Former Balch Springs, Texas, police officer Roy Oliver has been found guilty of murder in the 2017 shooting death of 15-year-old Jordan Edwards. The penalty phase hearing started immediately after the Dallas County jury found the fired cop guilty of murder, but not guilty of manslaughter and aggravated assault. He faces between 5 to 99 years in prison. The jury will also decide his sentence, which will then be confirmed by the judge. It is not clear if Oliver will appeal the verdict. Oliver’s bail was revoked after the conviction pending sentencing and he was taken into the custody of the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office.
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Oliver fired with his rifle into a moving car in which Edwards was a passenger along with two other teens in May 2017, killing Edwards. Oliver had responded to a party that Edwards was attending when shots were fired nearby in an incident that turned out to be unrelated. When the shots were fired, the car Edwards in began to drive away. The driver of the car, Edwards’ stepbrother, said he was afraid after hearing the shots. Edwards, a beloved star high school student, was not armed and there were no weapons in the car. Edwards and the other teens had not been drinking. Oliver said he feared for the life of his partner because he thought the car was going to hit him, but prosecutors said Oliver fired after the car was already past his partner. The other office testified he did not fear for his life.
Oliver, who had been an officer since 2011, was fired in the days after the shooting after the Balch Springs police chief determined he had violated department policies. Balch Springs, a city of about 23,000 people, is located in north Texas, about 20 minutes from Dallas.
Officers responded to the 12300 block of Baron Drive about 11 p.m. Saturday after receiving a 911 call reporting “several underage kids drunk walking around,” Balch Springs Police said in a press release posted Sunday.
Neighbors told KTVT-TV reporter Gabriel Roxas that there had been a large house party attended by “unsupervised teens” in the area near where officers responded.
The officers “arrived to investigate,” and “during the investigation, officers heard gunfire,” police said in the press release. Officer Pedro Gonzalez, the police department’s spokesman, said the officers were inside the house when they heard the gunfire, which caused a “chaotic scene with numerous people running away from the location.” Gonzalez said the officers left the house and saw a car backing toward the street. Gonzalez said an officer, who has not been identified, confronted the vehicle, and made verbal commands for it to stop. Police said the driver ignored the commands to stop and backed into the roadway, before continuing to drive down the main road, away from the officer.
Gonzalez said it was then that a second officer, Roy Oliver, opened fire, shooting multiple times with his rifle, in violation of several departmental policies.
Police initially said in that press release the officer fired on the vehicle when it backed toward officers.
“There was an unknown altercation with a vehicle backing down the street towards the officers in an aggressive manner,” police said in a Sunday press release. “An officer shot at the vehicle striking the front seat passenger.”
But they later said that was not true. Balch Springs Police Chief Jonathan Haber contradicted his and the department’s original account of the incident on Monday, after reviewing body camera footage, the Dallas Morning News reports. Haber said the teen driving the car first backed down the street, but then started driving forward, away from the officers, when the shooting occurred.
Haber said he “unintentionally” gave incorrect information. “In fact, according to the video that I viewed, the vehicle was moving forward as the vehicle approached,” Haber said.
“There were no weapons involved; there was no aggressive behavior; these were not suspects,” attorney Lee Merritt told the New York Times. “The lone motive they had for the murder was that the vehicle was being used as a weapon, and now that is no longer there.”
“They have a dead child, they have the identity of the shooter, and they have no explanation for the shooting. They have more than sufficient probable cause to make an arrest,” Merritt told the Times.
Jordan was shot in the head by Oliver, using a rifle, the Dallas Medical Examiner’s Office said. His death has been ruled a homicide.
“From our policies, which I went by, there were violations. I acted on them,” Balch Springs Police Chief Jonathan Haber said at a press conference announcing Oliver’s firing. “You have my assurances my department will continue to be responsive, transparent and accountable.”
One of Jordan’s brothers, who is 16, was handcuffed after the shooting and held overnight, Merritt said.
“After seeing his brother get shot, Jordan’s older brother was handcuffed and taken by police for no particular reason,” Merritt told NBC News. He was later released without charges and is not a suspect.
The teens were not drinking, Merritt said. He added that the boys’ father was also held at a Dallas County building after he arrived at the police station to ask about his sons. “Balch Springs PD called the Dallas County Sheriff’s office and asked if they could restrain Jordan’s father because of his ‘hostile” behavior,’ he said.
Roy Durwood Oliver II, 37, was hired as a Balch Springs Police Department officer on July 25, 2011, the department said. He was fired on Tuesday after an internal investigation into the shooting was completed. The city’s police chief made the decision to fire Oliver, finding he violated multiple departmental policies. The department said they cannot release the details about the policies that Oliver is accused of violating, because he can still appeal his termination.
Attorney Lee Merritt, who is representing the Edwards family, said on Twitter that Oliver is appealing.
Oliver was suspended in 2013 because of anger issues, NBC News reports.
Oliver “failed to comply” with the city’s code of ethics during an interaction in court with district attorneys. He started yelling profane language while on the stand, according to his personnel file, which was obtained by NBC News. Oliver said he was “angry” because he had to attend court and started using “language that was so vulgar that the assistant DA had a young female intern leave the room.” The report states that the district attorney sent a text message to a colleague in another courtroom saying that the officer was “scaring them” with his behavior. The prosecutors said Oliver “was a scary person to have in our work room.”
The former officer admitted to being “angry and aggressive” and was suspended for 16 hours and ordered to complete anger management and training in court room demeanor and testimony, his file states.
He also received marks in his file after he received a low score for “the extent to which this employee is able to communicate with the public as wells as other employees both verbally and in writing,” in 2013, and in 2014 when he was ordered to “familiarize” himself with “policies and procedures” so there would be less paperwork related to “policy violations.”
Oliver also had an “instance in which he was disrespectful to a civilian on a call” in 2017.
Oliver, of Arlington, served in the Army, according to a now-deleted November
Facebook post about a talk he gave to students at Mesquite High School about his service.
The Department of Defense said Oliver was on active duty from 2004 to 2010. He served two tours in Iraq, from October 2004 to September 2005 and January to November 2009, the Dallas Morning News reports.
Before becoming a peace officer in 2010 in Dalworthington Gardens near Fort Worth, Oliver had been on active duty with the Army since 2004. He served two tours in Iraq, from October 2004 to September 2005 and from January to November 2009. He left the Army and served in the National Guard until 2012, leaving as a sergeant.
His time in the military included a stint from 2008 to 2010 in the Army National Guard as the personal security officer to the 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, based out of Fort Hood, Texas, according to his Linkedin profile.
“Ensure the safety of the Commander at all cost. Conduct site recons before visits and/or meetings. Operations NCO for PSD team,” he wrote on Linkedin.
Oliver attended Tarrant County College in 2002. Before being hired by the Balch Springs Police Department, Olvier was an officer for one year in Dalworthington Gardens, near Fort Worth, the Dallas Morning News reports.
He worked for the city part-time over 12 years, as a dispatcher, in public works and in the department of Public Safety. He received no complaints and had disciplinary issues, the newspaper reports.
According to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, Oliver’s most recent training was a firearms course on April 22 at the Balch Springs Police Department, the newspaper reports. He also completed training classes including Precision Rifle, Less Lethal Electronic Control Device Training and Use of Force.
The officer has been married since 2004 and is a father, according to social media postings.
Jordan Edwards was a freshman at Mesquite High School and loved to play football, his family and friends said. Attorney Lee Merritt released a statement on behalf of the family:
We would like to thank everyone for their kind words, thoughts, prayers and condolences as we mourn the tremendous loss our family and community has suffered. We know that so many of your share in our loss. At this time we ask that you please be respectful of our family and allow us the opportunity and space to grieve. This entire ordeal has been inescapable.
Jordan was a loving child, with a humble and sharing spirit. The bond that he shared with his family, particularly his siblings, was indescribable. Not only have Jordan’s brothers lost their best friend; they witnessed firsthand his violent, senseless, murder. Their young lives will forever be altered. No one, let alone young children, should witness such horrific, explainable, violence. While our family attempts to cope with our loss, we ask that at this time the community please refrain from protests and marches in Jordan’s and our family’s name as we prepare for his funeral. We do not support nor do we condone any violence or threats made against the Balch Springs Police Department or any other law enforcement agencies. What we desire only second to having our beloved Jordan back, is JUSTICE FOR JORDAN.
Jeff Fleener, the head football coach at the school, told the Dallas Morning News he is “crushed and heartbroken” by Jordan’s death, saying the teen was never in trouble and had a GPA over 3.5. Fleener said Jordan played on the freshman football team and he had a “smile that could light up a room.”
“The best thing in the world or the worst thing in the world would happen, and he’d smile and everything would be OK,” Fleener told the newspaper. “You create a checklist of everything you would want in a player, a son, a teammate, a friend and Jordan had all that. He was that kid.”