Jordan was just the latest victim of a practice the Department of Justice has routinely described as dangerous and unnecessary. Photograph: Lumigraphics/Getty Images
Chief says killing of Jordan Edwards also violated department’s ‘core values’ and changes official account, saying teens were driving away at time of shooting. The officer involved in the shooting has been fired since the publication of this article.
When a Dallas-area police officer fired shots into a moving car on Saturday night, killing 15-year-old Jordan Edwards, the officer did so in direct violation of federal guidance and widespread police department best practices.
According to the officer’s police chief, he did so in violation of the department’s “core values” as well.
Jordan was the latest victim of a practice the Department of Justice has routinely described as dangerous and unnecessary. A 2015 Guardian investigation found that about four people a month were killed in similar incidents where police fired into moving vehicles. Figures from the Guardian’s Counted database, which recorded how many people were killed by US police in 2015 and 2016, suggests that that number killed by police gunfire after officers shot into vehicles remained unchanged in 2016, at 48.
Jordan was in the passenger seat of a car authorities initially said was being driven backwards in an “aggressive manner” when a Balch Springs, Texas, officer opened fire. On Monday, police chief Jonathan Haber changed the official account, citing body camera footage that showed the vehicle was driving away when the officer fired his rifle at Edwards.
Officers were responding to reports of “drunken teenagers” and heard gunshots when they arrived on the scene.
Lee Merritt, an attorney representing Jordan’s family, said the teens in the car were not the ones police had been called about. He said Edwards and the teens he was traveling with were trying to leave a party, concerned that it might be getting violent, when police fired at their car.
The officer, who has not been identified, has been placed on routine administrative leave.
Typically in shootings like this, police say that the the vehicle itself is being used as a deadly weapon, justifying the use of deadly force. Experts, however, say that shooting at moving vehicles is ill-advised for a number of reasons. For one, it is extremely difficult to hit a moving target, and officers waste time aiming and firing that could be spent getting out of the way.
Secondly, shooting at a car is no guarantee that it will stop. In many cases, for example the shooting of Samuel DuBose in Cincinnati in 2015, shooting someone behind the wheel of a car leads to the vehicle driving unguided until it hits something, potentially endangering bystanders.
Most large police departments in the country, including those of New York, Los Angeles, Houston and Denver, prohibit officers from shooting into cars. In fact, had the officers responding to the scene where Jordan was killed been from nearby Dallas, they probably would have been trained to respond differently. The Dallas police rulebook prohibits officers from firing at vehicles “unless it is necessary to prevent imminent death or serious bodily injury to the officer or another person”, and advises officers to get out of the way, rather than fire, whenever possible.
But many smaller departments, such as Balch Springs, whose rulebook was not immediately available for review, do not have such restrictions.
Below are some other notable shootings since the 2015 Guardian report where police defied federal guidance, fired into vehicles, and left someone dead:
Jeremy Mardis, 6, Marksville, Louisiana
3 November, 2015 Officers shot and killed Jeremy Mardis, a 6 year old boy with autism, while trying to apprehend his father, Christopher Few. Immediately after Few’s vehicle stopped during a chase, two deputy marshals got out of their patrol cars and began firing into the vehicle, hitting Mardis four times and Few twice. The incident was captured on body cameras.
The two deputy marshals who fired their weapons, Derrick Stafford and Norris Greenhouse Jr, were both indicted on murder charges and arrested. Stafford was convicted and sentenced to 40 years in prison in March. Greenhouse’s trial is scheduled to begin in June.
Doll Pierre-Louis, 24, Miami Gardens, Florida
26 May, 2016 Doll Pierre-Louis was trying to flee a traffic stop for speeding when the arresting officer, who was on a motorbike, jumped onto the hood of Pierre-Louis’s vehicle as he tried to turn around. Florida Highway Trooper Misael Diaz then shot through the windshield of the car before jumping off as Pierre-Louis drove away. A short distance away, Pierre-Louis who was travelling with his girlfriend, struck another vehicle and finally stopped. “If he felt that his life was threatened and the vehicle’s going to run you over, you know, that’s assault with a deadly weapon,” said patrol spokesman Joe Sanchez.
The case remains under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Eric Harris, 22, New Orleans, Louisiana
8 February, 2016 Eric Harris was shot by officers when he put his car in reverse at the end of a car chase with Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies. The chase started in Jefferson Parish, but ended in the city of New Orleans a neighboring jurisdiction. Harris crashed his car into a pole, and when his reverse lights came on, the deputies who were about 20 feet behind the vehicle, said they feared for their lives and fired. New Orleans deputy police chief Arlinda Westbrook said at a public forum in March 2016 that “if that was our police officer, because it’s so contrary to our policy, they would have been arrested on the spot,” in reference to the deputies’ actions. A gun was recovered from the vehicle.
A regional civil rights task force headed by the FBI declared in March that no charges would be filed against the officer.
Jacqueline Salyers, 32, Tacoma, Washington
28 January, 2016 Police were trying to apprehend Jacqueline Salyers’ boyfriend Kenneth Wright, who was wanted on felony drug and gun charges. When officers approached the vehicle, Wright, who was in the passenger seat, put his hands up, but Salyers, in the driver seat, put the car in gear. Fearing for his life officer Scott Campbell fired, killing her. Wright later said Salyers was frightened by the officer’s screaming and panicked. Salyers was pregnant when she died. Toxicology reports showed she had a potentially lethal dose of methamphetamine in her system at the time as well. A gun was recovered from the vehicle.
The Pierce County prosecutor ruled the shooting justified in May 2016.
Kenneth Kennedy, Kingman, Arizona
29 October, 2016 Kenneth Kennedy attempted to flee during a traffic stop and bumped two police cruisers during his attempt, authorities said. Deputy Mark Giralde fired at the windshield, killing Kennedy after he started driving at the deputy, according to police. Kingman’s wife was also in the car at the time but was unharmed.
Bullhead City police are still investigating the incident.
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