someone crossed out his name and wrote the N-word in red across it.
The Independent obtained a message that Bradley J. Dixon, dean of students, sent out to students offering a cash reward for information about the person who defaced campus property with “crude and unnecessary language.”
Over the summer, a committee was established between the university and city to look into racism and social justice issues, and it includes the mayor and university president Roger Drake, current residents and university alumni around the country.
Fayette Mayor Kevin Oeth said the committee is meant to make the town more inclusive.
“I would say there is not a tremendous racism problem,” said Oeth, who has lived in Fayette for four years. “But that is coming from an old white dude. Where I might not see a problem, [the committee] might be able to point out a problem.”
When asked if racism is an issue in the Fayette Police Department, Oswald said, “I would have to say that’s probably not true at all.”
Marco A. Tapia, who is Turner’s criminal justice professor at the university, said Turner is an “engaged” student.
Tapia said he’s never seen Fayette police exhibit any racism in his four years on campus. Before teaching, he was in law enforcement.
“In my 27 years, I had never witnessed racism among any law enforcement officer,” Tapia said. “But it makes no difference what I think. What matters is: What are the perceptions of the African-American community?”
A ‘terrifying’ experience
Calloway, the university’s head football coach, said the assault allegations don’t align with Turner’s character. He was instrumental in recruiting him from Tennessee last year, and he said all Turner’s previous college professors and coaches said that he was “a very good young man.”
On the team, Turner plays hard, he said, and has never shown any kind of violence or aggression.
“He was working the overnight shift and just trying to do summer school,” Calloway said. “It’d be shocking that he would be involved in something like this.”
When Calloway got the call from Evans on Halloween, he understood why.
“Based on what is going on in our country right now and it being nighttime and a small town, I can see how he would be scared,” said Calloway, who is also Black.
According to the prosecuting attorney’s motion to revoke Turner’s bond, on Halloween the Fayette police were pursuing “an individual who was driving in a careless and imprudent manner.” He “disregarded” stop signs at three intersections, it states. The driver ignored the officer’s order to stop, the motion states, and went inside his house.
According to Evans, police eventually told him that he rolled through several stop signs, even though there are only two stop signs between his house and the liquor store. He insists he was already parked and walking inside when the police turned on their lights.
That’s when he called his coach.
When the officers knocked on the door, the prosecuting attorney’s motion states, the residents “refused entry without a warrant.” It states that the students contacted a “third party to mediate” between Turner and the officers, and they agreed that Turner would exit the residence through the front door with his hands raised.
Instead, Turner “proceeded to exit a side door with his girlfriend. This is a violation of the defendant’s bond conditions,” the motion states.
The front door was still broken from the police raid on Aug. 7, Evans said, so the side door is their main entrance.
“They know that because we filed a report on the door from the first time when they came to get Chris,” Evans said. “We even told them that night the front door was broken.”
There were about seven officers at the side door and more covering the front door, Turner said. Vehicles from the Fayette Police Department, Howard County Sheriff’s Department and the Missouri Highway Patrol surrounded the house.
A highway patrol spokesman said they received a call from the Howard County Sheriff’s Department to assist with the scene, and at least one car responded. However, the state troopers arrived after the arrest was completed and only helped to “secure the parameter,” he said.
“I’m not a bad person, so for them to come upon me with that much force was very terrifying,” Turner said.
Two days before Thanksgiving, a Howard County circuit judge agreed to release Turner from jail on bond. Turner agreed to go home to Tennessee and finish his semester there.
He will have to come back to Fayette for a trial in January.
“This whole experience has been terrifying — fear, crying, stress,” Turner said. “I have flashbacks now of the gun being drawn on me both times. I’m actually on PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) meds now.”
He also has to take medication for his blood pressure, anxiety and to help him sleep.
“I’ve never had to take medication ever for these things,” he said.
Turner, Steacy and Evans plan on leaving Fayette permanently. When asked if he feels African-American students are safe at Central Methodist, Turner doesn’t mince words.
“When I first got here, I did feel like a stranger because I got weird looks from everyone around town,” Turner said. “But then once I started dating Janice, those looks got angrier and meaner.”
*This story has been edited to state that Kylar Broadus was a civil rights attorney in Washington D.C. He did not have his own law firm in D.C. as the previous version stated.