DALLAS (AP) — A lawyer for the family of a woman who was shot dead by a suburban Houston police officer last year during a struggle over a stun gun said Thursday that the police department’s leadership must enact “specific reforms” or step down.
The call came three days after Baytown Officer Juan Delacruz was charged with aggravated assault by a public servant for shooting Pamela Turner in the parking lot of an apartment complex where they lived in May 2019.
Turner’s family has said the 44-year-old Black woman was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and that Delacruz knew of his neighbor’s illness. The Hispanic officer’s lawyer dismissed the charges against him as baseless.
Turner’s family has expressed frustration that Delacruz has remained an officer and that it took more than a year to bring charges in the case. Attorney Devon Jacob said during a video news conference Thursday that public trust in the Baytown Police Department hangs on whether it makes changes. He said the city is at a “crossroads.”
“They need to go,” Jacob said of Baytown’s top police commanders. “They need to go unless they step up and say our department did wrong and our department will do right going forward and commit to change.”
Jacob did not specify what changes Turner’s family is seeking. Her daughter, Chelsie Rubin, said she wants to see some good come out of her mother’s death.
“I prayed that my mother’s death would not be in vain and she gets the justice that she deserves,” Rubin said.
The results of an internal affairs investigation into the shooting will be turned over to Chief Keith Dougherty “in the very near future,” said Lt. Steve Dorris, police spokesman. A Mayor’s Council on Community Engagement is examining department policies, especially regarding mental health response and the use of deadly force, Dorris said.
“We care greatly about our community and all of our citizens and Chief Dougherty remains committed to finding the best ways to train and equip our officers to ensure we are able to provide our community with the absolute best service we can with the highest degrees of professionalism, integrity and compassion,” Dorris said in a statement.
Delacruz shot Turner after a struggle that a bystander captured on video. The footage shows 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.
Autopsies showed Turned was not pregnant, according to police and lawyers for her family. A Baytown police spokesman has said Delacruz shot her during an attempted arrest after she shocked him with his Taser.
Court records showed three outstanding misdemeanor warrants against Turner at the time, but Jacob said Monday that Delacruz was not responding to a call for the police. The lawyer said Delacruz also worked as security for the apartment complex and suggested he confronted his neighbor because Turner was begin evicted.
Jacob said the officer’s use of force was unreasonable and a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Turner’s family plans to sue now that a criminal case has been bough, he said.
Greg Cagle, Delacruz’s lawyer, on Monday said that the officer was defending himself and acted within his training and the law.
“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,” he said.
Delacruz remains an employee of the Baytown Police Department, but Dorris said he’s “not working the streets and his police powers have been suspended.” ___
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