HOUSTON (AP) — A Texas police officer has been charged with assault for fatally shooting a woman after a struggle over the officer’s stun gun last year, prosecutors announced Monday.
A Harris County grand jury indicted Baytown Officer Juan Delacruz Monday for shooting Pamela Turner in the parking lot of an apartment complex where they both lived in May 2019.
Delacruz was charged with aggravated assault by a public servant, a felony that could lead to a sentence of five years to life in prison if he’s convicted. Prosecutors said he’ll be given the chance to turn himself in.
Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, on Monday called Turner’s death a tragedy.
“It is important to acknowledge that her family and the community are in pain,” said Ogg, who is up for reelection in November.
Greg Cagle, Delacruz’s attorney, said he believed the case against his client was being motivated by politics.
“There’s no facts that would justify a criminal charge against the officer,” he said.
Delacruz shot Turner after a struggle with the 44-year-old Black woman that a bystander captured on video.
The footage showed Delacruz standing over Turner and reaching down to try to grab her arms. Turner then yells, “I’m pregnant.” Moments later, something flashes as she reaches her arm out toward the officer. Suddenly, Delacruz pulls away and fires five gunshots.
Police in the Houston suburb said the Hispanic officer shot Turner during an attempted arrest after she shocked him with his Taser. Court records showed three outstanding misdemeanor warrants against Turner at the time.
Delacruz was defending himself when he shot Turner, Cagle said.
“When someone takes a police officer’s taser and then uses it against them, the officer is left with no options other than deadly force. That’s how the officers are trained,” he said.
Ben Crump, a lawyer for Turner’s family, said last year that she was not pregnant but had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He said Delacruz knew his neighbor suffered from mental illness and shot her from a “safe distance” away.
Devon Jacob, another lawyer for Turner’s family, said “the force that Delacruz used was not objectively reasonable.”
Delacruz returned to work less than two weeks after the shooting, but the department said he’d be on administrative duty while the Texas Rangers and the civil rights division of the Harris County district attorney’s office investigated the shooting.
The charge against Delacruz comes after months of protests over racism and police violence in cities across the country following the death of George Floyd in May. Floyd, who was Black and grew up in Houston, died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes while he was handcuffed on the ground.
Baytown police Lt. Steve Dorris asked in a statement for the community to maintain trust in the legal process and its police as the case proceeds . He did not answer questions about Delacruz’s employment status or the internal affairs investigation into the shooting.
Delacruz, who has been with the Baytown police department since 2008, did not face any disciplinary action after the shooting, Cagle said.
Jacob said the department returning Delacruz to duty was an act of “deliberate indifference.”
Bleiberg reported from Dallas.