Texas Police Officer Indicted of Shooting Jordan Edwards
The verdict has been handed down and the former police officer who shot and killed 15-year -old Jordan Edwards has been indicted on a murder charge, a seemingly rare occurrence in a state and nation where criminal charges against police officers are almost nonexistent.
Monday in Dallas, Texas County grand jury indicted a former Balch Springs officer on a murder charge in the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager. The indictment is a rarity in Texas and clearly illustrates the controversy surrounding the shooting since details of it stunned the community back in April.
Police shootings have become commonplace in not only Texas but the nation, a disciplinary action being brought against an officer is not typical and a murder indictment is almost unheard of. In order for investigators and prosecutors to challenge an officer’s decision to fire his or her’s service revolver requires overwhelming evidence. In the rare instances they do, it is often for a lesser charge, like manslaughter or aggravated assault.
An investigation of 656 police shootings in Texas done by the Texas Tribune found that between 2010 and 2015 only 25 officers who were disciplined by their department after a shooting, with only ten of those 25 being fired. Of 656 officers, 7 were indicted on a criminal charge none of which were for murder, and none of those have led to a conviction. And yet, just a little more than two months after Roy Oliver shot and killed 15-year-old Jordan Edwards as he sat in the passenger seat of a car moving away from police, Dallas County’s new District Attorney Faith Johnson announced a grand jury had indicted Oliver on one count of Murder and four counts of aggravated assault by a public servant, one count for each of the other teens who were in the car along with Edwards.
“Hopefully it is a message we’re sending to bad police officers. And that is, if you do wrong, we will prosecute you,” Johnson said at a news conference.
Lee Merritt, the attorney representing the Edwards family posted on Twitter that he remained “cautious” after the indictment, adding that it had been more than 40 years since a police officer was convicted of murder in Texas. In 1973, a Dallas police officer by the name of Darrell Cain was convicted of murder in the death of a 12 -year-old boy who Cain forced into a terrifying game of Russian Roulette. Cain handcuffed the young man and placed in the back of his squad car. Cain then pulled out his service revolver and loaded on solitary shell into the cylinder and spun it. He placed the gun to the boys head and pulled the trigger. “Click!” Nothing happened, until the second attempt that is. The boy was killed instantly and Cain claimed that it was an “accident” and was sentenced to only 5 measly years in prison and was eventually released in just half of that time.
It should be noted that law enforcement had quite a different reaction to the death of Edwards, a Mesquite High School freshman from the beginning. Although Blach Springs police originally said Oliver shot Edwards when the car was being driven toward police officers, The Cheif of Police Jonathan Haber changed the narrative after body cam footage showed the officers account of the incident to be different than the facts. The body cam footage showed clearly that the car was, in fact, moving away from the officers. Within one week of the shooting, Oliver was fired from the department and arrested on suspicion of murder.
This quick action taken by law enforcement raised questions from the two largest police unions in the state. On Tuesday, the executive director of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas said the fast firing and indictment of Oliver had a “tinge of politics” to it and that rushed investigation can lead to two tragedies instead of one.
“The district attorney is looking for a victory here — that’s what’s going on,” said Charley Wilkison. “District attorneys, they’re supposed to seek justice; they’re not supposed to enter an investigation with an outcome in mind. That’s something else. That’s not justice.”
It is true that indictments against police officers are rare, but in Dallas County, under multiple district attorneys, has had the most in recent years. Farmers Branch officer Ken Johnson was indicted on a murder charge in March 2016, in the off-duty shooting of a 16-year-old, he chased after suspecting him of breaking into his vehicle. He has since resigned, but his case has not yet gone to trial.
The Tribune’s 2016 investigation found that three of the seven officers who were indicted in a shooting came from Dallas County. Dallas officers Cardan Spencer and Amy Wilburn were both indicted in 2013 on charges of aggravated assault in separate non-fatal shootings (neither case has gone to trial). And Garland police officer Patrick Tuter was indicted of a manslaughter charge in 2013, more than a year after he shot 41 times at Michael Allen, who was fleeing from police in a truck, killing him.
In 2014 there was yet another conviction in Texas for Sgt. Jason Blackwelder with the Conroe Police Department. Blach welder, who was off-duty, killed Russell Rios, an unarmed 19-year-old community college student, by shooting him in the back of the head as he fled Walmart where he was suspected of shoplifting. Blackwelder was found guilty of manslaughter and received five years of probation with no jail time.
The above examples are not the norm, the few times when an action was actually taken against officers among hundreds of shootings. Ploice have a wide discretion to fire their weapons, and the law tends to side with them if they say that they were in a situation where lethal force was needed.
Oliver’s legal case is just beginning. An unorthodox chain of events has led to his indictment, but, as his case (likely) slowly now winds through the criminal justice system, it would be rare for a jury to hand down a murder conviction.
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