Two days after a tense meeting between the Arlington Police Department and the local chapter of the NAACP, a police spokesman answered lingering questions Thursday about the Sept. 1 police shooting death of O’Shae Terry.
The police department was invited by the NAACP to answer questions about what happened that day, and how the investigation into the case was proceeding. Deputy Chief Carol Riddle was the only officer who addressed the crowd of about 50. Police Chief Will Johnson was out of town.
Tensions began to rise during the Q & A portion of the meeting due in a large part to Riddle’s lack of answers, and afterward, NAACP President Alisa Simmons called the hourlong meeting a “colossal waste of time.”
Terry was stopped because the temporary tag on the SUV he was driving showed it to be expired.
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A second officer responded to the traffic stop after the first officer said she smelled marijuana, and told Terry she was going to search the vehicle, according to video footage released by the department. A male officer, who has not been identified, waited on the passenger side of the car while the first officer went back to her cruiser.
About 10 minutes into the stop, Terry started to roll up his windows. The officer grabbed the top of the passenger side window with his left hand, stepped onto the foot rail, put his right arm inside the vehicle and then brought it back out to reach for his gun.
He shot into the vehicle at least four times, killing Terry.
The Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Terry’s death a homicide from multiple gunshot wounds. That doesn’t mean Terry’s death is classified legally as a murder. It will be up to a grand jury to determine if it believes the homicide was justified or not.
Tuesday, Riddle said the administrative and criminal investigations into the shooting are ongoing, pending the completion of ballistic and medical examiner reports. The investigations are independent of each other and are being handled by different members of the department, she said.
One of the main points of contention during the meeting was that the name of the officer has still not been released.
Riddle said the department is not ready to release the officer’s name because there have been “credible threats” against him.
“Why are you protecting the officer and how can he receive threats if we don’t even know his identity?” one man asked.
Riddle declined to comment further on the threats, and said only that the officer’s badge and gun have been taken from him. He is on desk duty that doesn’t involve contact with the community, Riddle said.
Arlington Lt. Christopher Cook told the Star-Telegram that the threats included messages to the department’s social media accounts, including a post on Facebook from a family member of Terry’s that said, “You stupid (expletive) cop you will pay dearly for what you did to OSHAE TERRY.” Images were also sent to the department depicting an officer’s throat being slashed, Cook said.
The Star-Telegram asked Cook some of the questions that were asked by community members on Tuesday but went unanswered:
Why did police initially release a statement that the officer’s arm was stuck when video shows it wasn’t?
Cook said police never said the officer’s arm was stuck. The initial news release does not use that language.
The Star-Telegram reviewed a news conference that Cook conducted at the scene on Sept. 1. In it, Cook said: “His left hand and arm was inside the window as it’s being rolled up. He’s giving them loud, verbal commands to not do that, to stop, at which point the vehicle goes into motion.”
Several media reports have also said that the officer fell off Terry’s vehicle. Cook clarified and said the officer jumped off and then fell. Asked why the officer didn’t jump off in the first place, Cook said detectives on both sides of the investigation have also asked that question.
Terrance Harmon, the 24-year-old passenger who was with Terry during the shooting, was in the audience Tuesday and his attorney, Lee Merritt, asked why he hasn’t been questioned by police yet.
Cook said Thursday that Harmon was detained at the scene for three hours. He was interviewed for 14 minutes by homicide detectives about what happened before and during the shooting. After the interview, Harmon asked to be dropped off at a nearby QT so he could be picked up, Cook said. Cook said officers offered to drop Harmon off somewhere else and let him use a phone.
During the Tuesday meeting, Harmon said he was dropped off at the QT after being detained for six hours and was told to find his own way home.
Cook also said the officer who killed Terry was questioned on Sept. 1 but has not agreed to provide any more statements to criminal investigators. “He has been compelled to provide a statement to administrative investigators,” Cook said.
What is the police procedure when someone drives off?
The procedure, Cook said, is case by case. The officer is expected to “evaluate a situation and make the best decision based on his or her training, policy and experience.”
The Star-Telegram received a copy of the 17-page use-of-force policy. It says in part, “Police personnel may only use deadly force when they reasonably believe it is necessary to protect themselves or another person from immediate danger of death or serious bodily injury. Deadly force is only authorized in making an apprehension, preventing immediate escape of an arrestee, or against a fleeing felon or other offender when the officer reasonably believes that the suspect poses an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or others.”
Justification for deadly force is limited to the facts “reasonably apparent to the officer at the time the officer decides to use the force,” the policy says.
The policy also addresses moving vehicles, saying, “Officers will not discharge a firearm at or from a moving vehicle except when the suspect is using deadly force against the officer or others by means other than the vehicle or when all other reasonable means of defense have failed. Officers will not place themselves in a position in front of an oncoming vehicle where deadly force is a likely outcome.”
Why did police release information about the marijuana and gun that was found in the back of Terry’s vehicle?
Cook said he was responding to media who asked for a list of what police found in the vehicle. Search warrant returns are public record.
Why were the mugshots and names of the “Dallas Nine” released after their arrests for protesting Terry and Botham Jean’s deaths, when the officer has not been identified?
Cook said arrest records are public information and available online. The officer has not been arrested.
Once completed, the department’s administrative investigation will be presented to the police chief and its criminal investigation will go to District Attorney Sharen Wilson.
Simmons, the president of the local NAACP chapter, said Wilson was invited to Tuesday’s meeting, which was attended by another district attorney candidate, but said Wilson had a scheduling conflict.