(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)
After a 15-year-old boy was killed in a Dallas-area suburb over the weekend, police are now retracting their earlier account that a vehicle was reversing toward police in an “aggressive manner” when an officer opened fire, striking the teen.
In a news conference Monday, Balch Springs Police Chief Jonathan Haber said that he initially “misspoke” and that the vehicle had begun to drive away at the time that the officer opened fire. He then questioned whether the shooting was necessary.
“I unintentionally (was) incorrect when I said the vehicle was backing down the road… in fact I can tell you that I have do have questions in relation to my observation (of) the video,” Haber said. “After reviewing the video, I don’t believe that it met our core values.”
Haber, who declined to release the video footage of the shooting as well as the name of the officer involved, said that all evidence will be presented to the grand jury.
The teen, who has been identified by family members as Jordan Edwards, was killed Saturday night on a residential street in Balch Springs, where he was shot by an officer. The Dallas County Medical Examiner’s office said his death was ruled a homicide and he was killed by a rifle wound to the head.
Earlier, the police chief said that officers were dispatched to the 12300 block of Baron Drive in Balch Springs after receiving a 911 call at 11 p.m. reporting several drunken teens walking around the neighborhood.
Once officers arrived, they heard gunshots, Haber said. In what police described as an “unknown altercation,” a vehicle then began “backing down the street toward the officers in an aggressive manner.” By Monday afternoon, police had retracted that statement.
One officer shot at the vehicle, Haber said, striking the front seat passenger.
Jordan was transported to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead. In their initial statements, police did not explicitly say that the bullet from the officer’s weapon killed the teen.
The officer, whose name has not been released, was placed on administrative duty. The Dallas County Sheriff’s Department and the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office are conducting their own investigations into the shooting, and the Balch Springs police department will oversee an internal investigation.
Lee Merritt, an attorney for the family, said at a news conference Monday that the family is calling on the police department to release the name of the officer as well as any audio and video footage of the incident.
“We are declaring war on bad policing. This has happened far too often,” he said. “We are tired of making the same rhetorical demands, of having the same hashtags; our community is fed up with the same tired excuses, once again offered by Balch Springs Police Department yesterday, that this was somehow the fault of the victims — teenage kids with no criminal records, with no motive to attempt to hurt anyone, with no evidence that they ever attempted to hurt anyone.”
“Another family ripped apart by police brutality,” he wrote on Twitter on Sunday. “There was absolutely no justification for this murder. We demand justice!”
In a phone interview with The Washington Post on Sunday night, Merritt said Jordan, his 16-year-old brother and three other teen boys were at a party on Baron Drive when they learned that police were on the way.
They went to the car parked outside and saw flashlights and heard gunshots, Merritt said. As they climbed into the car, the teens apparently heard somebody yell profanities. Then they were being fired upon.
They fled for about a block, Merritt said, before they noticed there was smoke coming from Jordan’s head. The driver of the car, the boy’s older brother, stopped the car and they flagged down an approaching police cruiser for help.
Several of the teens played on the football team together. Jordan was going through spring training for next year’s season.
“They’re never going to be the same,” Merritt said. “These kids are never going to be the same.”
Merritt claimed three bullets were fired into the car. They came through the driver’s side window, he said.
Jordan and the four teens with him had not been drinking, according to Merritt. They were not cited for underage drinking and have not been charged with any crimes, he said.
According to reporting from the NBC affiliate in Dallas, all Balch Springs squad cars have dash cameras and officers wear body cameras. Merritt said he was told there is body camera footage of the incident and that it has been turned over to the sheriff’s office.
Requests for comment from The Washington Post were not immediately answered by Balch Springs police, including on what policies the department has on shooting into moving vehicles.
Many major law enforcement agencies, federal officials and policing experts advise against shooting into moving vehicles, according to a 2015 investigation by the Guardian. The risk of harming an innocent party is too great, the Guardian reported, and the shots don’t often stop the vehicle.
In 2016, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department — the largest sheriff’s department in America — wrote a new policy essentially banning officers from firing into a moving vehicle unless they feel threatened by something else, like a weapon.
“Firearms shall not be discharged at a stationary or moving vehicle, the occupants of a vehicle, or the tires of a vehicle unless a person in the vehicle is imminently threatening the Department member or another person present with deadly force by means other than the moving vehicle.”
More than 320 people who have been shot and killed by police so far in 2017, according to a Post database tracking such shootings. About 25 percent of those fatally shot by police so far this year have been black, and about 7 percent of those kill have been unarmed at the time they were shot.
About 10 people shot and killed by police so far this year were under the age of 18.
Haber, the police chief, told the CBS affiliate in Dallas that the department had been receiving threats online.
“Over the last several hours, we’ve received threats through social media towards officers … also towards our community,” Haber said. “We want to encourage everyone to please just be patient.”
It has been nearly a year since a wave of officer-involved shootings was followed by ambush style attacks on law enforcement officers around the country, most notably in Dallas, where last July five officers were fatally shot and nine other officers injured by a sniper during a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest.
Merritt said that the Balch Springs Police Department, by reputation, is a small force and that the neighborhood where the shooting took place is relatively quiet and not known for gun violence.
Merritt said the tightknit Edwards family is “devastated.”
“They seem to be walking around in shock,” he said. “I imagine they’re going to sleep tonight hoping to wake up to this all being a dream.”