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Fired police officer saw ‘no other option’ than to shoot at car of teens

Former police officer Roy Oliver testifies Thursday in the Dallas courtroom where he is on trial for fatally shooting an unarmed teenager last year. (Rose Baca/The Dallas Morning News via AP, Pool)

This post has been updated.

DALLAS — A former police officer who killed an unarmed black teenager in Texas last year took the stand Thursday in his murder trial and maintained that he was forced to shoot at the car in which the youth was riding to protect his partner.

“I had no other option than to use lethal force,” Roy Oliver testified. “I almost watched my partner get hit by a car.”

When he realized that he’d killed Jordan Edwards, a freshman who excelled in school and played football, “it was a punch to the gut,” Oliver said. “This was a bad situation that got turned worse by the second.”

The shooting on April 29, 2017 occurred shortly after Oliver and Officer Tyler Gross responded to a 911 call about drunken teenagers at a house party in the Dallas suburb of Balch Springs. The two were inside the house when they heard a volley of gunshots coming from a nearby parking lot and went outside to investigate.

Guests from the party had spilled into the street and were running from the shots — which police later determined to have come from gang members firing into the air. The 15-year-old Edwards and several friends were trying to leave in a Chevrolet Impala driven by his stepbrother, Vidal Allen, but were blocked by the officers’ vehicles. Allen was forced to back up, and as he did, Gross attempted to stop the car.

“I heard, ‘stop the f—ing car,’ but police don’t talk like that, sir, especially not to kids,” Allen said on the stand last week. “I didn’t think it was a police officer.”

During his testimony for the prosecution, Gross said he used his gun to hit a rear side window, shattering it. Oliver, who said he was about 20 feet away at the time, ran up to the car and fired five shots in less than one second. Edwards was struck in the head in the front passenger seat. He died instantly.

Gross testified last week that he had not feared for his own safety in those moments and felt no need to fire his own weapon. “I just wanted them to stop,” he said of the teens.

Oliver was dismissed three days after Edwards’s death, with police officials saying the six-year veteran had violated several department policies. He faces one charge of murder and two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. According to testimony and analysis from the state’s forensic video analyst, all five of his shots were fired after the Impala had passed Gross.

The prosecution called 23 witnesses over five days, including retired FBI agent Philip Hayden, the state’s expert witness on use of force, who said there was no way for Oliver to have properly assessed whether Gross was truly in danger because he was focused on the car.

“He had plenty of time to understand that Officer Gross was not in danger,” Hayden said. “There was no threat to Officer Gross at any time.”

After the shooting, Allen continued driving for about two blocks before stopping and waving down a passing officer responding to the call for shots fired. Body-camera footage shows Oliver and two other Balch Springs officers ordering the teens to get out of the car and walk backward, one by one, with their hands up.

“Please don’t shoot me,” Allen is heard begging, as he tells the police that his brother is dead in the car. He later asks one officer to say a prayer with him for Edwards.

Oliver, a two-tour combat veteran of Iraq, testified Thursday that he had wanted to be a firefighter but didn’t score high enough on the exam. Military service was a way to get extra points, so he enlisted in 2004. He first became an officer with a small police department in neighboring Tarrant County, where he served one year. He then joined the force in Balch Springs in 2011.

During his four hours on the witness stand, Oliver was asked about several incidents from his past, including a 2013 outburst at the Dallas County District Attorney’s office. He said the confrontation, which resulted in a three-day suspension, came after he asked that a case be reset a case so he wouldn’t have to testify after working a 12-hour shift. He lost his temper when the prosecutor said no.

And on Easter Sunday last year, several weeks before shooting Edwards, Oliver was involved in a road rage incident in which he pulled out his gun after being rear-ended. In a statement, Oliver wrote that he was “fearing that the driver was going to maneuver the vehicle” in a way that would strike him. “It could have been a lot worse,” he told a responding officer.

Throughout the trial, his mother and Edwards’ father and stepmother have all been in the audience. The 38-year-old Oliver  has sat stoically in court every day, donning a lapel pin for autism in a nod to his autistic 3-year-old son, Tab.

He is one of four former officers indicted in Dallas County last year in connection with shootings of civilians. One has already been tried and found guilty of murder and aggravated assault for shooting two 16-year-olds.

This case has drawn widespread attention amid discussion and protests nationwide over police shootings of African Americans. Edwards is one of the youngest people killed by law enforcement since 2015, according to data compiled by The Washington Post.

Correction: An earlier version of this post misspelled the name of Roy Oliver’s son. 

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