An expert in use of police force has testified that a former Balch Springs officer used excessive force when he shot and killed a 15-year-old teen.
On April 29, 2017, police officers responded to a house party in Balch Springs, Texas, that was attended by high school aged teens. Officer Roy Oliver said that he was inside the house when he heard gunshots fired outside the residence.
When Oliver got outside, he saw his partner, Officer Tyler Gross, pointing his gun at a car and ordering it to stop. Oliver said that he thought that Gross was in danger and that he saw the car moving toward him. Oliver said that he saw the silhouette of the person in the passenger seat of the vehicle move and that he thought his partner had found the shooter or information about the gunfire.
Officer Oliver opened fire on the car. Oliver would later testify, “(The car) came forward towards my partner and I had to make a decision this car is about to hit my partner, there are threats inside this car… I had no other option but to use lethal force. … A car is a deadly weapon.” Oliver’s partner testified that he did not fear for his life and felt no need to shoot.
Oliver’s shots struck 15-year-old Jordan Edwards in the head and killed him. Jordan had been sitting in the front passenger seat. His two brothers and two friends were also in the vehicle.
Oliver was fired and charged with murder and four counts of aggravated assault by a public servant as a result of the incident.
Expert Witness Testimony
At trial, the prosecution called FBI Supervisory Agent Dr. Philip Hayden to testify as its use of force expert. Hayden has worked as as a Supervisory Special Agent for the FBI since the early 1970s. Hayden is a well-known expert witness who specializes in police use of force, arrest procedures, and tactical training.
Hayden testified that Oliver used excessive force in shooting Edwards. Hayden said, “There’s no way at that point in time when the window was broken that he could say, ‘I looked over and saw that he was in danger…There was no threat to Officer Gross at any time. He says so.”
Hayden also testified that Oliver’s shooting into a moving car could have turned out much worse. Prosecutor Mike Snipes asked Hayden, “It could have not only shot Jordan Edwards, but he could have shot Maximus Edwards, Von Edwards, Maxwell Edwards and the driver of the car, Vidal Allen?” Hayden responded, “I think it’s only by the grace of God that he didn’t get hit.”
Hayden also told jurors that he didn’t see why Oliver felt he had to fire his gun at all. He said, “I believe there’s enough data here to say what happened is Officer Oliver did not have a reasonable belief to use deadly force, and he should not have used deadly force.”
The jury found Oliver guilty of murder. The jury acquitted Oliver of two counts of aggravated assault for shooting into a car filled with teens. The verdict is one of the few that juries have returned against a white police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black victim.