Dartavius Barnes Sues Springfield Police After They Mistake His 2-Year-Old's Ashes For Drugs

Photo: WICS News Channel 20
Dartavius Barnes
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A car search took a devastating turn when police allegedly mistook the cremated remains of a man's murdered daughter for drugs.

Now he has filed a lawsuit against the city of Springfield, Ill. and six police officers.

On April 6, 2020, Dartavius Barnes was stopped by police for allegedly speeding and failing to stop at a stop sign. Barnes consented to a search of his car and got good results on his field test, but was still cuffed and put in the back of the police car while officers searched his vehicle.

"You're not being arrested, man. You're just being detained, an officer can be heard telling Barnes in the first of two videos of body cam footage collected during the traffic stop.

How could police have mistaken the ashes of Dartavius Barnes' daughter for drugs?

During the search, police noticed bullet holes in the car, leading them to believe he may have been involved in a shooting that had been reported nearby.

Police asked Barned if they could process his car, saying, "Do you care if we process that car because you do have a bullet hole on it?"

After asking what that meant and being told "like, we'll take pictures and see if we can find a bullet projectile on it," Barnes consented and his handcuffs were removed, though he was asked to remain in the patrol car.

Another officer then approached the one who had been speaking with Barnes holding a small vial, saying "I found this in the center console ... It's all filled up."

Police had already found marijuana, which is legal for recreational use in Illinois under specific conditions, and assumed the contents of the vials must also be some form of illegal substance.

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“At first I thought it was heroin," the officer continued, "then I checked for cocaine, but it looks like it’s probably an X pill or Molly."

When the officer returned to the patrol car and confronted Barnes, who quickly became confused when he was told they'd found "something else in the car too" and that it was probably "a little bit of, like, X crushed up."

"You sure it's X, bro?" Barnes asked. "Y'all did some tests on it?"

The officer replied, "Yeah, it tested positive for meth/MDMA."

The officer then offered to show it Barnes, but instead paused briefly to weight the marijuana, then returned and read Barnes his Miranda rights before finally bringing the vial back to show Barnes.

As the object becomes clear, Barnes can be heard growing visibly upset, his voice immediately filled with emotions as he says, "No no no that's my daughter! What are you all doing? That's my daughter! She just passed last year you know me, right? That's her brother."

Barnes asked for the vial back, reaching for it with his cuffed hands in an attempt to take it back.

"Please give me my daughter," he pleads, "Put her in my hand. Y'all are disrespectful. Can I please have my daughter?"

Instead of handing over the vial containing his daughter's ashes, the officer closes the door on Barnes and walks over to his fellow officers.

The police had used a field testing drug kit to determine what the contents of the vial were. These tests are known for false positives, with materials including sage, cookies, flour and deodorant having been mistaken for drugs by law enforcement.

When they realized their mistake, they gave the ashes to Barnes' father, who had arrived to be with his son and immediately recognized the urn as his granddaughter's ashes.

Barnes and his father were released and Barnes was not arrested, though he was given a notice to appear in court fo illegal possession of cannabis.

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What happened to Ta'Naja Barnes, Dartavius Barnes' 2-year-old daughter?

Ta’Naja died in 2019 at the age of 2 after being found unresponsive in a urine-soaked blanket, having been starved and neglected by her mother, Twanka L. Davis, and her mother’s boyfriend.

Both were charged with her murder and are currently serving time in prison.

Barnes is now suing the city of Springfield and six police officers.

The lawsuit states that the police opened the urn without his consent and spilled the contents while testing for drugs. Barnes claims that by testing his daughter's ashes for drugs, the police desecrated her remains.

The police agree with Barnes' story of what happened but do not believe his rights were violated, with one officer stating, “I have seen similar items like this before utilized to contain narcotics.”

As mentioned earlier, officers did find marijuana in the car during the search.

While recreational marijuana is legal in Illinois, police state Barnes had too much and that it wasn’t packaged properly, saying, “It's gotta be child-resistant, odor-proof," just moments after opening the urn that contained Barnes' daughter's remains.

Illinois state law allows residents to possess "up to 30 grams, or about an ounce, of cannabis flower." In the video, officers can be heard saying Barnes was in possession of two ounces of marijuana at the time he was pulled over.

Barnes is seeking compensatory damages, and a jury trial is set for August of 2022.

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Leeann Reed is a writer who covers news, pop culture, and love, and relationship topics.