Jordan Edwards’ Shooter Has Been Charged. How Likely Is a Conviction?

by Candice Bernd, Truthout | Report –

Texas Police Officer Roy Oliver has been fired and charged with murder for fatally shooting 15-year-old Jordan Edwards in the head with a rifle, following intense public pressure. The warrant for Oliver’s arrest and the speed with which it came — only six days after Oliver shot into a car full of teens as they were leaving a Saturday-night party this month — is extremely unusual for a police officer in the state of Texas and nationally.

The Dallas County Sheriff’s Department issued the warrant Friday for Oliver’s arrest, saying evidence “suggested Mr. Oliver intended to cause serious bodily injury and commit an act clearly dangerous to human life that caused the death of the individual.” Oliver turned himself in that night at the Parker County Jail, posted a bond of $300,000 and was released before 10 pm. If convicted, he faces up to life in prison.

Balch Springs Police Chief Jonathan Haber fired Oliver last Tuesday, stating that he had violated departmental policies. However, Haber declined to detail the specific policy violations, citing Oliver’s right to appeal his termination. An attorney for the Edwards family, Lee Merritt, told the Dallas Morning News that Oliver is, in fact, planning to appeal. Edwards’ father has now filed a lawsuit alleging execessive force against Oliver.

Haber said last Tuesday that, initially, he had inappropriately relied on Oliver’s account of last Saturday’s events. Oliver said he fired his rifle because the vehicle was backing up aggressively toward the officers. However, the department changed its account after reviewing footage from the officers’ body-worn cameras. According to statements from Haber, the footage showed the vehicle was driving away when Oliver fired on it. According to Oliver’s arrest warrant, another officer used his gun to break the car’s rear window before Oliver shot Edwards. Despite public outcry and demands for the footage to be released, the department has said it will not release the video while investigations remain ongoing.

While Haber indicated that his department’s own internal, administrative investigation has concluded, officials with the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department have said that their investigation into Edwards’ death will remain ongoing, despite Oliver’s charge.

The Dallas County District Attorney Office’s Civil Rights Unit, under its Public Integrity Division, is also conducting an investigation into the shooting. While the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office issued a warrant for Oliver’s arrest on murder charges, a Dallas County grand jury has not indicted Oliver. A grand jury could still decline to indict him, or indict him for murder or additional charges.

“While [Roy Oliver has] been arrested, he’s not officially charged until the grand jury decides to act,” said Jason Hermus, who is division chief of the Dallas District Attorney Office’s Public Integrity Division. “The case still has to be presented to the grand jury because the grand jury is the only force in Texas that can [formally] charge him. … It doesn’t matter one bit that he’s been arrested. The grand jury can still ‘no bill’ [decline to indict Oliver]. The grand jury can still ‘true bill’ [indict him].”

According to Haber, the investigative process for arrests for police-involved cases has shifted within the last few years, so that when there is probable cause, a warrant for arrest can be issued before the case goes before a grand jury.

Edwards’ relatives were relieved to learn of the murder charge Friday, telling The New York Times in a statement that, “Although we realize that there remain significant obstacles ahead on the road to justice, this action brings hope that the justice system will bend against the overwhelming weight of our frustration.”

The family ultimately hopes to see a conviction. They also want to see the other officers involved in the tragedy held accountable. “After Jordan’s two brothers, Vidal and Kevon, along with their two friends, were forced to experience this tragedy up close as occupants of the car, they were immediately treated as common criminals by other officers; manhandled, intimidated and arrested, while their brother lay dying in the front seat,” the family told the Dallas Morning News. “The officers who extended this nightmare for those children ought to be properly reprimanded.”

One of Edwards’ brothers, who was with him at the time of the shooting, was handcuffed and held in a jail cell overnight “for no apparent reason,” Merritt told NBC News. Police told Merritt they were holding Edwards’ brother for questioning as a witness, but that none of the other teens in the vehicle that night had been held. Merritt also told NBC News that Balch Springs officers attempted to hold Edwards’ father when he arrived at the station seeking answers about his sons.

“I’m happy that [Oliver] has been charged, because that’s the right thing to do because of his crime,” Eric Lamont Williams, Jordan Edwards’ second cousin, told Truthout. “Certainly, for healing the community, he must be charged and he’s got to do his time and pay the price for his crime, but that doesn’t take away the sorrow. It doesn’t take away the pain. It doesn’t negate the problems that we have in America with police brutality.”

Williams attended Edwards’ funeral Saturday, which was closed to the public. He told Truthout that the family focused primarily on celebrating Edwards’ life and didn’t discuss Oliver or the murder charge. The open-casket service, he said, was moving. “My spirit was lifted,” he told Truthout.

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Reprinted with permission from Truthout