Arlington

Lawyer for officer in fatal Arlington traffic stop talks about what happened on Sept. 1

Terrence Harmon on the fatal shooting of O’Shae Terry

Terrence Harmon shares what he thinks police should learn from the deadly shooting of O’Shae Terry.
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Terrence Harmon shares what he thinks police should learn from the deadly shooting of O’Shae Terry.

The attorney for the officer who fatally shot O’Shae Terry on Sept. 1 said the officer’s concern that afternoon was for the public’s safety.

Randy Moore didn’t identify the officer when he spoke with the Star-Telegram on Friday afternoon. But after the interview at around 5 p.m., the Arlington Police Department released a statement that the criminal investigation into the shooting was completed and they identified the officer as Bau Tran.

“Throughout the criminal investigation, the involved officer did not provide a statement to the investigating criminal detectives, which is allowed by constitutional law,” Arlington police said.

Though Moore said he wanted to wait for all of the investigations to be completed before making a public statement, he said he felt it was time to talk about the officer’s defense.

“First, let me say, I think it is a tragedy anytime someone’s life is lost,” he said. “I don’t lose sight of the fact that a person, no matter what they’re doing that may or may not be something that’s unlawful or wrong, is still someone’s son, brother or dad. Even though I’m defending this officer, I don’t demean the tragedy that has occurred.”

He spoke first about justice, and what that means.

“People are demanding justice in this incident, however, they’re demanding that a certain result occur,” he said. “I.E., ‘We want this officer identified, charged, indicted and convicted of murder.’ That’s not justice.”

“Justice,” Moore said, “is letting the system work. It’s letting the police investigate, letting the district attorney do its job and if the grand jury indicts, letting a jury hear the case and make a decision ... it’s a process.”

Moore also said the notion that the officer shot into a moving vehicle is not correct.

“That is implying that he’s standing at one spot and he’s shooting into it,” Moore said. “What happened was he was on the passenger side. He and the other officer felt that there was the potential of marijuana in the vehicle because they could smell it. Up until then, Mr. Terry had been cooperative, but there’s a video where you can see the point where he starts to get more agitated .... The windows start to roll up, he reaches for the keys, the car doesn’t start the first time and he eventually gets it started. While this is going on, my client made the decision that he would try to get the keys away from the driver and that didn’t happen.”

Dashcam footage from the shooting shows the car’s back lights lit up at 13:55:27. At 13:55:44, the car moved forward and about a second later, the first of at least four shots are fired.

Asked why the officer didn’t let the car drive off since they had Terry’s name, Moore said, “There’s an inherent flaw in that opinion.”

“If you say that (the officers) shouldn’t have done anything and should have let this person drive off, the experts are assuming that he’s going to drive his vehicle in a reasonable manner down the street and comply with all traffic laws and not kill somebody,” Moore said. “You can assume he doesn’t. But if he leaves the scene, what do you think is going to happen? There’s going to be a pursuit and now he’s committed a felony, which is evading. Once he made the decision to drive off, that is when the felony started, right there ... he was shot because the officer felt his life was in danger during the commission of the felony.”

When he talks about experts, Moore is referring to an article in the Star-Telegram on Sept. 26 where a reporter spoke with policing and law experts to get their opinion on how the traffic stop was handled. They questioned why the officer stepped onto the foot rail and what his justification was for using deadly force.

“Based on what we know, why did this officer think (Terry) was a violent threat? (The officer) is the one who put himself on that vehicle,” David Klinger, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Missouri-St. Louis had said last month.

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Moore said the split-second decision to shoot was to stop the driver from fleeing and potentially hurting innocent motorists or bystanders.

“So (Terry) now creates a risk not to just himself and the officer who was on the side of the vehicle and his passenger, but if he goes into a pursuit, now we potentially have an impaired suspect trying to get away from the police and putting innocent people at risk,” Moore said.

Toxicology reports of Terry haven’t yet been released. Moore said that Tran believed Terry might be impaired because the officers smelled marijuana, and in the video, when asked by Officer Julie Herlihy if he had been smoking earlier, Terry says “Yes ma’am.”

“My officer’s concern was that you have a potentially impaired person evading and he made the split-second decision to try to remove the keys to stop that situation from happening,” Moore said. “Going through his mind was the risk toward the other people in the public.”

Moore said Tran believes what he did was reasonable, and that if he had let Terry go, whether he pursued or not, and someone got hurt, the officer would be questioned about why he didn’t stop Terry.

“I haven’t met a police officer yet that took someone’s life and was happy about it,” he said. “They don’t want to use force. They don’t want to have to go through this and the trauma and stress of taking someone’s life. I see it affect them.”

While the criminal investigation into the shooting has been completed, the administrative investigation to determine if Tran followed policies or not is still ongoing.

“The administrative investigators may utilize information yielded from a criminal investigation as well as the Tarrant County Grand Jury findings before concluding the administrative investigation regarding what City and Department policies, if any, were violated and personnel action is taken against any officer involved,” Arlington police said.

Tran remains on restricted duties. Police have said his badge and gun have been removed and he doesn’t have contact with the community.

Body camera footage from the Arlington Police Department shows an officer fatally shooting 24-year-old O'Shae Terry after Terry started driving away during a traffic stop on Sept. 1.

Nichole Manna: 817-390-7684, @NicholeManna
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