Sunday, October 04, 2015

Seven in September: First look at officer-involved shooting reports reveals incidents which escaped media attention

A new law requiring Texas law enforcement agencies to report officer-involved shootings to the Attorney General went into effect September 1st. There have been a couple of news reports about the publication of this data, but Grits thought it worthwhile to see what the new reports look like. So far, documentation related to seven different shootings has been posted online.

UPDATE: There were at least four more Texas police shootings in September than were reported to the AG.

Even with just a few reports in, it's clear the law is already starting to do what its authors presumably intended - giving a fuller picture of the statewide frequency (too frequent) and severity (all over the map) of police shootings, which sometimes aren't even publicized in the local media. While most shootings do get local press coverage, few ever rise to state or national attention. But like the tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it, media silence doesn't mean the victims were less shot.

There are not enough cases yet to draw any conclusions about broad trends (right now, it's "anecdote" not data). And the reports don't list names for officers or victims. But the early cases are interesting. Here are summaries of the seven posted so far, two of which, interestingly enough, came from Freeport, TX:

Freeport: Officer mistook phone for gun
The very first report under the new law sounds like so many others: an unarmed black man was shot while sitting in his car after being stopped by police after what they say was a tip that the man had crack cocaine. The injured driver was eventually charged with evading arrest and his passenger with public intoxication, but no drug charges. A local news report filled in the story:
A Freeport officer spotted the vehicle and tried to pull the driver over. At first, the driver, identified as Mayberry, stopped, but then took off, leading police on a short chase.

The fleeing vehicle stopped in the parking lot of an apartment complex at 1010 Magnolia. The officer ordered the occupants to show their hands. As the officer approached, the driver reportedly turned his body towards him while holding a dark colored object. Fearing for his life, the officer fired, hitting the suspect in the shoulder.
A later news report provides this salient detail: "No gun was immediately found at the scene, but a dark-colored cell phone was on the ground outside the driver's door of Mayberry's car after the shooting."

Plano: Practice makes perfect
The next day, in Plano, it looks like a cop accidentally shot someone at the shooting range. Grits could find no press coverage of the incident.

Houston: A tragic 'change of heart'
Two days later in Houston, a 21-year old black male was seriously injured after police responded to an emergency call. This incident didn't get much local coverage but according to one report, the man was standing in the middle of the road shooting a gun. After initially complying with officer's commands, the HPD spokesperson said that the man "had a change of heart," reached into his waistband, and the officer shot him three times (in the back, groin and leg).

Freeport: A mysterious death
After that flurry of police shootings, Texas took a short breather, but the next incident report for September 13th raises more questions than it answers. Two officers from the Alvin, Texas police department apparently shot a 29 year old white male to death down in Freeport, nearly 40 miles away, while executing a warrant. According to the document filed with the Attorney General the man was armed. There appears to be no press coverage of the incident at all. There's also nothing over in the AG's "death in custody" database to match the incident.

Balch Springs: At least they didn't shoot the dog
On September 16th, in another unreported incident, a Balch Springs officer responding to a vicious dog complaint shot an unarmed white woman at a single family home on Marriott Avenue. She was not killed.

Dallas: Suicide by cop?
Then finally, Monday September 21 saw shootings in El Paso and Dallas. The Dallas incident garnered significant press coverage as bystander video shows a half undressed, drug addled Gerardo Ramirez running through an apartment complex parking lot shooting a gun. He was killed after shooting at officers on the scene. There has been speculation this was a case of suicide by cop.

El Paso: To prevent an escape
In El Paso on the same day, a 24-year old female officer shot a 21-year old burglary-of-a-vehicle suspect while the man allegedly was trying to escape in a car. According to the AG report, the man had a deadly weapon, but it may have been the vehicle. The El Paso robbery suspect was injured but not killed.

* * *

Perhaps Grits will make this a monthly feature. For now, journalists should be aware of this new resource; clearly there are untold stories about shootings by Texas police waiting to be unearthed which heretofore have not been reported.


Anonymous said...

In the Navy, if you are the Captain of a ship that comes into contact with another vessel or a dock etc, you are thanked for your service and then promptly retired. And then an investigation occurs to find out what happened. Note the sequence--it doesn't matter who caused the collission, you as captain are at all times responsible for the entire vessel.

What does this have to do with officer shootings? When an officer shoots someone who turns out to be unarmed, the Navy rule should kick in: i.e., thanks for your service and we can wish you well in your new career whatever that may be.

The Navy gets rid of people on the first incident because the political fallout from a second incident is so severe top brass are at risk. You see the liability of placing someone in command after they've made an initial mistake skyrockets. There is no mitigating it. So the rule is very simple: thanks for your service & good luck. ...after the first incident.

This has a place in officer involved shootings.

Anonymous said...

Recommend the form include the following questions:

Is the incident captured on video from ____body camera. ____in-dash camera.
Is the incident response audio recorded: _____yes. ______no.

Was the shooting investigated by an outside organization? ____yes. ____no

If yes, who investigated? ____Texas Rangers. ____Citizen Review Board ___internal affairs. ____other. (Please specify)

Was the officer _____charged with internal policy violation? ___criminal violation? ____indicted by grand jury. ____convicted

Anonymous said...

Grits, thanks for publishing what others refuse to. And, if you go Monthly on this, you'll be one of the only one's to do so and risk being called a: cop hater, criminal & liberal, by the usual suspects. So, make sure to include a graph regarding Public Servants that got shot by both - L.E. and non-L.E. to be fair.

With that, in any follow up to come, (if possible) consider including a little on the media embedding a reporter (you referred to them as journalist) with local PDs' fiasco. It appears that you hinted but didn't come right out and say it.

In my worthless but free opinion that no one asked for, there are more than 7 incidents and those will never come to light due to secrete deals made on the way to the emergency room and of course there's the non-reporter in the mix that's told to go cover the Fair while we make shit disappear. C-ya.