The family of Jordan Edwards, the 15-year-old high-school student who was fatally shot last month, is suing the city of Balch Springs, Texas, its local police department, and the man held responsible for the shooting, former Balch Springs police officer Roy Oliver. The lawsuit, filed Friday at Federal District Court in Dallas, alleges that Oliver used excessive and deadly force on the job, and that the department failed to properly train the officer and ignored his aggressive behavior.
The incident in question occurred on April 29, when Oliver and his fellow officers responded to a report of underage drinking at a house party in the Dallas suburb of Balch Springs. Footage from the officers’ body cams showed Oliver firing his rifle into a vehicle as it was leaving the scene. At the time, Edwards was in the front passenger seat of the car and suffered a gunshot wound to the head. He was eventually taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
In a statement on Tuesday, the Balch Springs Police Department announced that Oliver had been fired for violating departmental policies. On Friday, the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office issued a warrant for Oliver’s arrest, charging him with murder. At the time, the Edwards family thanked those involved for making “commendable strides toward justice,” but hinted at the “long road ahead.”
Friday’s lawsuit indeed marks the beginning of what portends to be a lengthy judicial process. While video footage was enough to convince Balch Springs Police Chief Jonathan Haber that the shooting was improper, there is still the issue of the department’s role in the case. In an initial statement the day after the shooting, Haber reported that Oliver shot at Edwards’s car as it was “aggressively” reversing toward him and his fellow officers. A day later, Haber revealed that he “misspoke,” and that the vehicle was in fact driving away from the officers. At the time, Haber accepted responsibility for the error.
According to the lawsuit, Haber and his department “failed to provide adequate training to Oliver on appropriate methods and techniques to control situations similar to” last month’s shooting. This insufficient training “resulted in the death of Edwards,” the lawsuit reads. The lawsuit also alleges that the department ignored Oliver’s “pattern of escalating encounters with the public.”
In 2013, the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office filed a complaint against Oliver for inappropriate conduct while serving as a witness in a drunk-driving case. According to personnel records obtained by the Associated Press, the prosecutor’s office had difficulty getting Oliver to attend the trial. During his testimony, Oliver reportedly used language so vulgar that an assistant district attorney asked an intern to leave the room. Former Balch Springs Police Chief Ed Morris reported that an email from one of the prosecutors described Oliver as a “scary person to have in our workroom.”
As a result of the incident, Oliver was suspended for 16 hours and ordered to take anger-management courses, as well as training courses on courtroom demeanor and testimony. Oliver fulfilled his suspension by forfeiting two sick days. According to the lawsuit, Balch Springs officials were aware of Oliver’s “erratic behavior,” but “did nothing to protect Edwards and others from the harm they suffered.”
Despite his behavior as a witness, Oliver did not receive any disciplinary action for his performance on the job during his six years with the Balch Springs Police Department. He was once reprimanded for being “disrespectful to a civilian on a call,” but an evaluation later described his behavior as an “isolated incident.” While off duty on April 16, 2017, Oliver was also accused of pulling out his handgun after he was reportedly rear-ended in an automobile accident. As a dispatcher, however, Oliver received an award for “meritorious conduct.”
There are many reasons why the police handling of the Edwards case has attracted criticism. Not only was the car in which Edwards was riding reportedly free from alcohol, but there seems to be no evidence that Edwards and his fellow passengers were drinking. In addition, none of the passengers in the car were found armed. While most police experts agree that officers with probable cause can order citizens to get out of their vehicles, the Supreme Court has ruled that officers cannot fire on fleeing suspects who do not pose a serious threat. According to the lawsuit, Edwards, his brothers, and his friends “fear[ed] for their lives” as they fled the scene.
Even with evidence on their side, an Edwards family attorney, Jasmine Crockett, said the family is “still nervous and expecting to be disappointed.” While it has become increasingly common in the U.S. to prosecute police offers involved in a shooting, convictions of murder or manslaughter are less likely. “That’s what we expect from our system time and time again,” Crockett told the AP. The Edwards family is seeking monetary damages, though the lawsuit does not specify an amount. As of this writing, the date of a hearing has yet to be announced.