Ex-cop on trial for murder says lethal force was his only option
The actions of others could have prevented ex-Balch Springs police officer Roy Oliver from shooting and killing teenager Jordan Edwards last year, the former officer testified on Thursday.
Nine seconds elapsed from the time Oliver grabbed his rifle on April 29, 2017, to when he fired five shots into a car occupied by Edwards, 15, and several others, according Oliver.
If any of the teenagers who saw Oliver in those nine seconds had told him that Edwards’ vehicle wasn’t holding the suspects of a shooting that just happened, Edwards would be alive, Oliver said.
Had the driver of Edwards’ car — his then 16-year-old brother — listened to Officer Tyler Gross’ commands to stop the car, Edwards would still be alive, Oliver said.
But none of that happened, and Oliver shot into the passenger side of the car. One of his bullets hit Edwards in the back of his head.
Oliver testified in his own defense in the sixth day of his murder trial in Dallas.
At the time of the shooting, Edwards was leaving a party with others in Balch Springs when shots were fired at a nearby nursing home. The shots, by suspected gang members, were unrelated to the party.
Oliver and Gross, who had been sent to break up the large party, thought there was an active shooter and ran outside. The car in which Edwards was a front seat passenger was situated between the officers and the nursing home.
Gross got to the vehicle first and Oliver said he followed to provide backup.
He testified that he “thought Gross had located the shooter or shooters, or at least had some sort of information leading towards it” when he became focused on the Impala — which was occupied by Edwards, his brothers and two friends.
Gross pulled out his pistol and pointed it toward the car, while he shouted commands for the driver to stop. The driver didn’t. At some point, Gross hit the car with the butt of his pistol and broke a glass window.
Oliver said, “I heard some type of pop, possible gunshot from inside the car ... but that was after the thing was coming at my partner.”
No shots were fired from within the car, and no weapons were found inside.
“(The car) came forward towards my partner and I had to make a decision this car is about to hit my partner, there’s threats inside this car,” Oliver said. “I had no other option but to use lethal force. ... A car is a deadly weapon.”
Gross testified last week that he never felt in fear for his life, and didn’t think the car was going to hit him.
Prosecutor Michael Snipes questioned Oliver beginning around 2 p.m. Thursday.
Was Oliver trying to seriously injure or kill the driver of the Impala?
“I was trying to stop the threat,” Oliver said.
Snipes then asked about the Balch Springs policy against shooting into moving vehicles. Oliver admitted there’s a risk of shooting into a moving vehicle because you can kill an innocent bystander.
“Isn’t that exactly what happened here?” Snipes asked Oliver. “You killed an innocent bystander in your decision to kill Vidal Allen (the driver)?”
“The decision to stop the threat of the driver, correct,” Oliver said.
“You admit that you killed an innocent bystander?”
“He was a perceived threat at that time,” Oliver said.
Then Snipes displayed on a large projector a picture of Edwards after he was shot.
“Did you shoot this young man in the back of his head?” Snipes asked.
“That’s what I later learned, yes,” Oliver responded.
“Did you do that?” Snipes asked again, pointing at the picture.
“Yes, sir,” Oliver said.
‘Actions were reasonable’
Capt. Jay Coons of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office testified Thursday afternoon that Oliver’s actions were reasonable based on the information that Oliver knew and perceived at the time of the shooting.
Unlike other experts who have testified, Coons said Oliver’s demeanor when he grabbed the rifle was “very nonchalant.”
He said there was agitation and fear in Gross’ voice and actions when he tried to stop the car and used harsh language, which alerted Oliver that he needed backup.
“He doesn’t know what his partner sees, he can hear something is going wrong up there,” Coons said.
When he examined Oliver’s point of view of the car’s proximity to Gross, Coons said it is reasonable to believe that Oliver thought the car would hit Gross.
“(The car) is in a position where it can strike (Gross),” Coons said. “What it’s not is in a position to pass him.”
“I guess Jordan Edwards is just a casualty of the war on crime?” Snipes asked during cross-examination.
“Not at all, and that’s a terrible thing to insinuate,” Coons said. He later said he’s never testified against a police officer in a shooting case.
Concluding his testimony, Coons said that the case is “beyond terrible” and one of the saddest he’s worked, but that when Oliver made the decision to shoot, it was reasonable.
Jurors will hear closing statements on Monday morning.