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Texas police officer who killed black teen could spend rest of his life in prison

A suburban Dallas police officer was charged with murder after killing 15-year-old Jordan Edwards on April 29. (Video: Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)
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A Texas police officer turned himself in on Friday after he was charged with murder in the shooting death of a 15-year-old.

Roy Durwood Oliver, a patrol officer in the Dallas suburb of Balch Springs since July 2011, was released on $300,000 bail.

While dispatched on complaints about drunk teenagers at a party last weekend, Oliver fired his rifle at a car full of teenagers who were leaving, according to investigators, killing Jordan Edwards.

The police department fired Oliver on Tuesday.

If convicted of the murder charge, he could spend the rest of his life in prison. In a statement released Friday, Jordan’s family said the charge “brings hope that the justice system will bend against the overwhelming weight of our frustration.”

They buried the Mesquite High School freshman on Saturday in a service attended by more than 800 people, including city officials and gospel singer Kirk Franklin.

Because Jordan was black, the shooting has thrust the North Texas town of 25,000 into the ongoing debate about whether police are too quick to use deadly force on blacks and other minorities.

That national backdrop was evident as Jordan’s loved ones eulogized him.

“That’s all I can stands, I can’t stand no more,” Pastor M.L. Dorsey said, mimicking one of the cartoon character Popeye’s lines, according to the Dallas Morning News. Then he recalled other black people who’d been killed by police:

“Philando Castile,” he said. “I can’t stand no more! Alton Sterling. I can’t stand no more!”

Earlier in the week, activists decried an announcement by federal authorities that they would not prosecute two white Louisiana police officers in the fatal shooting of Sterling.

The decision in Sterling’s death, which occurred July 2016, shows how difficult it can be to bring charges against officers in such cases. But activists say they are worried that the Department of Justice under the new Trump administration may be especially less aggressive in investigating and pursuing such cases of holding police accountable. Last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that such investigations and edicts aimed at reforming problematic police departments “can reduce morale of the police officers.”

In the age of Trump, activists too have changed their approach to such shootings. In recent years, shootings like the one in Texas have often caused mass protests under the “Black Lives Matter” banner. But activists involved with the movement say they are beginning to shift their focus more toward policy and organizing locally and politically rather than simply on protests.

Turning away from street protests, Black Lives Matter tries a new tactic in the age of Trump

The Texas teen is the youngest of the 339 people shot and killed by police so far in 2017, according to a Washington Post database tracking such shootings. At least 10 people shot and killed by police this year were under 18.

On April 29, Oliver and other officers were dispatched to a call about intoxicated teens at a house party. Police say that as officers dispersed the party, they heard gunshots outside. Then when officers went to investigate, they saw a car backing out of a parking spot. As officers approached the vehicle, police say it began to drive away. Oliver opened fire, striking Jordan, who was riding in the passenger seat.

Jordan was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The Dallas County Medical Examiners Office said he was killed by a rifle wound to the head. His family planned to bury him on Saturday.

Jordan Edwards, a 15-year-old black high school student described by family and friends as a stand-out student and athlete, was laid to rest to rest at a private funeral service in Mesquite, Tex. on Saturday, May 6. Police officer Roy Oliver has been charged of shooting and killing Edwards on April 29. (Video: Reuters)

Oliver was initially placed on administrative leave before he was fired just three days into the investigation. Parallel criminal and internal investigations are ongoing.

“The warrant was issued due to evidence that suggested Mr. Oliver intended to cause serious bodily injury and commit an act clearly dangerous to human life that caused the death of an individual,” Melinda Urbina, a public information officer with the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office, said in a statement.

“The investigation into the death of Jordan Edwards will continue and does not conclude with the arrest of Roy Oliver,” the statement added.

Police have killed nearly 200 people who were in moving vehicles since 2015, including 15-year-old Jordan Edwards

Oliver, the second officer at the scene that night, “violated several department polices,” Balch Springs police spokesman Pedro Gonzalez said, without elaborating.

“After reviewing the findings, I have made the decision to terminate Roy Oliver’s employment with the Balch Springs Police Department,” Police Chief Jonathan Haber told reporters Tuesday evening. “My department will continue to be responsive, transparent and accountable.”

Police initially said that the vehicle reversed “aggressively” at the approaching officers, but they later retracted that statement and said that body camera video showed that the vehicle was driving away from officers when Oliver opened fire.

In the family’s statement, released Friday after a warrant was issued for Oliver’s arrest, attorney Lee Merritt called the charges “appropriate.”

“Although this does not take away the excruciating pain caused by the loss of a son, brother, and friend, the announcement that the appropriate warrant has been issued for the arrest of Roy Oliver on the charge of murder has brought a bit of reprieve in a time of intense [mourning],” the statement said.

As the officer’s murder case moves forward, Oliver has the right to appeal his termination. His attorney, Cindy Stormer, called for patience in a statement provided to the Dallas Morning News.

Lindsey Bever contributed to this report. This post has been updated.

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