The police officer who fired his rifle into a car of black teenagers as they left a party in Balch Springs, Texas — killing 15-year-old Jordan Edwards — has been indicted for murder.
Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson announced the indictment of one murder charge and four counts of aggravated assault by a public servant against officer Roy Oliver, 37, on Monday.
Edwards' family and their lawyer told Dallas News they are "cautiously optimistic" about the charge.
Police had reportedly been responding to a call about underage drunk "kids" when Oliver shot multiple rounds into a Chevrolet Impala carrying Jordan, his two brothers, and two friends.
The teens had been trying to leave the house party after police arrived. Edwards, a freshman at Mesquite High School, was sitting in the passenger seat. He died at the hospital from gunshot injuries.
Oliver denies that he consciously disregarded the legal, constitutional, or civil rights of Edwards, his brothers, and the other teens in the car, arguing in a federal court filing that he and his partner feared for their lives when the car carrying the teens flew past them.
In his statement, the former police officer describes a hectic situation in which a speeding car was acting erratically, gaining speed while moving towards them, and ignoring their demands to stop.
The front passenger was also "making fast movements" and the sound of gunshots from the area led him to believe his partner was in "imminent danger," according to court documents.
Oliver said the car accelerated in their direction, causing his partner to raise and point his weapon at the vehicle. The Impala then came "within inches" of his partner and he saw movement in the car. He then heard violence and breaking glass in his partner's direction, and "in fear for himself and others," fired three to five shots into the "closed glass windows" as the car was right beside them.
“Any use of force by Officer Oliver was a reasonable response to a reasonable perception that the actions of the occupants of the black car under the totality of the circumstances created an immediate risk to another person of death or serious bodily injury," the filing states.
He also contends that one or more of the teenagers indicated that their car should have stopped before he or his partner opened fire.
Gun residue was also found on the back of Edwards' left hand, Oliver says in the filing, indicating that a gun was present in their car.
Attorneys for the Edwards family dispute that there was a weapon in the car and that any of the teens handled a gun. The residue found on Edwards was "clearly transferred when Oliver illegally reached into the vehicle and checked his pulse," said Lee Merritt, who is representing the Edwards family.
In a news conference, Johnson said indicting Oliver, who is white, is not a "political statement."
"I think our police officers would stand with us and say, 'We do not condone bad behavior,'" she said, according to Dallas News. "Hopefully, it is a message we are sending to the bad police officers. If you do wrong, we will prosecute you."
Lee Merritt, the Edwards family attorney, applauded Johnson for pursuing the charge, since many other officer shootings around the country have not been treated the same way.
"Far too often we see cases where there's been a lack of comparable effort in cases that are equally deserving," Merritt said. "We are satisfied with this step."
At first, Balch Springs Police Chief Jonathan Haber said the car of teenagers was reversing "aggressively" toward Oliver and another officer when the shooting took place. But bodycam footage showed the car moving forward, trying to leave.
"After viewing the video, I don't believe that it met our core values," said Haber. Oliver was fired from the force and arrested for murder in May.
The US Justice Department also opened an investigation into Edwards' death.
Amber Jamieson is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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Brianna Sacks is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
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