A former Texas police officer was sentenced to 15 years in prison Wednesday for the shooting death of an unarmed black teen last year in the Dallas suburbs.
A jury convicted former Balch Springs Officer Roy Oliver, 38, of murder on Tuesday for killing 15-year-old Jordan Edwards. Jurors returned to court Wednesday for his sentencing, where prosecutors sought at least 60 years, while the defense argued for 20 years or less.
Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson called Oliver a “killer in blue” who violated his oath to protect citizens. Her colleague, Michael Snipes, made the reference to Mr. Hyde, the violent side of Dr. Jekyll in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella.
Defense attorney Bob Gill argued that his client, who fired into a vehicle carrying Jordan, had to decide quickly how best to protect his partner.
‘This case is not just about Jordan’
The rare guilty verdict in the trial of a police officer stunned relatives, prompting gasps and sobs in the courtroom. Most police-involved shooting deaths, such as Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Louisiana, have ended in acquittals or no charges despite national protests condemning police brutality.
“We don’t want another parent to have to go through what this family has had to deal with,” Jordan’s family attorney, Daryl Washington, said on Tuesday. “This case is not just about Jordan. It’s about Tamir Rice, it’s about Walter Scott, it’s about Alton Sterling, it’s about every African-American… who have been killed and who have not gotten justice.”
Oliver, who is white, fired at a vehicle Jordan was in, striking the teen. A Dallas County jury convicted him of murder, but found him not guilty of two lesser charges of aggravated assault and manslaughter, CNN affiliate KTVT reported.
Private party turns deadly
Jordan’s family said he was at a private party with his two brothers and two friends on the night of April 29 last year when someone announced that police had been dispatched. The group headed to the car.
Around 11 p.m., Oliver and another officer responded to the home after reports of underage drinking. While in the residence searching for the homeowner, they heard what they believed were gunshots nearby, police said.
One officer went to the area where he heard the gunshots, and Oliver went to his squad car and retrieved his patrol rifle, according to an arrest warrant issued by the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office.
The officer who was with Oliver saw a Chevrolet Impala reversing and repeatedly ordered it to stop. He then approached the vehicle from the passenger side with his weapon drawn, police said.
The vehicle stopped, then slowly moved forward as the officer punched the passenger door window, breaking it, the arrest warrant said.
Oliver discharged multiple rounds from his patrol rifle as the vehicle drove past him, the arrest warrant said. One bullet struck Jordan, who was a passenger in the car.
In a lawsuit, Jordan’s father said neither the teen nor his group posed a threat to the officers’ safety.
Body camera footage likely helped in conviction
Police body camera footage likely played a crucial role in the conviction.
After the shooting, Balch Springs Police Chief Jonathan Haber initially said the car Jordan was riding in was moving aggressively toward police — leading Oliver to fire his rifle.
But days later, Haber said he misspoke, adding that body camera footage showed the car was driving forward, away from the officers — not reversing toward them.
Haber fired Oliver shortly afterward.
Body cameras have mixed reviews
Calls for police body cameras have grown as incidents of police brutality make headlines nationwide, with dozens of major police departments nationwide using them to provide transparency and accountability.
But studies on the effects of body cameras have uncovered mixed results, with recent controversies in Baltimore showing what appears to be officers allegedly planting evidence, highlighting that even such footage can be a source of controversy.
Convictions such as Oliver’s are still a rarity mostly because when an officer says the person flashed a gun or made a sudden move, jurors tend to side with them, said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
“At the end of day, officers in their badge and uniform enjoy the benefit of the doubt,” Clarke said last year.
“Unless we start holding officers accountable for using deadly force in a reckless manner, I think it will be very difficult to see changes in the use of lethal force at the outset.”
‘This innocent kid was not doing anything wrong’
Prosecutors told jurors that Jordan did not deserve to die.
“This innocent kid was not doing anything wrong, nothing,” Mike Snipes said, according to KTVT.
Jordan’s fatal shooting was one of several recent deaths of African-American men at the hands of police, which have sparked national protests and a debate on police conduct.
Few police officers face trial in shooting deaths, and even fewer are convicted.
In December, former South Carolina officer Michael Slager was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison in the 2015 shooting death of Walter Scott. Slager’s 2016 state murder trial ended in a mistrial.