A 15-year-old boy was fatally shot by police Saturday night on a residential street in the Dallas suburb of Balch Springs.
By Sunday, two versions of what prompted the shooting had reached the public.
Balch Springs police chief Jonathan Haber told reporters at a news conference Sunday afternoon that officers dispatched to the 12300 block of Baron Drive in Balch Springs after receiving a 911 call at 11 p.m. reporting several drunken teens walking the neighborhood.
Once officers arrived, they heard gunshots, Haber said. In what police described as an “unknown altercation,” a vehicle then began “backing down the street toward the officers in an aggressive manner.” One officer shot at the vehicle, Haber said, striking the front seat passenger.
Family later identified the passenger as high school freshman Jordan Edwards.
Edwards, 15, was transported to a hospital where he died.
The officer, whose name has not been released, was placed on administrative duty. The Dallas County Sheriff’s Department and the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office are conducting their own investigations into the shooting, and the Balch Springs police department will oversee an internal investigation.
“On behalf of the entire Balch Springs Police Department and the city of Balch Springs we express our sincere condolences with the family,” Haber said during the news conference. “I have reached out and personally met and spoken with the parents and expressed my condolences as well.”
Lee Merritt, a civil rights attorney representing Edwards’ family, has challenged the police account of Saturday night’s fatal shooting, claiming the five teens inside the car were not driving aggressively, but backing out of a parking space.
“Another family ripped apart by police brutality,” he wrote on Twitter Sunday. “There was absolutely no justification for this murder. We demand justice!”
In a phone interview with The Washington Post Sunday night, Merritt said Edwards, his 16-year-old brother and three other teen boys were at a party on Baron Drive when they learned that police were on the way.
They went to the car parked outside and saw flashlights and heard gunshots, Merritt said. As they climbed into the car, the teens apparently heard somebody yell profanities. Then they were being fired upon.
They fled for about a block, Merritt said, before they noticed there was smoke coming from Edwards’ head. The driver of the car, the boy’s older brother, stopped the car and they flagged down an approaching police cruiser for help.
Several of the teens played on the football team together. Edwards, a freshman, was going through spring training for next year’s season.
“They’re never going to be the same,” Merritt said. “These kids are never going to be the same.”
Merritt claimed three bullets were fired into the car. They came through the driver’s side window, he said.
Edwards and the four teens with him had not been drinking, according to Merritt. They were not cited for underage drinking and have not been charged with any crimes, he said.
According to reporting from the NBC affiliate in Dallas, all Balch Springs squad cars have dash cameras and officers wear body cameras. Merritt said he was told there is body camera footage of the incident and that it has been turned over to the sheriff’s office.
Requests for comment from The Washington Post were not immediately answered by Balch Springs police, including what policies the department has on shooting into moving vehicles.
Many major law enforcement agencies, federal officials and policing experts advise against shooting into moving vehicles, according to a 2015 investigation by the Guardian. The risk of harming an innocent party is too great, the Guardian reported, and the shots don’t often stop the vehicle.
In 2016, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department – the largest sheriff’s department in America – wrote a new policy essentially banning officers from firing into a moving vehicle unless they feel threatened by something else, like a weapon.
It states: “Firearms shall not be discharged at a stationary or moving vehicle, the occupants of a vehicle, or the tires of a vehicle unless a person in the vehicle is imminently threatening the Department member or another person present with deadly force by means other than the moving vehicle.”
Haber, the police chief, told the CBS affiliate in Dallas that the department had been receiving threats online.
“Over the last several hours, we’ve received threats through social media towards officers . . . also towards our community,” said Chief Haber. “We want to encourage everyone to please just be patient.”
It has been nearly a year since a wave of officer-involved shootings was followed by ambush style attacks on law enforcement officers around the country, most notably in Dallas, where last July five officers were fatally shot and nine other officers injured by a sniper during a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest.
Merritt said that the Balch Springs Police Department, by reputation, is a small force and that the neighborhood where the shooting took place is relatively quiet and not known for gun violence.
Merritt said the tight-knit Edwards family is “devastated.”
“They seem to be walking around in shock,” he said. “I imagine they’re going to sleep tonight hoping to wake up to this all being a dream.”