Amos Starr

Background

On October 25, 1947, police officer Cecil Orris Thrash shot and killed thirty-eight-year-old Amos Starr, a husband and brick mason, in Tallassee, Alabama. Thrash shot Starr at approximately 6 p.m. for a liquor law violation, a misdemeanor. While Thrash claims that he shot Starr in self-defense, eyewitness accounts of the shooting indicate that Thrash shot Starr in the back as he was fleeing from Thrash and two other officers. Officers were not permitted to use deadly force to apprehend a person suspected of having committed a misdemeanor.

Three hours earlier, Thrash saw Starr in the woods selling whiskey to two individuals, a liquor law violation in the state of Alabama. Thrash confronted him, Starr but evaded apprehension. Later that evening, Starr was with several friends outside of May’s Café when Thrash and two other officers approached him. Upon seeing the officers, Starr ran, and a chase ensued. Eyewitness accounts suggest that the officers shot seven or eight times. Thrash claimed that Starr threw a rock at him and had a knife in his hand.

The Elmore County Sheriff examined Starr’s body at the scene of the crime. The sheriff stripped him naked where he lay and pronounced him dead due to a bullet that entered through the front of Starr’s body. This finding supported Thrash’s claim of self-defense.

Following a federal investigation into Starr’s death, an autopsy conducted on May 19, 1949 conclusively established that Starr had been shot in the back, with the wound entering through the posterior right shoulder and exiting through the chest near the right arm pit.

Legal Status

Thrash was arrested and tried for the death of Amos Starr. E.D. Nixon, then President of the Montgomery branch of the NAACP, wrote a letter to United States Attorney General Tom Clark, urging his office to investigate the death of Starr.

Thrash’s indictment and subsequent arrest coincided with the investigation and ultimate prosecution of five other police officers, including the ex-Police Chief of Covington County, Thomas I. Gantt, for civil rights violations. There is no apparent connection between all of the cases, except that they all occurred in Alabama, involved police officers, and four out of the six officers were charged with civil rights violations against black men. Each of the officers was indicted on the same day, and their trials were all held within a short span of time.

Thrash’s trial began on November 3, 1949 before the Honorable Charles B. Kennamer and an all-white jury. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the two-day trial ended in an acquittal after a mere 22 minutes of deliberation. Of all the officers tried, only one was sentenced to serve time for a civil rights violation — Gantt — but only after he pleaded guilty to beating five men to get them to confess to a criminal offense.

Thrash died on December 19, 1989.