One historic step toward justice

September 10, 2018

Left: Jordan Edwards, 15, killed by White police officer as he left a house party. Right: Jordan Edwards’ parents Odell and Charmaine Edwards. LM OTERO (RIGHT PHOTO)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dallas — The Dallas Examiner, ROBYN H. JIMENEZ and DENISHA McKNIGHT | 9/6/2018, 10:36 a.m.

“Jordan was just one of those kids who you knew was just going to go on and do great things,” Jenna Williams, Jordan Edward’s English teacher testified. “He was just going to do amazing things. You could tell.”

Tearful testimony after tearful testimony from family members, teachers and his coach painted Jordan as a good son, brother and student with a 3.5 GPA, who was brilliant, cheerful and “radiated joy.” Nicknamed “Smiley,” it was Jordan’s smile that he would be remembered by most because he smiled almost all of the time, even when dealing with life’s difficulties, according to the testimonies.

But to many across Dallas/Fort Worth and around the nation, the 15-year-old will be remembered as another innocent, unarmed Black male killed by a White officer. Many feared that – just like the many similar cases before this one – the officer would not be convicted of killing a Black person.

Yet, there was one difference between the trial of the officer who shot and killed Jordan, and the other trials around the country of officers who have killed unarmed Black males; the Dallas County officer was convicted of murder. It was the first conviction of murder for the fatal shooting of an unarmed Black person since 1973.

“This is a historic moment. I knew we had a good case. I knew we could prove it beyond a reasonable doubt,” District Attorney Faith Johnson said. “Personally, as far as I’m concerned, we won. We got a guilty verdict for murder, not manslaughter. There [are] so many families throughout this country that have been just where the Edwards family has been and they didn’t get their ‘guilty.’ They got ‘not guilty.’ Tennessee, New York, Florida – all over this country. Year after year after year, police officers have been on trial and the return of the verdict has been a not guilty, and finally, Texas gets on the map.”

Johnson, Dallas first Black female DA, explained that the win was not for her, but for the community and the district attorney’s office’s commitment to justice and accountability. She also wanted to remind the community that the indictment was not against law enforcement.

“This is just a commitment to making certain we get the bad apples off the street. So many of our officers, men and women, do a fantastic job. We appreciate them. I thank them for what they do,” she said. “We just got a handful that don’t do the right thing, just like we got a handful in most professions that don’t do the right thing. I want to send the message that if you break the law, then we want to be able to pursue you. And we want to be able, on the other end, to support those officers who go out there [and] risk their lives day in and day out for me and you, and make certain that we’re safe and we’re protected.”

The trial of Roy Oliver

The trial began Aug. 16 and was presided over by Judge Brandon Birmingham. The trial was viewed via the Law and Crime Trial Network, an online source for live trial cases throughout the United States. This is what it revealed:

On April 29, 2017, Jordan went to a house party with his older brothers, Vidal Allen and Kevon Edwards. At some point, the police were called and partygoers began exiting the house. Police body camera footage shows officers in the house; Officer Tyler Gross laughed at the teens going through the mud and former officer Roy Oliver bragging that he stood in the way and made them go through the mud. Soon after, the officers began talking to the host when numerous loud gunshots were heard outside. The officers ran out of the house to find screaming teens scrambling for cover and running to their cars, attempting to leave. One officer heard on the bodycam footage stated that the gunfire came from the nursing home across the field.

During the trial, Gross testified that he stopped one vehicle and attempted to stop another vehicle – the vehicle that Jordan was a passenger was leaving slowly in reverse. Gross attempted to stop the vehicle but, Vidal – who was driving – said he didn’t realize it was a police officer who yelled out, “Stop that f*ing car.”

“Police don’t talk like that, sir,” Vidal said during his testimony. “The profanity with the police, sir. Police don’t say that, not to no kids, sir.”

Vidal also testified that he couldn’t see that it was an officer making the commands because he had a bright light shining directly at him with what he felt was the light on the top of an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. He said that he was scared and continued to flee for safety.

Shortly afterward, Oliver fired five rounds from his AR-15 into the vehicle and shot Jordan in the back of his head.

During the trial, Oliver said Jordan was a “perceived threat” and he fired into the vehicle to stop it from hitting his partner. However, the prosecution revealed that Oliver shot into the vehicles seconds after the vehicle passed them, so the youth could not be a threat since the vehicle was driving away.

Also, Gross admitted that he never felt his life or well-being was in danger and did not feel the need to shoot. Although, during questioning by the defense attorneys, he seemed to suggest that his partner may have thought Vidal was trying to hit him with his vehicle.

But the district attorney’s office had a solid case against Oliver, backed by strong witnesses, revealing footage from police body camera, and damaging information on Oliver’s aggressive behavior in the past. First Assistant District Attorney Mike Snipes presented an attention-grabbing closing argument.

The trial concluded Aug. 28 with the jury unanimously finding him guilty of murder.

The sentencing phase

The sentencing trial was held the following day. Johnson presented the closing arguments, adding her concerns to the jury that they would not be brave enough to give him the long-term sentence she said he deserved.

“I had concerns, not so much about the case but about the jury,” Johnson recalled. “And, even when you look at the sentence that they rendered in the case, obviously you see that there was a compromise. You probably had some people who wanted to give a whole lot more, and you probably had some people who wanted to give a whole lot less, and they met somewhere in the middle. Because, I bet you, somebody got back there and said, ‘Hey, hell is going to freeze over before I change my verdict.’

The only reason why we know that is because they sent out a note saying that ‘Hey, what happens if we don’t come back with a sentencing? We can’t reach a unanimous verdict.’ So, of course we sent a note back saying, ‘You have all the law and the evidence. Continue deliberating.’ But that was 9 o’clock when they came back, finally, with the 15 years.”

Johnson said she would have preferred Oliver’s sentence be much longer.

“We just have to respect the verdict. Yes, we would’ve loved much more. Not for us,” she said. “We would’ve loved it for the Edwards family. That’s what we would have loved it to be, but it’s 15 years. And, he’s in jail right now. He won’t be able to get an appeal bond while his case is on appeal. So, he’s going to be in jail, in prison. And, to me, 15 years is like a life sentence to a police officer. Are you kidding? People would love to beat up on a police officer, especially if they learned that he killed a 15-year-old kid. Everyday he’s going to be faced with somebody wanting to do something to him. The whole threat of living in that prison is just going to be an awful thought to me. That’s going to be a bad experience. One week in jail is going to be an experience for Roy Oliver.”

Still, she said she and her office had to be strong and seek justice for Jordan and his family, and she considered the conviction to be a win for justice.

“I feel great, and this is what I feel great about,” she explained. “I feel great that the community feels good that finally they think there’s a glimmering light for us, and they are the ones who benefit from ‘Wow! Maybe there is justice after all.’ That’s what I feel good about.”

Johnson also stated that Oliver may appeal, but because his sentence was over 10 years, he can’t bond out while he awaits another trial. What’s more, if his sentence isn’t overturned, he’ll have to do no less than 7.5 years in prison.

“Under our law, a murder is a 3g offense – aggravated robbery, aggravated sexual assault, [and] all those kind of cases are 3g offenses. So, under the law he is eligible for parole once he serves half of that time. But, I bet your dime to a penny because this family is going to fight any parole coming up,” Johnson insisted. “I don’t see him getting parole the first, second, third or fifth time once he comes up for parole. I would not be surprised if he served majority of that time. That’s what I think is going to happen.”

Attorney Daryl Washington, who represented the Edwards family, confirmed, “We’ll all be there to make sure he serves his 15 years.”

Attorney Jasmine Crockett, who also represented the Edwards family, stated during a news conference that Oliver’s chances of getting an early release after serving 50 percent of his time would be “slim to none.”

“3g offense, historically, because of the heinous nature of them, they end up doing 80 percent of the time. A lot of it depends on what he does in custody and what he doesn’t do. So, it all depends on him,” she said.

Washington also thanked the DA’s office for their hard work and dedication.

“On behalf of the family, we would first of all thank the Dallas District Attorney’s office. They have done an excellent … tremendous job prosecuting this case. The Dallas DA’s office has done something that has not been done in this country. They had the courage to take on the bad police officers,” he said. “Obviously, Charmaine and Odell – we all would’ve liked to have seen a greater sentence but we’re going to respect the verdict that the jury handed down, only because we know that there are parents all over this country who would have loved to see the person who took the life of their kid spend the next 15 years in prison.”

Attorney Jasmine Crockett, also on the family’s team of lawyers, offered a word of encouragement regarding the sentencing and call to action.

“The one thing I want to be clear about is; all eyes are on Dallas,” she said. “We know what this country has gone through time and time again, where we felt like we’ve been the victims of injustice.

“But regardless of how you feel about his verdict, what I need you all to recognize where we’ve come from. We’ve come from a place where we couldn’t even get an arrest. We’ve come from a place where we couldn’t get an indictment. Then we came to a place where we couldn’t get a conviction. So, right now in Dallas, we know that we have a conviction and maybe we still have a bit further to go, but what I want to encourage you to do is pay attention, make sure you’re speaking up. We had little kids testifying against an officer. You have to do your part.

“And when it comes time to elect your officials, don’t elect them because it’s the popular thing to do; you need to elect the people that is looking out for you. That is the only way that we are going to make progress. And you need to hold every single elected official accountable. So, don’t look at this as a loss because it was 15. Look at where we’ve come from and let’s build on it.”

Jordan’s father, Odell Edwards did not speak during the news conference, but Jordan’s mother, Odell’s wife Charmaine Edwards, had a few words to share.

“We’re thankful for the verdict we have received,” she said. “Even though we wanted more years, this is a start for us and we can get some kind of closure. So, we’re thankful.”