Arlington police Chief Will Johnson’s news conference about fatal shooting of teenager
Police Chief Will Johnson fired a 49-year-old rookie officer Tuesday, saying his poor judgment and communication failures endangered his fellow officers and led to a “catastrophic outcome” — the death of a 19-year-old burglary suspect.
Brad Miller, the Arlington police officer, fatally shot Christian Taylor, an Angelo State University football player, inside a car dealership last week.
At a news conference unusual for its detail, Johnson said he has “serious concerns” about Miller’s decision to use deadly force in confronting the man inside the business. Johnson said it was his responsibility to take administrative action, which he did by firing Miller.
But, he said, results of a criminal investigation will be turned over to the Tarrant County district attorney’s office, which could submit the case to a grand jury.
“This is an extraordinarily difficult case and decisions were made here that had a catastrophic outcome,” Johnson said. “I have found several decisions made on the scene troubling.”
Johnson said he expressed remorse to the Taylor family.
The police chief later met with the Arlington chapter of the NAACP and is scheduled to attend a meeting at Cornerstone Baptist Church in south Arlington Wednesday night. The meeting is expected to include Johnson, Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams and the pastors of both Taylor and Miller.
Johnson has acknowledged the significance of the shooting, which came two days before the one-year anniversary of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, who was black, by a white police officer last year in Ferguson, Mo. The death of Brown galvanized the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
The death of Taylor, who was black, has raised some of the same questions as other recent police shootings involving unarmed suspects.
Miller is white.
Speaking at a news conference on Saturday, Johnson said “this incident has not occurred in isolation. But rather it has occurred while our nation has been wrestling with the topics of social injustice, inequities, racism and police misconduct.”
“We recognize the importance of these topics,” Johnson said.
Confronting the suspect alone
Taylor was killed early Friday as officers responded to a burglary call at the Classic Buick GMC dealership on the Interstate 20 service road east of Collins Street.
Taylor, a 2014 graduate of Mansfield Summit High School, died of gunshots in his neck, chest and abdomen, according to the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office.
Security video released by the dealership shows Taylor vandalizing a vehicle in the parking lot. Police have said that he later crashed a Jeep Cherokee through the glass front of the showroom.
Initially, six officers in five patrol cars responded to a 911 call of a burglary in progress about 1 a.m.
Two of the officers were Miller and his training officer, Cpl. Dale Wiggins.
Wiggins and Miller went to secure the west side of the building as other officers established a perimeter around the structure where Taylor was spotted, Johnson said.
But Miller failed to communicate with other officers, including his field training officer, about his intention to enter the building in pursuit of the burglar, Johnson said. Miller also failed to formulate an arrest plan with his supervisor and his fellow officers and failed to wait for other officers to assist in apprehending the burglar, Johnson said.
An example of an arrest plan would be to designate three officers and assign them different tasks, according to police. One officer would provide cover fire if needed, while another would be assigned Taser duty to subdue the suspect in case he became noncompliant or combative. The third officer would place the suspect in handcuffs.
None of those discussions took place because Miller rushed ahead without a plan, Johnson said.
Except for an emergency, “an officer does not enter a building alone without communicating your intent to other officers,” Johnson said.
Johnson said Miller “exercised poor judgment” that led to “cascading consequences.”
His “unilateral decision to enter the building alone and to pursue [Taylor] helped create an unrecoverable outcome,” Johnson said.
Four shots and a Taser
Miller told investigators that after he entered the building, Taylor approached him screaming. Miller and other officers saw a bulge in his shorts, which Miller thought was a weapon, Johnson said.
Wiggins told investigators that he heard a “pop” that he believed was a Taser being discharged. It was actually Miller firing his service weapon, Johnson said.
In response, Wiggins deployed his Taser, and after that, Miller fired his gun three more times.
There was no physical contact between Taylor and the two officers, Johnson said. The bulge in Taylor’s pocket was found to be a wallet and a cellphone, Johnson said.
Taylor came within 7 to 10 feet of Miller and Wiggins, Johnson said.
Miller said he was not aware that Wiggins was behind him and was afraid that Taylor would overpower him, Johnson said.
Wiggins remains on routine administrative leave, and no policy violations on his part have been identified, according to police.
Miller joined the police force in September. Although he completed the police academy and was a fully licensed officer, he was still finishing a 16-week field-training program required of new officers.
Johnson said the termination resulted from the administrative review of the case by a team of “wise counsel,” although the firing was his decision alone.
A criminal investigation is being conducted, and the results will be presented to the district attorney’s office, he said. Further action is up to the district attorney.
Johnson also said he wanted to clarify misinformation that has been reported about the role of the FBI in the investigation of Taylor’s shooting. Arlington investigators are providing the FBI with information as they gather it, and if the FBI determines that a civil-rights violation occurred, the agency will become involved directly, Johnson said.
Earlier Tuesday at a news conference, Dominique Alexander, leader of the Grand Prairie-based Next Generation Action Network publicly requested that the Justice Department get involved in the investigation.
Later Tuesday night, the group led a protest outside Arlington police headquarters.
Deborah Lott, president of the Mid-Cities Community Council, said Miller’s firing rejuvenated her faith in the Arlington Police Department.
“The Police Department showed extraordinary courage in their actions,” Lott said. “They were doing the very best that they could to get things resolved in the right manner, and they did.”
Lott said she will wait to see what the grand jury decides to do with Miller’s case.
“We will be waiting for their decision, and it better be correct,” Lott said. “We cannot allow these things to happen, and I don’t care what color the victim is.”
Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752