DALLAS (AP) — Dallas police will seek a grand jury indictment against an officer who was fired after shooting a mentally ill man in a disputed incident caught on tape, police said Thursday.
Police Chief David Brown apologized for the actions of Officer Cardan Spencer, who had been on administrative leave following the Oct. 14 shooting. Brown said at a news conference that Spencer had been fired and was charged with felony aggravated assault, but police later issued a statement saying a judge directed detectives to take the case to a grand jury.
"Officers are not above the law," Brown said at the news conference. "We as a police department are not going to look the other way." Spencer's attorney, Robert Lee Rogers, said he expects a grand jury will find that his client's actions were justified.
"My client believed he acted the way he was trained to act by the Dallas Police Department," said Rogers, adding that Spencer will file an appeal to try and get his job back. A police reports says that Spencer shot Bobby Gerald Bennett last week after the 52-year-old man lunged at him and another officer with a knife. But video captured by a neighbor's surveillance camera shows Bennett didn't appear to move toward the officers before he was shot and crumpled to the ground.
Spencer is listed in the police report as the officer who filed it. But Rogers said it was the other officer who wrote in the report that Bennett lunged at Spencer. Brown said two people who had witnessed the shooting from a nearby parked vehicle later came forward and corroborated what could be seen on the video.
He said investigators interviewed Bennett in his hospital room Friday and he told them he was suicidal at the time and wanted to be shot. Bennett remains hospitalized in stable condition. He initially was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon on a public servant, but Brown announced last week that the charge would be dropped.
Ron Pinkston, president of the Dallas Police Association, said Spencer believes he was "betrayed by a department that he was trying to serve." He said no complaint had ever been filed against Spencer in his nearly seven years with the force, adding that he worked some of the toughest neighborhoods in the city.
Officer Christopher Watson, who was with Spencer, is the subject of an internal police investigation, Brown said. Watson's explanation of the encounter with Bennett changed after he watched the video, Brown said.
Brown added that the shooting has prompted him to consider equipping all officers with body cameras. Bennett's mother, Joyce Jackson, said in an interview last week that her son has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and that he was off his medication at the time of the shooting. Jackson said she was arguing with Bennett when she called police. She was told that police would send officers who had been trained in dealing with the mentally ill.
When the officers arrived, Bennett was sitting on a chair in the street holding a knife outside his mother's southeast Dallas home. According to the report, Bennett yelled at them, "You all are gonna need more officers than this!" The surveillance video, which does not include audio, does not show that the incident "escalated, which led an officer to fire his weapon upon the individual," as police spokesman Warren Mitchell said in a statement a few hours after the shooting.
Pinkston, the police union president, said a shooting investigation normally takes several months, but in Spencer's case was done in nine days "because of the media and political pressure associated with it."
"Spencer has a right to due process in a fair and impartial investigation," Pinkston said. "Because he's a police officer that right was taken away." Jackson's attorney, George Milner, said Brown had no choice but to fire Spencer in light of the video. He also questioned whether there was a "deficiency in training" that prompted the shooting and said there may have been negligence on the part of the Police Department.
"What happened 10 days ago should never have happened in the first place," he said. Pinkston said Dallas officers are trained in interacting with the mentally ill but said that can only go so far. "You train as well as you can, but all situations are different," he said.