Genevive Dawes was shot and killed in January when police officer Christopher Hess fired into her moving vehicle
A grand jury has indicted a Dallas police officer on a charge of aggravated assault for firing into a moving car and killing a 21-year-old woman.
Christopher Hess, a 10-year veteran of the department, has been placed on administrative leave pending an internal affairs investigation into the death of Genevive Dawes, Dallas police said in a statement on Friday.
The woman’s mother, Mary Dawes, has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city, police department and two officers, alleging excessive force against the mother of two.
Shortly before 5am on 18 January, Hess, 39, and a fellow officer who was not indicted, Jason Kimpel, responded to a suspicious person call at an address about two miles east of downtown Dallas. They found Dawes and Virgilio Rosales, her partner, sleeping in a Dodge SUV she had purchased a month earlier, according to the lawsuit.
The vehicle had been reported stolen, though Dawes did not know this and thought she had purchased it legitimately, the court filing states. It adds that when the officers approached the SUV with flashlights, Dawes was startled and tried to reverse the car. A police vehicle drove into her path, causing a minor collision.
The lawsuit states: “Dawes still unaware of what was going on or who was blocking her path, pulled her vehicle forward so she could have a clear path to back up. As Dawes backed up her vehicle at a very slow rate of speed, defendants Hess and Kimpel fired at least 13 shots through the passenger side window, striking Dawes four times in the neck, her right tricep, left arm, upper left chest and right forearm.
“Dawes’s right earlobe was also partially amputated. Dawes was transported to Baylor Hospital where she later died as a result of her injuries.”
Police said Rosales was arrested for unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon. The lawsuit contends that no weapon was visible to police at the time of the incident. Body camera footage has not been publicly released.
A few hours after the shooting, Thomas Castro, a Dallas police spokesman, told reporters Dawes and Rosales ignored “loud verbal commands” then “started the stolen vehicle and reversed a short distance striking a marked police vehicle.
“The suspect then drove forward striking a wooden lattice fence. When the fence did not give way the suspect reversed the vehicle a second time. At this point two uniformed officers discharged their firearms striking the suspect.”
Daryl Washington, an attorney for the Dawes family, said the case was “egregious”. The car was moving at less than 5mph and not accelerating and the evidence shows the officers were not in immediate danger, he said.
“We are happy that there may be some justice in this case because the death of Genevive was definitely preventable,” he said, adding that although the charge against Officer Hess is not murder, it carries a prison sentence of between five and 99 years.
Recent, high-profile verdicts in police shootings across the country have shown that juries are highly reluctant to convict officers of murder or manslaughter. Washington said he was hopeful the count of aggravated assault by a public servant – a first-degree felony – would result in a conviction.
“That’s the way I look at it,” he said. “In the past you’ve seen where those have been harder charges to get, so the fact that the time is going to be the same, it makes it a little easier perhaps to prove the elements.”
A 2015 Guardian investigation found that about four people a month were killed when police fired into moving vehicles. A similar number were killed in 2016.
Federal advice, and the policy of many departments, is that officers should not shoot at moving vehicles because they are hard targets to hit accurately and a car crash may result. Dallas police are banned from doing so “unless it is necessary to prevent imminent death or serious bodily injury to the officer or another person”.
Another Dallas-area resident was killed in April by an officer who used a rifle to fire into a moving vehicle. Jordan Edwards was a 15-year-old unarmed passenger in a car leaving a party in the city of Balch Springs when he was shot dead by Roy Oliver.
Oliver was sacked by the Balch Springs department and charged with murder after police changed their story from initially saying the vehicle aggressively backed towards officers to stating that it was moving away.
A grand jury has not yet heard that case. But this week, Oliver was indicted on counts of aggravated assault for an apparent road rage incident that took place two weeks before the teenager’s death, in which he is alleged to have pulled his gun on a woman who drove into his truck while he was off duty.
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