FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — A police officer fired after fatally shooting an unarmed black college football player during a suspected burglary at a Texas car dealership could face criminal charges or civil lawsuits by the man’s family members. Former officer Brad Miller’s attorney has criticized the firing as political, after the police chief said in dismissing him that the deadly confrontation was unreasonable. Authorities say the Tarrant County District Attorney could present the case to a grand jury within weeks.
The death of 19-year-old Christian Taylor came days before the anniversary of the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed, black 18-year-old who was fatally shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, and is the latest incidence of black men being killed by police.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
The Arlington police department is awaiting a toxicology report on Taylor, who can be seen in security footage from the lot breaking out the windshield of a car on the lot and then driving his vehicle into the glass showroom. There is no footage of the shooting itself. Police also must complete their criminal investigation and are waiting for ballistics analyses.
The case will then be turned over to the district attorney to present to the grand jury. If a grand jury decides no charges against Miller are warranted, the Taylor family could file a civil rights claim alleging wrongful death in state or federal court.
HOW DOES A CRIMINAL GRAND JURY WORK IN TEXAS?
Texas lawmakers approved a change in May eliminating the controversial system under which judge-appointed commissioners nominate prospective jurors, rather than being randomly chosen. That system was in place for hundreds of Houston police shootings that didn’t result in any officer indictments. Federal courts stopped using a similar method decades ago.
The change takes effect Sept. 1. The Tarrant County grand jury was empaneled in July, so the case could be heard under the old system.
WHAT ARE THE PROSPECTS FOR AN INDICTMENT?
In firing Miller, Arlington Police Chief Will Johnson said he made mistakes that led to the shooting, such as pursuing Taylor without telling his supervisor. Johnson said he had “serious concerns” about Miller’s use of deadly force.
Houston criminal defense attorney Joel Androphy, who is not involved in the case, says that in Texas, law enforcement officers are rarely indicted in such cases. “It’s almost impossible to indict a law enforcement officer, and it is impossible to convict one of a shooting,” he said.
Miller has said he was in fear, and thought Taylor was “actively advancing” and could overpower him. Androphy thinks Miller’s testimony would sway a grand jury toward no indictment. Under Texas law, lethal force is justified to protect property.
WHAT’S HAPPENED BEFORE?
In May, the previous Tarrant County grand jury voted that no charges were warranted against a police officer who fatally shot Ruben Garcia Villalpando, an unarmed Mexican immigrant, in a February traffic stop. A rare indictment came in 2009, against a white Houston police officer who fatally shot Robbie Tolan, the black son of a former major league baseball player, outside his home.
Elsewhere, there have been several high-profile indictments of officers.
A South Carolina grand jury returned an indictment in June against a white former police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black man. Officer Michael Slager of the North Charleston police was captured on video firing eight shots at Walter Scott on April 4 as Scott ran away.
A grand jury also indicted all six Baltimore officers in the death of Freddie Gray, who died in police custody this year.
WHAT RECOURSE DOES MILLER HAVE?
Miller joined the police department in September and graduated from the academy earlier this year. Police said he cannot appeal his firing or pursue litigation because he was a probationary employee.
The Arlington Municipal Patrolman’s Association says it supports “Miller’s right to be judged fairly and completely on facts instead of a snapshot developed in only days.” Miller’s attorney John Snider says his client “made decisions in the heat of a violent confrontation to save his and other officers’ lives.”
“A four day ‘investigation’ and media theatrics are not even close to due process,” Snider said.
Police spokeswoman Tiara Richard said neither Johnson nor the department had a response to Snider’s statement.
Texas criminal defense attorney Philip Hilder, who is not involved in the case, said that Miller wasn’t entitled to due process because he wasn’t a permanent employee.
HOW DOES TAYLOR’S FAMILY RESPOND?
Taylor’s father, Adrian Taylor, told The Washington Post after word came of Miller’s firing that he and his family were more concerned with burying their son.
“I’m not a man of revenge, and the results can’t bring my son back,” he said.
“Right now I just feel sorry for my family and his family and for the whole nation,” Taylor said. “I just hope it makes a change because this is happening too much.”
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