A Texas police officer was indicted this week in the death of a Black woman who was killed outside her apartment more than a year ago, an incident that drew national attention and left the victim’s family demanding answers.
A Harris County grand jury returned an indictment on Monday charging Baytown Police Officer Juan Delacruz with aggravated assault by a public servant in the death of 44-year-old Pamela Turner.
The decision comes after a yearlong campaign by Turner’s family members and supporters for justice in the case.
“The news that my family received on Monday is the exact reason why we have not stopped calling my mother’s name for the past 16 months,” Turner’s daughter, Chelsea Rubin, said at a virtual press conference Thursday. “I prayed for this very moment numerous times. And I prayed that my mother’s death would not be in vain and that she gets the justice that she deserves.”
Turner was killed on May 13, 2019, as Officer Delacruz tried to arrest her at the Brixton Apartments in Baytown, a city about 30 miles west of Houston. A video clip that partially captured the incident showed what appeared be a verbal confrontation between Turner and the officer, which then escalated into a scuffle.
In the video, posted by local media outlet KHOU, Turner is shown arguing with the officer. “I’m walking. I’m actually walking to my house,” she said, adding, “You’re actually harassing me.” The officer then attempted to subdue her and appeared to discharge a stun gun.
The physical altercation between the two continued until Turner was brought to the ground, at which point she again told Delacruz, “You’re actually harassing me. Why? Why?”
As Delacruz again fired his stun gun, Turner told him, “I’m pregnant.” Moments later, five shots are heard being fired from Delacruz’s gun.
Police said Turner was not pregnant, the Houston Chronicle reported.
Initially police alleged that Turner grabbed Delacruz’s stun gun and used it on him. In May, however, Houston Public Media reported that the model Delacruz used, an X26P, can’t fire a second set of darts, according to documents it obtained from the city.
It’s accurate that the model can’t fire darts a second time, Delacruz’s attorney, Gregory Cagle, told Yahoo News on Thursday. But according to the manufacturer’s website, it can still be used to inflict pain in “contact” mode, providing “added insurance in those close encounters.”
“It’s still in play for a full incapacitation,” Cagle said.
Cagle, a former police officer who now represents law enforcement officers in Texas, claims that during the scuffle, Turner grabbed the stun gun and shocked Delacruz.
“There’s no other reasonable defense a police officer has to the Taser.” According to officers’ training, Cagle said, “if they lose their Taser, the only option they have is a firearm. There [are] no other options. You have to protect yourself from being incapacitated by the Taser. And if you’re incapacitated, then you lose control of your firearm.”
An attorney for Turner’s family, Devon Jacob, said the video showed that Turner, whom he describes as mentally ill, appeared to be trying to get away from Delacruz.
“No action of Ms. Turner’s was to go after the officer,” Jacob said at a press conference on Thursday. “It was always in an effort to get away from him. So he fires these five bullets at this female laying on the ground in front of him. Looking up. Trying to get help. Trying to get away from the person who is causing her harm, and he fires bullets into her.”
Cagle said his client was reacting to a situation that escalated quickly.
On Monday, Baytown Police said that a “series of events unfolded which led to Officer Delacruz discharging his duty weapon, resulting in Ms. Turner’s death.”
An investigation into the shooting was done by the Texas Rangers, police said, which turned the findings over to the district attorney’s office for review. The office then presented those findings to a grand jury.
A spokesperson for the police department told the New York Times on Monday that Delacruz remains employed with the department. Yahoo News has reached out to the Baytown Police Department for comment, but had not heard back by the time of publication.
Benjamin Crump, another attorney representing the Turner family, said the legal team is satisfied with the severity of the charge, which is a first-degree felony that carries five years to life in prison.
“We applaud and thank [District Attorney] Kim Ogg and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office,” Crump said. “And the grand jury for sending a clear message that Black lives matter and Black women’s lives matter too.”
The indictment comes the same week that the family of Breonna Taylor, another Black woman killed by police, reached a $12 million settlement with the city of Louisville, Ky. Taylor’s family and supporters have called on the Kentucky attorney general to file criminal charges in her death.
“I continue to try to use the national spotlight to say, ‘I know we’re talking about Breonna Taylor. I know we’re talking about George Floyd. But do not forget how Pamela Turner was executed,’” Crump said.
Thumbnail credit: Ben Crump Law
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