ta'naja barnes

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WAND) – The father of a Decatur two-year-old who died of neglect and starvation has filed a civil lawsuit against the City of Springfield and its police department following a traffic stop where he claims officers “desecrated” the ashes of his deceased daughter.

According to the ten-page complaint filed by Dartavius Barnes, the biological father of Ta’Naja Barnes, officers pulled him over on April 16, 2020 near 16th and Laurel in Springfield. The suit was filed by Barnes attorney, James Pullos of Clifford Law Offices, out of Chicago.

In his filing, the attorney for Barnes claims Springfield Police Officers Colton Redding, Brian Riebling, Adam Westlake, Juan Resendez, Nicholas Renfro and Regan Molohon stopped and detained Barnes “without a lawful basis”, placed him in handcuffs and searched Barnes and Barnes’ car “without consent, a valid warrant or probable cause.”

During the search, Barnes claims the officers unsealed an urn “containing the ashes of Plaintiff’s deceased 2-year-old daughter,” opened it without consent and spilled the ashes out. The suit claims the search was a violation of Barnes’ Fourth Amendment right. The suit alleges the officers failed to intervene knowing the “Defendants violated the Plaintiff’s Fourth rights” when officers searched Barnes and his car.

In a response filed with the court, an attorney for the City of Springfield denies the allegations made by Barnes against the officers and claims the officers are entitled to qualified immunity “as their conduct was justified by an objectively reasonable belief that it was lawful,” and the officers are immune from liability under the Illinois Tort Immunity Act.

Barnes daughter, Ta’Naja, died of neglect and starvation in 2019. Her mother plead guilty to charges related to her death. Barnes claims the traffic stop and actions of the officers caused emotional distress.

WAND News reached out to the Springfield Police Department for comment regarding the lawsuit, and status of the officers with the department. Assistant Police Chief Kenneth Scarlette said “these are all personnel matters.  As such the department will withhold any further comment.” A request for comment from Barnes and his attorney Saturday morning has not been responded to.

The lawsuit seeks compensatory damages. A jury trial has been set for August of 2022.

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