Cop sentenced to 15 years in killing Black teen does not prove body cameras are working
13 hours after the jury heard closing arguments, they returned with a guilty verdict for the murderer of Jordan Edwards, former Dallas Police Department officer Roy Oliver. From the very start of this case, film played a large role in ascertaining the guilt of Oliver and the innocence of Edwards, as reported by the Texas Tribune.
Mere days after Oliver shot Edwards through the back windshield of his car, the officer and the department which employed him found themselves at odds, a rarity in officer involved shootings. Oliver had claimed the vehicle Edwards drove was moving towards his partner, but video showed the car moving away from the two officers.
As a result, the Dallas Police Department had to walk back a statement which defended Oliver and his actions. Shortly after that retraction, Oliver was fired and charged with murder.
The way that body camera footage helped to put Oliver away is what reformers who pushed more of the equipment hoped for, but unfortunately, in too many cases, they simply don’t do much to prove guilt or innocence.
In fact, as Rachel Levinson-Waldman, senior counsel and body camera expert at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law says, “[Oliver’s] stands out as one of the kinds of cases that I think people thought were going to be quite common and have actually been much less common than what advocates expected…What the officer has to do to be held accountable legally has to be so outside the norm.”
According to a 2016 study by George Mason University, only about 8% of prosecutors who used body camera evidence actually used it against police officers, while the remaining 92% used it against the general public.
The trouble is, video that both directly contradicts an officer’s claim and shows that the officer acted in what juries find to be an “unreasonable” manner only materialize occasionally. Philando Castille, Samuel DuBose, and Walter Scott are a handful of instances in which video evidence contradicted the officer’s recollection and yet these cases did not deliver a guilty verdict.
In the Edwards case, video evidence even overcame the standard officer defense of “I feared for my life,” which was famously used by officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson following his murder of Mike Brown.
Though Oliver’s legal team tried to establish some sort of fear in the mind of the jury, Texas law dictates that officers do not have the right to kill another person even if they are in fear of an accomplice, something that may have helped them hold Oliver accountable for his actions.
For now, it appears that Roy Oliver will be one of the very few police officers to serve any time for killing a Black person while wearing his uniform. However, it is expected that Oliver will appeal his sentence of 15 years and $10,000 fine.