I have tried to delay a response to this incident because I desperately want to see the video for myself and my final exams won’t wait for anyone. People are asking me my opinion and numerous questions about this incident so I will at least say my initial thoughts about the situation. If it seems like I am all over the place in this narrative, it is because I have been asked questions all over the spectrum. This response is long as usual, but these topics aren’t easy and I am passionate about explaining these situations to the public so that relationships can improve. I don’t have ANY information outside of the basic points that have been released to the media. This view or opinion could change if new information is given.
It appears that this officer was completely wrong in this incident. There are a limited number of situations where I can find it reasonable for an officer to shoot into a vehicle full of people, driving away from the officer.
Chief’s Initial Statements
The chief initially stated that the car was moving towards the officers in an aggressive manner. Many people take issue with that statement because it sounds like a “catch all” statement made to protect the officer. I don’t believe the chief made that statement maliciously and I will explain why. Numerous officer involved shootings occur in which an officer fired at a car that was moving in the officer’s direction. People try to run over officers more often than you would imagine. Sometimes, the officers have time to dive out of the way and other times they do not. Officers have been maimed and killed because they didn’t shoot soon enough or because they shot at the vehicle and were still run over by the car anyway. When the incident initially happened, the public and city leaders demanded answers immediately. Balch Springs is not a big city and I don’t know that chief’s leadership history or law enforcement experience. I don’t know if he has ever been part of a command staff in a larger city. This is not an insult to the city of Balch Springs or their department, but policing there is completely different than it is in a larger city. In bigger cities, the command staff is accustomed to dealing with major incidents, politics and media pressure. Even though big city officials make mistakes as well, they are still generally better equipped to handle an event such as this one.
Either the chief was told by someone that the vehicle was moving towards the officer or the chief had a Freudian slip moment when he said that the car moved towards the officer aggressively. I say that because when an officer shoots at a vehicle, that is typically the reason that he does so. I can’t remember the young man’s name, but there was a recent case in Chicago where the officers fired at a vehicle that was fleeing and they were completely wrong for doing so. I am not saying that officers never do it incorrectly or maliciously. I am saying that the typical reason that an officer shoots at a vehicle is because it is advancing at the officer and every law enforcement officer knows that.
When a media statement is made after a tragic incident, keep in mind that the chief was nowhere near the event. His job is to speak on behalf of the department. When the chief makes his statement, the detectives are still gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses and other officers at the scene. Typically, the officer who pulled the trigger doesn’t have to go into detail regarding his actions until his representation gets there. He may have to give a general statement, but doesn’t have to say too much about it. Regardless of how anyone feels about the officer, it is still a traumatic event for him as well. When a chief makes a statement, he is receiving stories from media relations, a brief overview from a detective or two and God knows who else. Departments have to be careful with what they say because as soon as any facts are incorrect, the department is accused of misconduct and defense attorneys will jump on the mistake/lie and use that information in the criminal and civil suit. When a chief or media relations officer is at the podium being hammered with questions, keep in mind that the person speaking wasn’t there and is attempting to convey second hand information, from an evolving situation with perfection. Mistakes happen. It is difficult to give a general statement to a deserving public without ruining the investigation or appearing to be dishonest.
I said all that to say that his initial statement sounded genuine when he erroneously said that the vehicle was moving towards the officer that killed Jordan. Another reason I believe this misstatement was genuine is because he came back and corrected the statement. I’m assuming this, but it seems like the chief made his initial statement before he even saw the video. That isn’t uncommon. You have to download the video and there are always IT issues when dealing with computers. The people who download the videos have to be called in to work and chain of custody has to be maintained as the video is part of the evidence. The vehicle that recorded the incident was possibly still wrapped in police tape at the crime scene and no one may have seen it yet. It sounds like he hadn’t seen the video prior to his initial statement. To the chief’s defense, as soon as he saw the video and saw for himself that the video showed different actions than were reported to him by God knows who, he stood up and said so. He could have very easily said that the investigation is ongoing and not have said anything. He could have found someone else to throw under the bus and separated himself from it completely, but he didn’t do that. He stated that he wanted a fair investigation and he immediately passed the case to the sheriff’s department. For him to come out and say that the video didn’t meet the standards of his department, that was huge. People complain that officers are trying to hide information and that has been proven to be true in many instances. I think the pressure to prevent civil unrest forces departments to speak about incidents sooner than they probably should, but I appreciate departments for making better efforts to keep the public informed about these incidents. When the officer killed the man in North Carolina, the chief was correct in his assessment of the situation, but he came off defensive. I am sure he was tired of all the complaining and false accusations made by everyone, but these are the types of incidents in which a chief earns his money. Although the officer was completely correct in handling the situation, I believe that the chief could have verbally handled the situation better, which may have avoided the behavior of the citizens who wanted fairness in the investigation. It is difficult to make these statements and answer unfiltered questions from the media/public without error. Per family Attorney Lee Merritt, the chief asked if he could attend the funeral. The family has the right to say no without judgment, but it still shows that the effort is being made to acknowledge the pain endured by this family. I don’t recall hearing about any other chief making such attempts to help with the healing process. All the pressure from the public has made departments more accountable for their actions and that is positive.
Why Did He Have A Rifle?
I have no problem with him answering a call with a rifle on his shoulder. Contrary to what civilians know, law enforcement officers have been receiving endless threats of ambushes and other hate crimes against officers. We live in a different world today. Some officers are wearing rifle vests and helmets to answer regular calls for service. You will never be allowed to tell an officer what tools to bring to unknown situations. I am aware of how the sight of a rifle makes people feel, but honestly it is irrelevant. Immediate officer safety trumps everything and it always should. They were answering a call about a large group of people. You may not believe this, but teen parties aren’t as innocent as they were once upon a time. Everyone has a gun in this country and in Texas, everyone has two guns. When teens are trying to impress their friends, they drink, smoke weed and I guarantee you someone had a gun, although Jordan and his friends did not. When the teens saw the officers arrive, they all scattered, which is a typical response when kids see officers. Allegedly, there were reports of gunshots as the officers were trying to disperse the party. Gunshots put everyone on edge. In this climate of crimes targeted at officers, I have no doubt that their adrenaline and attention increased as they were trying to assess the situation.
I still want to see the video, but in the statement released by the department, all the actions made by the vehicle, with the teenagers, were consistent with them trying to escape the area and not as if the vehicle posed a threat to the officers. They could have been fleeing because they saw the police or they could have been fleeing because they were also scared of the gunfire. The teens allegedly heard profane language directed at them as they were fleeing the location. I don’t doubt that the officers fixated on their vehicle and began screaming for them to stop, using profane language. Although, officers should not use that language, considering the situation, it makes sense to me. When officers answer calls and gunfire occurs, they generally only have a general direction from where the shots might have originated. When officers fixate in that general direction, they are typically looking for a vehicle in that general area. Considering that it was a teen party, my professional guess is that many of the teens were running to get away from the police, which is typical of teen parties. There are always thugs who disrupt kids from having safe fun. During the chaos, some thug probably fired a few rounds in the air, just to impress their friends and to further indulge in the commotion. When officers respond to gunfire calls, it is typically coming from a vehicle full of people and that vehicle is typically fleeing the scene at a high rate of speed. It appears that the officer saw the vehicle that Joran and his friends were in, leaving the scene, with a car full of people and his experience led him to attempt to investigate them. That makes sense.
The actions of the boys also matched the behavior of a boy trying to escape gunfire and get his friends to safety. Here lies the impossibility of being an officer. Everyday activities also match suspicious behavior. When the suspicion is dispelled, complaints quickly follow.
It was dark outside, there are kids running everywhere and I am assuming that the officer legitimately focused his attention on the vehicle, full of people, leaving the scene. As an officer, it makes sense for them to attempt to locate the gunshots and I probably would have attempted to stop the vehicle, just as they did. My gun would most definitely be pointed at the vehicle and I would be barking commands for them to stop.
I would love to see the video so that I could assess all of this on my own. As an officer, I would be processing a million things at once. Do I see a weapon? How many people are in the car? Are the windows down? Are the windows tinted? Is this car trying to run me over? If I had to shoot, are there children in the background preventing me from shooting (as officers are responsible for missing and hitting an innocent person)? Where are the hands of the people in the vehicle? Where are my cover officers? What type of car is it? What is the license plate so that I can tell the dispatcher that I might have a possible suspect vehicle? Have I called for more assistance? What direction might this vehicle try to go so I can tell my assistance where to look? Are there any more gunshots? Is someone behind me trying to ambush me? Am I standing in the street in danger of being run over by a suspect or kids simply trying to flee the area? Are these kids behind me pointing phones at me and recording or are they the actual suspect holding a gun? Do I need an ambulance for a victim that has already been shot or was that someone showing off shooting in the air? Did I hear shots from a pistol or rifle? Did some white supremacist / sovereign citizen call the police on these black kids having a party, so that he can generate a police response and is he sitting in a tree behind me preparing to shoot all the officers and these children? This is about half of what an officer would be processing and officers have to do so in about a second! If you have never been in this position, you can’t understand it.
There isn’t one officer reading this, who works in a well-populated jurisdiction, that has not pointed their gun at numerous fleeing vehicles as they drove away. There isn’t an officer reading this that hasn’t pointed their weapon at a vehicle full of people, ordering them to stop. Sometimes they stop and give your cover elements time to assist you and sometimes they don’t. If they don’t stop, officers know that they generally can’t shoot at a fleeing vehicle. The officer must get into their vehicle and pursue the potential suspect. When the vehicle flees, the justification of deadly force almost always ceases.
When a vehicle disregards an order to stop and continues to drive away, an officer can’t recklessly shoot inside of a vehicle. The only thing that could have justified this situation is MAYBE if Jordan, being a teenager, was trying to “go live” on social media and record the excitement of the situation. That is extremely common among teens and you would be surprised at their thought process in deciding when to record at inappropriate times. If he had his phone in his hand, while hanging out of the window, it is possible that the officer may have seen that and thought he saw a gun. This is a hypothetical situation and I give hypotheticals only to explain potential thought processes of the officers involved. There was no mention of this occurring and probably didn’t happen. This hypothetical is a stretch and it shows how difficult it is to justify shooting at a vehicle driving away from an officer.
The Other Officers’ Actions
I was asked what I thought about the fact that the family wants the other officers at the scene disciplined for handling Jordan’s brother and the other kids aggressively as they were forced to watch their loved one die next to them. Unless they did something completely ridiculous, I don’t believe the other officers will be charged with anything. They allegedly just heard gunshots, they did not fire their weapons because they didn’t see a threat, but they were on high alert because they heard gunshots. If an officer hears their coworker scream shots fired or if they saw him shoot into that vehicle, the logical assumption is that something happened and we must use extreme caution with this vehicle. The assisting officers do not have time to process why the officer fired his weapon. Numerous officers have been flagged down to assist citizens only to find out that the person needs assistance because they were involved in a shooting or were somehow related to another violent incident close by. I don’t know how far the kids drove away from the scene before stopping or if the officers spotted the “suspect vehicle” leaving the scene. The kids may have stopped on their own because they knew that their brother/friend had been shot. Regardless of how the vehicle stopped, the fact remains that an officer shot at someone and the assisting officers had every right to use extreme caution while trying to put the other occupants in handcuffs until the situation could be sorted out. There is no doubt that this situation was a traumatic situation for the brother and his friends. I don’t doubt that the kids were angry, scared, resistive and trying to explain what happened to their brother/ friend, when the officers snatched them from the vehicle and put them into custody. As far as the other officers were concerned, their coworker legitimately shot him, and they had to handcuff the other boys for their own safety. I understand their frustrations and it is their attorneys job to advocate for them in every aspect of this case, but I don’t see those officers being disciplined because a reasonable officer would have done the same thing considering these circumstances. His family will be angry at everyone because of the trauma that they have endured. I also don’t know what the officers were accused of doing, but it sounds like those other kids were treated like potential threats until they were secured and the vehicle was checked. That could not have been a good experience for those kids, but it is more than likely justified in my opinion.
Per the family attorney, the kids weren’t cited for drinking and had not been drinking, there was no weapon in the vehicle and that officer has a lot of explaining to do. When an officer is in close quarters with a suspect, there is more leeway for an officer to justify firing a weapon. In close quarters, you can’t see the person’s hands, the person has not been searched, the situation is more difficult to contain and remain safe at the same time. The vehicle wasn’t close to the officer and the driver was creating more space between themselves and the officer as it drove away. I can’t imagine what threatening action he saw to justify his actions. Although officers dislike it when a potential suspect escapes, officers cannot fire at vehicles recklessly because they are frustrated that a vehicle refused to stop for them. If the vehicle was driving away from the officer, as the chief stated, there is no excuse for him to fire at a vehicle full of people.
The first thing citizens say is that they want the officer arrested immediately when things like this happen. I don’t agree with that mentality, although I understand why citizens feel that way. Officers are human and make mistakes. Officers have been trained, but there is no such thing as training that can prepare an officer to handle every situation perfectly. Law enforcement is one of the few jobs, where human error can destroy their own lives and the family of the victim. As a black woman in America, I am very aware of how race affects everything in this world. I get into these discussions with white people all the time. They aren’t racist, but they don’t see life as I experience it and it is difficult to understand white privilege when you are the recipient of it. It is a possibility that race was a factor in this incident, but like most incidents, unless there is absolute proof, it isn’t fair to label this officer as racist. All black people have experienced things that they knew were a result of racism, but without proof, there is nothing that can be done about it. That is part of Black America’s frustration, but it is reality. All Black Americans have experienced so much racism, that it is almost guaranteed that we have all assumed that something happened to us that was racist, but had nothing to do with racism. It is human nature and this why we all struggle to co-exist.
Officers have a higher chance of killing someone or being killed because of the nature of the job. Officers encounter the worst people in society and their minds are shaped by that reality. Sometimes officers respond incorrectly to situations, destroying families, even though there was no malicious intent. It doesn’t soothe the family of the victim at all, but it is still a fact.
There was a video of a little boy learning to play soccer circulating around social media. He was playing goalie and his friend kicked the ball towards him and I believe the ball hit the goalie in the face. The goalie responded to the kick almost 2 whole seconds after the little boy kicked the ball. We all laughed and circulated it because it was cute. By the time the boy processed what happened, he was too late. That happens in law enforcement too. I am not saying that this officer simply reacted late because I don’t know his heart and I can’t see the evidence. During stressful encounters, tunnel vision is a real problem that officers try not to have as they process information. The officer may not have even known that the car was full of people because he was focused on whatever he thought was threatening. It doesn’t make anyone feel any better, but it still happens. It is one of my biggest fears as an officer to legitimately think that I am doing the right thing, be completely wrong and ruin someone’s family forever. Officers are still human. Therefore, I don’t believe in immediately arresting officers unless there is proof of malicious or extremely reckless behavior. The chances of an officer making a mistake of this magnitude is higher than a typical citizen and I don’t think it is too much to make sure the findings are correct before subjecting an officer to arrest. People always respond by saying that citizens aren’t afforded that right and that is true. Citizens also aren’t forced to insert themselves into life or death scenarios every day with the expectation to solve the issues perfectly. There is no training that will produce 100% perfection. I am not saying that he should not be held accountable for his actions. I just think that it is fair to delay arrest until the investigation confirms that the officer is wrong. The defense attorneys will always make pleas to the public and demand immediate arrest, as they should. We haven’t seen the video and it is rare that video captures an officer acting in a manner that requires immediate arrest (Walter Scott). When there is evidence of those types of actions, I think it is makes sense to arrest the officer immediately. Regardless of how a person may feel about law enforcement, our society needs officers. As an officer, no one’s problem is worth solving if the situation could end with me making a mistake and going to jail. The nation would be totally chaotic if officers felt that way and avoided all conflicts. I understand that Jordan is deceased and that is the greatest tragedy of this whole incident, but whether the officer is arrested today or next week, his life has been ruined forever also.
I don’t agree with those people who continue to tell me that Attorney Lee Merritt hates law enforcement or that he hates white people. There are extremist on both sides of this issue and I don’t believe that he is one of them. I don’t know him personally, but I respect Lee Merritt as I listen intently to the words he uses to advocate for his client. He has declared war on “bad policing.” We should all declare war on bad policing. I haven’t heard him make any statements that were racially charged at law enforcement. I haven’t heard him make generalized statements that help continue some of the erroneous narratives that circulate in the black community. I truly believe that he wants justice to be served and he isn’t against law enforcement in general. I haven’t heard him accuse this officer of being a racist, but he still made it clear that he is concerned about the treatment of blacks by law enforcement. The world needs people like him to keep a system that has historically favored law enforcement in check. I would assume that Lee Merritt is confident in his ability to do his job and that he isn’t offended by people questioning his purpose. If you dislike him, make sure that you have a legitimate reason to dislike him and don’t say that you dislike him because he is fighting for an issue that does not affect you. I don’t agree with everything that he says, but that is okay. I won’t entertain personal attacks against him or anyone else with whom you disagree.
The system is far from perfect, but it is the best we have at this point. More officers are being held accountable now than ever before and we must continue to demand accountability from everyone involved and monitor this situation closely. The officer will probably appeal his termination, which is a standard thing to do whenever an officer is fired. Appealing the termination as well as not appealing the termination can be used for or against him throughout this process. Everything that happens at this point is strategic. Don’t be distracted by the smoke screen of legal maneuvering, but focus on the actual fire.
Chelsea Whitaker is a Dallas Area Police Officer and member of the 2005 Baylor Bear Basketball Team that won the National Championship. Her desire is to give others #perspective in order to #bridgethegap. She is a frequent contributor to Law Officer.