The Tuscaloosa community honored Investigator Dornell Cousette for giving his life to protect the public. While on the police force, Cousette dedicated 13 years to local outreach efforts, for which he was remembered fondly during several events this past week.
WALK OF CHAMPIONS
The University of Alabama honored the late Officer Cousette on Wednesday evening of Sept. 18. The Tuscaloosa Police Department (TPD) parked Cousette’s former police cruiser at the steps of Bryant-Denny until Friday to allow the public to pay their respects. The police cruiser was covered with gifts, including flowers and cards. The stadium lit up blue at 8 p.m.
“I came out because I wanted to be a part of this celebration of life of Officer Cousette, and the fact that the University chose to honor him in this way is very special to us,” said former TPD Police Chief Steven Anderson, who is now the director of security for the UA System.
Steven Anderson wanted the University to know he is thankful for the support of his former colleague.
“The Chancellor, the President of the University, the Athletic Director – they’ve all been so kind and wonderful and gracious, and they’ve just shown so much support and generosity for the Tuscaloosa Police Department, the law enforcement community and Officer Cousette’s family,” he said.
Cousette’s family and relatives came Wednesday night to pay their respects.
“We just want to thank everyone for all the prayers and everything,” said Latoya Wilkins Davis, Cousette’s first cousin.
Cousette was regarded as a great officer by his colleagues.
“We worked together for several years and he was a great officer,” said interim police chief Mitt Tubbs. “He was well thought of throughout the department, he worked at DCH part-time, and they were just devastated when he arrived out there.”
Cousette’s involvement in the police force was consistently noted.
“Everybody thought so much of him,” Tubbs said. “He was a cop’s cop. He was somebody that if you were looking for a suspect you’d ask him and he could name them, tell you where they were at, who they hung out with. He was just a great police officer and great person.”
Tubbs said he appreciated the support of several officers who were present at the event from other counties across the state. He also said some commanders within the department were assigned to help the family through the loss of their loved one.
“If you look at what’s out there and in the national media you would think that law enforcement officers throughout the United States are not appreciated, but we know here in Tuscaloosa County that the people in Tuscaloosa County, they love their law enforcement officers,” Anderson said. “… [Cousette] just had a passion for life, a passion for the job that he did, and we’re gonna miss him. He’s an incredible loss not only to our law enforcement family but to his family as well and the community as a whole.”
UA STUDENTS SHOW THEIR SUPPORT
The turnout at the event was largely first responders, however many students also showed up. Fraternity houses, most notably Delta Kappa Epsilon and Phi Gamma Delta, lit up blue to show their support for the fallen officer.
“I think it’s important that we respect those that are protecting us,” said Anna Snarey, a graduate student in marketing. “It’s great that the University is doing this. It shows us that the University cares enough to pay homage to the fallen.”
Many students attending the event had and have people within their own families who are first responders.
“What led me here tonight is that my family is very big in supporting the police, I have a lot of family members in the police,” said Kyle Saul, a freshman majoring in criminology. “That’s what I want to do after I graduate is to become a police officer.”
Snarey said she also had family in the military and many friends that are first responders.
“This definitely hits close to home for sure,” she said.
Saul said he felt it was important for community members to pay their respects.
“Showing up here tonight is the least I could do for paying my respects to all those that risk their lives everyday,” he said.
Over 200 people attended a candlelight vigil held on Thursday, Sept. 19 in honor of Officer Cousette. Speakers included Cousette’s twin brother Marzell Cousette, his cousin Kelly Cousette, Mayor Walt Maddox and Tubbs.
Farris Terry is a member of the Tuscaloosa Police Department Support Group and a nurse at Alabama Heart Care. Terry, whose husband is a police officer, gave out almost 400 candles and about 50 small light fixtures to attendees.
“As I look out at all of you, I see our city,” Maddox said.
Keontai Price, a former member of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program, reminisced about his time spent with Officer Cousette, who led a section of the program.
“He usually came to Mackenzie Court, a big neighborhood with a lot of crime activities and things of that nature,” Price said. “He was there 24/7 and steered a lot of us in the right direction… We had a lot of one on ones.”
Price said Cousette remembered “95% of the faces” he came in contact with.
“I actually had a conversation with him about three weeks ago,” he said. “I went to a backpack giveaway and he was there. We had a conversation about what I was doing in life, how life was going. It was touching, and to hear this kind of news is very upsetting.”
Price said Cousette cared about his community.
“It made it feel like someone actually knows me, somebody actually remembers me,” Price said. “Somebody actually cared about how my life went and how I turned out in life.”
Judith Taylor, a volunteer and current co-leader of the Tuscaloosa chapter of Moms Demand Action, an anti-gun violence group, said members of the group were at the vigil to express their condolences.
“I don’t like people getting shot,” Taylor said. “I’m a gun owner and I’m all for the Second Amendment, but I am not for the 100+ people a day that die from gun violence. I am not for there to be more mass shootings in the year 2019 than there are days that have passed.”
In honor of Officer Cousette, a Celebration of Life Service will be held at noon on Sunday, Sept. 22 at Shelton State Community College.
Maddox said that the city will give all the benefits that are due to the Cousette family, and that they are thankful for the support of the private sector. For those who wish to support Officer Dornell Cousette’s family, you can donate here.