Texas officer acquitted of assault in fatal 2019 shooting
HOUSTON (AP) — A Texas police officer was acquitted Tuesday of an assault charge related to the 2019 fatal shooting of Pamela Turner, a woman with a history of mental illness, after the two struggled over his stun gun.
After deliberating for several hours over two days, a jury found Baytown Officer Juan Delacruz not guilty of aggravated assault by a public servant for the May 2019 shooting death of Turner in the parking lot of an apartment complex where they both lived in suburban Houston.
Delacruz, who is Hispanic, shot Turner after a struggle with the 44-year-old Black woman that a bystander captured on video. Authorities say the confrontation began after Delacruz tried to arrest Turner on warrants for several misdemeanor charges.
The footage showed Delacruz standing over Turner and reaching down to try to grab her arms. Turner then yells, “I’m pregnant.” Moments later, something flashes as she reaches her arm out toward the officer. Suddenly, Delacruz pulls away and fires five gunshots.
The verdict upset Turner’s family. Her family and Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said jurors were prevented by the judge from hearing evidence related to past encounters Turner and Delacruz had and his knowledge about her struggles with mental illness.
“This is not fair, and we are tired of it,” said Antoinette Dorsey-James, Turner’s sister.
Ogg called Turner’s death a tragedy and said that when “the jury isn’t able to receive all the evidence, it’s hard for justice to be heard.”
Greg Cagle, one of Delacruz’s attorneys, said that the police officer shot Turner in self-defense only after she used his stun gun against him and that he feared for his life.
“Pamela Turner made a decision to evade arrest, to resist arrest, take a weapon from a police officer, not only take it but then use it against him,” Cagle told jurors Monday.
During closing arguments Monday, prosecutors questioned whether Delacruz was in danger, saying that he had been able to move several feet away after the confrontation and that he shot Turner while she was still on the ground.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Turner’s family, has said she was not pregnant but had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
“She wasn’t perfect, and we’ve not tried to hide that from you guys today,” prosecutor Timothy Adams told jurors. “But the fact is she did not deserve to die on the sidewalk, a few feet from her home.”
Crump, who in recent years has represented victims of police brutality and vigilante violence and has been the lawyer for the families of Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, called the jury’s verdict “a setback in the effort for equal justice under the law in America.”
After her death, rallies critical of the police shooting were held by Black Lives Matter Houston and community activists.
Delacruz, who has been with the Baytown police department since 2008, did not face any disciplinary action after the shooting and was placed on administrative assignment within the police department while awaiting his trial.
In a statement, the Baytown police department said it’s still doing an internal review of the shooting.
“While there may be differing opinions on the verdict, this case was tried in a court of law before a jury of Harris County citizens. We ask for respect of this legal process and for citizens to express themselves in a peaceful manner,” the police department said.
If he had been convicted, Delacruz would have faced from five years to life in prison.
A federal civil rights lawsuit Turner’s family has filed against Delacruz and the city of Baytown remains pending.
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