Taylor family lawyer asks for federal review of shooting by officer

Christian Taylor supporters protest grand jury decision

Christian Taylor supporters disrupt evening concert at Levitt Pavilion to protest grand jury decision not to indict Arlington police officer who shot and killed Taylor. One man with a assault rifle was detained by police.
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Christian Taylor supporters disrupt evening concert at Levitt Pavilion to protest grand jury decision not to indict Arlington police officer who shot and killed Taylor. One man with a assault rifle was detained by police.

The lawyer for the family of Christian Taylor, the college student who was fatally shot by an Arlington police officer last year, has asked the Justice Department to investigate the shooting.

Attorney Michael Heiskell wrote that a Tarrant County grand jury’s declining to indict officer Brad Miller, and the “lack of further action by the Tarrant County District Attorney,” is a “travesty of justice.”

“I, therefore, implore you to open an investigation to allow the appropriate personnel within the FBI to review all of the facts and circumstances surrounding Christian’s death,” Heiskell wrote to the departments Civil Rights Division.

Taylor, 19, a Mansfield Summit High graduate who played football at Angelo State University, was shot four times by Miller, 49, a rookie officer, on Aug. 7.

Taylor had broken into a car dealership and was high on drugs, according to authorities.

Surveillance footage released to the Star-Telegram Sunday by an employee of Classic Buick GMC shows a teen breaking into the Arlington dealership. The altercation with police in which Christian Taylor was hit with a stun gun and shot in the chest,

The shooting of Taylor, who was unarmed, reverberated nationwide as police departments and communities grappled with repeated news reports about young black men dying after encounters with police officers. Taylor died two days before the one-year anniversary of the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, which galvanized the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

Heiskell’s letter, sent on Wednesday, expresses frustration with District Attorney Sharen Wilson, who declined to pursue further action agaist Miller. Heiskell characterized her explanation as “a lecture on the scourge of drug use in our society.”

Miller was quickly fired from the Arlington Police Department but was not arrested or charged. Arlington police investigated and turned the case over to the district attorney’s office. Prosecutors presented the case to a grand jury, which returned its no-bill on June 8.

That was the same day that Ed McIver Jr., accused of participating in the shooting of Fort Worth officer Matt Pearce in March, was no-billed on charges of attempted capital murder and possession of a controlled substance. Almost immediately, the DA’s office refiled the charges against McIver, hoping a different grand jury would indict him.

“We believe strongly this case should be prosecuted and have refiled those two charges to be presented to the next grand jury,” said Samantha Jordan, a spokeswoman for Wilson’s office.

Two days later, Heiskell wrote a letter to Wilson, urging her to also file a charge of voluntary manslaughter — “or, at the very least, criminal negligent homicide” — against Miller so the case would come before another grand jury, just like McIver’s. Wilson refused, saying Miller’s “unfortunate … use of deadly force was neither unreasonable nor rogue.”

“By all accounts, Taylor was acting erratically, and in a manner dangerous to himself and the officers on the scene,” Wilson wrote. “When confronted, he continued to aggressively advance on the officers even after the attempt to Taser him. … The more appropriate reaction is to revolt against the scourge of drug use by our young.”

Wilson then described statements from Taylor’s girlfriend, saying that hours before his death, Taylor said LSD “makes him powerful, and you’re a strong person if you can handle” it.

Taylor had traces of marijuana and a synthetic psychedelic drug in his system after he died. The synthetic drug, 25I-NBOMe — called “N-Bomb” — is supposed to mimic the effects of LSD. The Arlington teen had 0.76 nanogram of the drug per milliliter of blood when he died,in his system at the time of his death, according to the medical examiner. A nanogram is a billionth of a gram; a milliliter equals about 0.0338 fluid ounce.

In a presentation to the grand jury, Heiskell and co-counsel Jesse Gaines said, “We firmly believe that unknown to him, someone secretly laced his marijuana” with N-Bomb.

Wilson also wrote that a toxicologist for the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office said the drug can give users “feelings of invincibility, aggression and imperviousness to pain.”

“No one questions that the drugs Christian Taylor was on influenced his behavior that night,” Wilson wrote. “But it was that behavior which unfortunately created the circumstances that led to his death.”

On June 15, two days after Wilson sent Heiskell the letter, Heiskell responded with another letter, saying that Wilson failed “to provide a sufficient and detailed legal analysis to justify Brad Miller’s use of deadly force.”

“Even the Arlington chief of police indicated that there existed no rationale, self-defense or otherwise, for Miller to utilize deadly force,” Heiskell wrote before asking again for the DA to file charges against Miller.

Heiskell said he never got a response. So a week later, he asked for the Justice Department review.

“I am concerned that Ms. Wilson’s letter gives a green light and comfort for those officers who act in a reckless manner similar to Brad Miller in his response to a delicate, but manageable, situation,” he said.

No police officers have been indicted in Tarrant County on accusations of fatally shooting a civilian in at least 20 years, according to current and former prosecutors in the Tarrant County district attorney’s office and a search of the Star-Telegram’s archives.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Mark David Smith: 817-390-7808, @MarkSmith_FWST