In Rare Decision, Ex-Cop Who Killed Jordan Edwards Indicted for Murder

July 19th 2017

Former Texas police officer Roy Oliver has been indicted on one count of murder and four counts of aggravated assault for shooting into a car of unarmed teenagers and killing 15-year-old Jordan Edwards in April.

The violent incident occurred after shots were heard near a party in Balch Springs where Edwards and friends were attempting to flee to safety. Oliver, seeing the car leave the scene, proceeded to fire a shotgun he retrieved from his patrol car into the adolescent-filled vehicle.

Even accounting for the officer’s lack of judgment, indictments for police-involved shootings are incredibly rare. Out of the approximately 1,000 police shootings that take place every year in the United States, only 80 officers have been arrested for on-duty murder or manslaughter in the past 12 years. Among those, only 28 were convicted.

In June, three police officers from three different departments received non-convictions for fatally shooting unarmed black men, including Samuel DuBose, Sylville Smith, and Philando Castile, respectively. Of the three officers, Ray Tensing, Dominique Heaggan-Brown, and Jeronimo Yanez - only the latter has been removed from his department.

If the past is prologue, then the family of Edwards will face an uphill battle in the as-of-yet unscheduled trial. This climb toward justice is so difficult in part because of the high standards to convict a police officer and the structural barriers that work to their advantage.

Officers have been able to justify fatal uses of force in reports and courtrooms by saying that they were in fear for their life or thought they were in the presence of an immediate threat, even if the person was unarmed.

The reform platform known as Campaign Zero has also found language inserted into police union contracts that they argue threatens accountability by:

  • “Preventing police officers from being interrogated immediately after being involved in an incident or otherwise restricting how, when, or where they can be interrogated

  • Giving officers access to information that civilians do not get prior to being interrogated

  • Requiring cities to pay costs related to police misconduct including by giving officers paid leave while under investigation, paying legal fees, and/or the cost of settlements

  • Preventing information on past misconduct investigations from being recorded or retained in an officer's personnel file

  • Limiting disciplinary consequences for officers or limiting the capacity of civilian oversight structures and/or the media to hold police accountable.

  • The racial makeup of juries also plays a key role in police officer shootings, due to the disparate attitudes toward police themselves." 

The racial makeup of juries also plays a key role in police officer shootings, due to the disparate attitudes toward police themselves.

Black Americans were less than half as likely as white Americans to believe that police officers use the right amount of force in confrontations, treat each racial and ethnic group equally, and were held accountable when misconduct occurred, according to a Pew Research Center survey that was released late last year. While 75 percent of white people thought that police used the correct amount of force and provided equal treatment, only about a third of black people thought the same.

Perhaps more strikingly, 70 percent of white Americans believed police officers were held accountable for their misconduct, and the Pew survey found that only 30 percent of black people felt similarly. Part of this disparity is due to the disproportionate negative interactions police officers have with the black community.

Roughly a quarter of black young adults have either been harassed or arrested by police officers and more than half have said that they know somebody that has been, according to a 2016 poll by GenForward. All of this will come to bear in the coming months.

When the trial of Oliver does begin, both the jury that's selected and the narrative that's established about Oliver’s interpretation of events will be crucial to deciding his fate.

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