The use of deadly force by police officers on Black suspects was a hot button topic in 2020. The issue will again come to the fore in 2021 when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals looks again at the case of the conviction of a former North Texas police officer who killed an unarmed Black teenager.
Roy Oliver, who is white, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for the killing of Jordan Edwards, 15, in Balch Springs. Edwards was the passenger in a car that was moving away from police officers. The Texas Tribune described the case as a landmark ruling because police officers are seldom convicted of murder for shootings that occur when they are on duty.
State prison records show Oliver has been in prison for more than two years. He is not eligible for parole until 2026.
He bases his appeal on a claim the statements he made to internal affairs investigators were incorrectly used against him in his criminal case. The claim has been made before.
The trial judge and an intermediate appeals court ruled there was no evidence that the prosecution used statements the police officer was required to give to his police department’s internal affairs department against him in the trial.
The trial court and court of appeals said Oliver failed to show that any of the evidence brought against him at trial was tainted by protected statements he made during the internal inquiry, so the claims were rejected.
Balch Springs police initially said the car with unarmed teens inside was moving aggressively toward officers after the party when Oliver fired at it. The police chief saw the video the next day. He admitted the car was moving away from police. The department fired Oliver and charged him with the killing of Edwards. During the officer’s trial, footage from the cameras attached to the chests of Oliver and his partner was played to the jury.
The Tribune noted it’s rare for the state’s highest criminal court to review non-death penalty convictions. In 2019, the court only agreed to review these petitions 5% of the time. The judges reversed the lower court’s decision in two-thirds of instances.
The U.S. Supreme Court has a longstanding rule that the police statements required for internal departmental investigations can’t be used against an officer as self-incriminating evidence in a criminal trial. Evidence uncovered because of the statement is inadmissible. The rule is intended to maintain a constitutional right to refuse to answer questions in a criminal investigation even if the officer’s department requires answers as a condition of employment.
Fatal killings by police sparked unrest in many cities last year after George Floyd, an African American man, died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes in Minneapolis. The death of Floyd led to calls for widespread reforms in policing across the country.
In Texas in 2019, Amber Guyger, a former Dallas police officer who shot her unarmed black neighbor dead after stepping into his apartment which she said she mistook for her own, was convicted of murder and sentenced to 10 years in state prison.
Appeals are a very specialized area of criminal law.