Two days later, Lucas became one of the rare police officers charged with fatally shooting someone while on duty. The Texas Department of Public Safety said Lucas shot and killed Price after he “resisted in a nonthreatening posture and began walking away,” and charged him with murder.
The events have brought national scrutiny to this small community about 70 miles north of Dallas, now the latest place to grapple with police violence, a sense of loss and more questions than answers about why a member of the community was slain.
The case unfolded in the aftermath of a summer of demonstrations across the United States decrying police violence and calling for racial justice, a protest movement fueled by incidents in Minneapolis, Louisville and Kenosha, Wis., that sparked more criticism of how law enforcement uses force.
According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, Lucas was responding to a disturbance call for a potential fight when he encountered Price. When Lucas tried to detain him, Price resisted, then began walking away, the department said. Lucas used a Taser device and then shot Price, who later died at a hospital.
Price is among at least 751 people fatally shot by police nationwide so far this year, according to a Washington Post database tracking such shootings. Police fatally shoot about 1,000 people each year, most of them armed, The Post’s database has found. An attorney for Price’s family said he was unarmed on Saturday, although investigators have not commented.
The Texas Department of Public Safety said an investigation determined that Lucas’s actions “were not objectively reasonable and, therefore, not justifiable force.” The Texas Rangers charged him with murder and booked him into a local jail.
Robert L. Rogers, an attorney representing Lucas, said Tuesday that the officer was responding to a call about a fight when Price approached him. Rogers defended Lucas’s actions, saying in a statement that Price “did not appear to be an uninvolved, innocent party” and that the officer used his Taser after Price “refused repeated instructions and physically resisted.” Rogers also said Lucas fired his gun because Price “was attempting to take his Taser.”
Price’s friends and relatives, meanwhile, were still mourning Tuesday. April Louis, his older sister, said she last saw him as he was leaving the house with a friend Saturday.
Louis, 47, said she looked after her younger brother growing up when their mother and stepfather worked nights. To her, Price’s smile “was everything,” and when he lived in Dallas, he would FaceTime his sister just to flash a grin.
Price was football-obsessed, relatives said, and as a 5-year-old, he would sign school papers with “Deion Sanders,” the Hall of Fame player for the Dallas Cowboys who was his idol. Price was also mischievous, his sister said, once trying to sneak the family’s chihuahua to school in his backpack.
Family members said Price was picked up by his old classmate, Jason Malone, right before the shooting to accompany him to a repast for Malone’s grandfather, who had recently died.
After leaving, Price wound up at the Kwik Chek gas station in Wolfe City. Witnesses told reporters that Price was trying to break up a fight inside the gas station before Lucas showed up. Lee Merritt, a civil rights attorney representing Price’s family, has reported that Price stepped in when he noticed a man “assaulting a woman” there.
Although Price worked for the city, Merritt said the family does not believe Price and Lucas knew each other or had any prior connection.
The Texas Department of Public Safety statement said that when Lucas arrived, he made contact with Price, “who was reportedly involved in the disturbance,” but did not specify how or what made the officer think that.
Everybody knows everybody in Wolfe City, said Christine Taylor, who owns WC Grocery on Main Street, a block from where Price was shot.
“We knew Jonathan,” Taylor said. “He was a part of the community.”
In an area with mostly farmland and ranches, the city has about 1,400 residents, one blinking stoplight and a handful of shops dotting Main Street. It’s a place where family friendships span generations, people there say.
“For someone in a town this small, for him to not stop and say, ‘Hey, Jonathan, what’s going on here?’ ” Taylor said. “And instead pull out a Taser and shoot him, that was extremely uncalled for.”
Lucas had joined the Wolfe City police in April after spending five months as a jailer with the Hunt County Sheriff’s Office, according to records provided by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement. The Texas Rangers booked him in the Hunt County jail, but on Monday night, the Hunt County Sheriff’s Office asked the Rockwall County Sheriff’s Office to take custody of Lucas, who remained there on Tuesday, Herald Eavenson, the Rockwall sheriff, said in a statement.
Eavenson’s statement did not say why the Hunt County sheriff asked him to be moved. The Hunt County Sheriff’s Office has not responded to questions regarding Lucas’s employment or jail status.
City officials and the police department did not respond to repeated messages seeking comment. The city had said in a statement Sunday that a shooting had occurred the day before and the officer involved “has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation of this matter by the Texas Rangers.”
Officials did not respond to questions about whether Lucas remained on the police force after he was charged, though as of Tuesday, he was still one of three people — including a chief and a sergeant — listed on the city’s website.
According to a notice posted online, a city council session on Thursday is scheduled to discuss the possible dismissal or discipline of a police officer.
Lucas became the 12th police officer charged with murder or manslaughter so far this year for shooting and killing someone while on duty, matching the same number from all of last year, according to data tracked by Philip Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green University.
Although that number is ahead of last year’s pace, it is still unclear whether this increase could lead to different outcomes in court. A Washington Post analysis found that after a White police officer shot and killed a Black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014, invigorating a nationwide protest movement, prosecutors began charging more police officers with shooting people. Those prosecutions still rarely yielded convictions, with officers more likely to walk free due to acquittals or mistrials, mirroring the same outcomes that happened in the years before Ferguson.
In Wolfe City, officials had revealed few details of what investigators found about the shooting beyond the Texas Department of Public Safety’s statement. Merritt, the attorney, said the family feels “totally in the dark” about the investigation, saying he has been unable to get information from any officials.
Residents remain sad, shocked and angry, said Case Roundtree, a friend of Price’s since childhood. They met in the second grade and went on to be roommates at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Tex., where they both played football.
At a news conference outside the Kwik Chek on Tuesday, Price’s mother, Marcella Louis, said she finally got sleep after hearing that Lucas was in custody and hopes he receives life in prison. “Don’t let him out. He took a life. Take his life,” she said. “But the right way.”
Bellware reported from Chicago, and Berman reported from Washington. Julie Tate and Tim Elfrink in Washington contributed to this report.