The police officer who shot and killed 15-year-old Jordan Edwards has been indicted for murder.
Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson announced Monday that Roy Oliver, 37, will also face four counts of aggravated assault by a public servant after firing with a rifle into a car carrying Edwards and other teenagers. Edwards, a black ninth grader at Mesquite High School, was unarmed and leaving a party in late April when he was shot by Oliver, a white police officer, in Balch Springs, a suburb of Dallas, Texas. According to family attorney Lee Merritt, Edwards was attempting to leave along with two friends and his brothers when police arrived, answering noise complaints. Oliver fired four rounds into the car with a rifle, striking Edwards, who later died at the hospital.
Edwards’ family members told Dallas News that they were “cautiously optimistic” about justice for their son after news of the indictment. Merritt also applauded the decision, which seemed to break from national trends involving police accountability in the deaths of black people.
“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.”
But Merritt also underscored his caution on Twitter, noting how infrequently police officers face consequences — especially in Texas, which has not seen a cop convicted in decades.
We remain cautious. A murder indictment for Roy Oliver is appropriate but the fact is it's been +40 years since a cop was convicted in TX.
— S. Lee Merritt, Esq. (@MeritLaw) July 17, 2017
Police initially argued that the car carrying Edwards was driving “in an aggressive manner” and appearing to target officers. Conflicting stories soon emerged, as Edwards’ companions argued that they were fired upon while trying to hastily leave the party. After body camera footage of the incident was reviewed, Balch Springs Police Chief Jonathan Haber later walked back police claims, acknowledging the car was “moving forward as the officers approached.”
Following Edwards’ killing, both the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department and the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office announced they would look into the killing (they were later joined by the U.S. Justice Department.) Oliver was swiftly fired following the incident, and an arrest warrant was issued in May. NBC News reported, following a FOIA request, that Oliver had previously been suspended for anger problems, and was asked at one point to take an anger management course. He was also indicted in June for two accounts of aggravated assault following a road rage incident, leading Dallas County district attorney Michael Snipes to warn that Oliver was “very, very likely a danger to the community.”
Oliver’s history of violence and behavior has been highlighted by Dallas officials. Announcing charges against Oliver, Johnson emphasized that the decision was not a “political statement” despite the racialized nature of the case.
“I think our police officers would stand with us and say, ‘We do not condone bad behavior,’” she said. “Hopefully, it is a message we are sending to the bad police officers. If you do wrong, we will prosecute you.”
Black Americans are more than twice as likely to be killed by police than their white counterparts, according to FiveThirtyEight. While data changes yearly, police officers are highly unlikely to face charges relating to the deaths of those they kill. Between 2005 and 2014, only 48 on-duty officers were convicted for murder or manslaughter following use of lethal force, despite thousands of reported cases.