A Tarrant County jury reached a not-guilty verdict for a McKinney man who refused to give up his rifle when Arlington police tried to take it from him.
LaShadion Anthony Shemwell, 29, was charged with disorderly conduct/displaying a weapon in a threatening manner and resisting arrest on June 10.
The arrest occurred during the closing moments of a march and rally protesting a Tarrant County grand jury’s decision to not bring criminal charges against a rookie police officer who fatally wounded an unarmed African-American teen.
Christian Taylor, 19, was shot four times while vandalizing a new car dealership on Aug. 7, 2015. The autopsy found that he was under the influence of a powerful synthetic psychedelic and marijuana.
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Cameron Gray, who defended Shemwell, said this was a tough case with some important issues about what conduct protesters can engage in during a protest march and rally. This country was founded on protests, Gray said.
“We needed these guidelines,” Gray said. “Thank God this jury recognized the importance of the First Amendment.”
Do not try Christian Taylor’s case in Tarrant County Criminal Court No. 10,
Sheena Winkfield, Tarrant County prosecutor.
Sheena Winkfield, Tarrant County prosecutor, told the six-person jury that this case had nothing to do with Taylor or the community’s feelings about the grand jury’s decision to no-bill the officer responsible for his death.
Winkfield argued that the protesters did not get all the attention they wanted at the police station, where the rally began. So protesters marched to Levitt Pavillion, interrupted a concert and terrorized the audience of about 3,000 people in order to get bigger news headlines.
“Do not try Christian Taylor’s case in Tarrant County Criminal Court No. 10,” Winkfield said. “The whole point was to get attention. That’s why I need my body armor, that’s why I need my rifle that’s why I need my bullets. I need to impose my rights on everyone else.”
Days after the fatal shooting, Arlington Police Chief Will Johnson fired Brad Miller, a 49-year-old rookie officer. Ten months later, the grand jury declined to indict the officer in the shooting. That led to the June protest in Arlington.
Shemwell was one of two men carrying rifles who arrived at Arlington police headquarters on June 10 for the rally and march. About 50 protesters marched from police headquarters, 610 W. Division St., chanting, until they reached Levitt Pavilion, an Arlington music venue, where the band Humming House was playing.
Some spectators began shouting at them.
Police officers testified this week that they asked both men to “sling,” or attach, their rifles to shoulder straps.
One man did as police asked and was not arrested, according to Arlington police officer testimony. Shemwell, however, refused to sling his rifle. Shemwell struggled with officers when they tried to take the rifle from him and then stiffened his muscles when other police officers tried to handcuff him, police said.
This is about police officers exhibiting unlimited authority,
Steve Gebhardt, defense attorney.
People at the concert were frightened by the armed presence and the presence of about 100 police officers at the time of the arrest, according to testimony by officers. Officers also testified that they were ordered to arrest Shemwell if he did not sling his rifle and witnesses said that they saw people leave the concert during the incident.
Shemwell was holding his AR-15 with one hand, which one officer said was not safe.
Shemwell’s defense attorney, Steve Gebhardt, said there is no law about how you have to carry your weapon. Other witnesses said they never saw Shemwell point his rifle at anyone, and Gebhardt said nothing in the law requires those carrying a rifle to use a strap to secure it.
“This is about police officers exhibiting unlimited authority,” Gebhardt told the jury during his closing arguments. “They are hoping that you will disagree with what he was doing, that you disagree with what he stood for and you will convict him because you disagree with him.”