Terrence Harmon on the fatal shooting of O’Shae Terry
The only time Terrence Harmon smiled on Wednesday evening was when he talked about his best friend.
His smile grew and he started to speak a little louder, a little more confidently.
Harmon was in the passenger seat of O’Shae Terry’s SUV when Terry was pulled over by an Arlington police officer on Sept. 1. That officer said she smelled marijuana and would need to search the vehicle. After she went back to her cruiser, a second officer — who has not been identified — came and stood by Harmon’s window.
About 10 minutes into the stop, Terry started to roll up the windows. The officer on the passenger side told him several times to stop, and the car slowly moved forward. About a second later, as the car was moving away, the officer shot into it four times as he stood on the foot rail, killing Terry.
Terry died on the scene.
On Wednesday, Harmon sat down with reporters for the first time since the shooting.
He spoke softly until he was asked about his friendship with Terry.
The 24-year-old men met in middle school in Fort Worth. They played football together at O.D. Wyatt High School.
“I left him back in JV when I went to varsity,” Harmon said, laughing.
Terry played strong safety. He was also a skilled basketball player.
Harmon said Terry liked to act goofy and to make his friends laugh.
“He was goofy, but humble,” Harmon said. “He was fun to be around. When we’re around him, most of the time we just laugh.”
From a young teenager on, Terry enjoyed working on cars. He was naturally skilled at figuring out engines, Harmon said. Terry sometimes bought older cars, fixed them up and resold them.
They were actually heading to pick up a car the day they were pulled over, Harmon said.
Before picking up the car, they stopped at a Sonic in Arlington and bought some burgers. As they drove away from the restaurant, Terry was pulled over because the temporary tag on his SUV was expired, police said.
“I was just thinking it was a regular, routine stop,” Harmon said. “Everything was normal.”
He said Terry’s attitude was normal that day — he was his goofy self.
Shots were fired
When the shooting stopped, Harmon had to remove Terry’s foot from the gas pedal and stop the SUV himself, he said. The vehicle swerved left. The officer stood on the foot rail as shots were fired. The vehicle hit a curb and went right.
In the body camera footage released by the police department, Harmon can be heard yelling at Terry to stop the vehicle. But he said on Wednesday that Terry was already dead.
The shooting, Harmon said, happened fast. He didn’t know if he was going to be hit.
“Where his gun was, he could have easily hit me,” Harmon said.
After the stop, police said they found a gun and some drugs in a bag in the back of the SUV. Harmon said he didn’t know about those items, and Arlington police said they don’t plan to charge Harmon with a crime.
Experts on policing and use of force interviewed by the Star-Telegram said the items found in the bag shouldn’t matter in the criminal investigation, since the officer didn’t know about them prior to the incident, and the video doesn’t show Terry or Harmon reaching back.
Attorney Lee Merritt said Tuesday that Terry “did some things wrong that day.”
“He said he had marijuana in the car, marijuana was later found in the car,” Merritt said. “He had an expired tag. He pulled off from a stop that he shouldn’t have pulled off from. We expect law enforcement officers to come into contact with people who are breaking the law, and this was a situation where O’Shae made several mistakes. None of those mistakes should have been fatal.”
In the month-and-a-half since the shooting, Harmon said he’s felt the side effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“Things I’m used to doing, I can’t do anymore,” he said.
He sleeps just a few hours a night because he’s often haunted by dreams of the shooting.
“I see nightmares,” he said, adding that he sees Terry’s face and the face of the officer who killed Terry.
“It comes from not only exposure to this incident, but failing to have a community gather around him,” Merritt said. “And failing to have a judicial system that validates that experience. I’m glad that he’s been able to get in contact with people like the Arlington NAACP and the community who has shown some concern because he has been able to be exposed to counseling and other resources within the community.”
Merritt said Harmon has also been connected with a family who lost a son in a police shooting.
“We were discussing how routine this all becomes, ‘Oh you saw someone get killed in front of you,’” Merritt said. “That’s not normal. Especially when it’s by the state. By people who have been hired to protect and serve the community that you live in.”
Harmon said he still feels angry about what happened.
“It should have been a pursuit,” he said. “You shouldn’t have to kill anybody if your life is not in danger.”