When a Dallas County grand jury indicted a former Balch Springs police officer on a murder charge this week in the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager, it took what is an exceedingly rare legal step in Texas, reports the Texas Tribune. Though news of police shootings has become commonplace throughout the nation, disciplinary action against an officer isn’t typical and a murder indictment is almost unheard of. It takes overwhelming evidence for investigators and prosecutors to challenge an officer’s decision to fire his or her weapon, even in controversial incidents. In the rare instances they do, it is often for a lesser charge, like manslaughter or aggravated assault.
A Texas Tribune investigation of 656 police shootings in Texas’ largest cities between 2010 and 2015 found only 25 officers who were disciplined by their department after a shooting, with ten of them being fired. Only seven cops were indicted on a criminal charge, none of which were for murder, and none of which have led to a conviction. Yet on Monday, a little more than two months after Roy Oliver shot and killed 15-year-old Jordan Edwards while he sat in the passenger seat of a car, Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson said a grand jury had indicted Oliver. Lee Merritt, a lawyer for the Edwards family, was “cautious” after the indictment, saying it has been more than 40 years since a police officer was convicted of murder in Texas. Charley Wilkison 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 a 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,” he said. “District attorneys, they’re supposed to seek justice; they’re not supposed to enter an investigation with an outcome in mind … That’s not justice.”