The quest for accountability in the Texas police shooting death of an unarmed grandmother while she suffered a mental health crisis has been underway for more than three years since Baytown Police Officer Juan Manuel Delacruz gunned down Pamela Turner, in a parking lot on May 19, 2019.
But on Monday, what may have first seemed like a faint glimmer at the end of a long, dark tunnel was expected to come into a much brighter focus as the trial begins against Delacruz, who is charged with first-degree aggravated assault by a public servant.
To those who may not remember, Delacruz killed Turner in a shooting that was caught on video after the officer approached the 45-year-old grandmother in the parking lot at her apartment complex in suburban Houston. Ever since that fateful date, the police narrative has conflicted with what attorneys and Turner’s family say actually happened.
Delacruz was reportedly patrolling the parking lot when he saw Turner, who police said he had “prior dealings” with. According to police, Turner had outstanding warrants, prompting Delacruz to approach and try to arrest her. As a struggle ensued, a bystander began recording video on his phone and filmed Delacruz using his Taser on her before pulling out his gun and shooting Turner multiple times at close range. Delacruz’s life never appeared to be in any kind of imminent danger, yet police have said Turner tried to grab his Taser despite video evidence suggesting the contrary.
Afterward, police tried to assassinate Turner’s character by pointing to her criminal record but refusing to provide any information about Delacruz other than to say he is Hispanic. Police failed to mention, however, that Turner suffered from mental illness, something her family confirmed. It was also something that Delacruz during “prior dealings” presumably knew about through their previous encounters.
Turner and Delacruz lived in the same apartment complex and she reportedly told her family that she felt targeted by the officer on more than one occasion. Turner’s family maintains that she was in the midst of a mental health crisis after battling paranoid schizophrenia.
Delacruz, who also served as a security officer for the complex, claims he attempted to execute a warrant over a prior confrontation Turner reportedly had with building management.
On the video footage from the shooting, Turner could be heard screaming “I’m pregnant!” in the seconds before Delacruz shot her while she laid on her back on the parking lot pavement.
An independent autopsy found that Turner was shot three times, including one fatal shot to her chest and another to her abdomen. Another shot penetrated Turner’s cheek.
The website of the Harris County Medical Examiner’s office confirmed that the “manner of death” for Turner was “homicide.”
The Baytown Police Department went on to describe Turner as the aggressor in the Brixton Apartments complex parking lot and said Delacruz was justified in using excessive force after Turner seized a Taser and attempted to use it on the officer.
“During the course of the attempted arrest, the female began struggling with the officer, which forced the officer to deploy his Taser,” Baytown Police Department Lt. Steve Dorris said in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. “That deployment was not effective, and the female was able to get the officer’s Taser away from him. (She) actually tased the officer, which forced the officer to draw his duty weapon and fire multiple rounds at the suspect.”
In addition to the felony charge, Delacruz is facing a wrongful death lawsuit filed on what would have been Turner’s 46th birthday last year.
“I should be calling my mother and singing happy birthday this morning,” Turner’s daughter, Chelsie Rubin, said on the day the suit was filed. “But instead I’m standing in front of all of you fighting once again to try to bring recognition and demand the justice that my mom deserved and should have been offered a long time ago.”
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Turner’s family, said in a tweet that a guilty verdict would mark “the 1st time a jury has found an officer guilty for a Black woman’s death.”
Crump said the video shows Delacruz never gave Turner any verbal commands and proves his life was not being threatened when he fired the fatal shots.
It is just the most horrific murder that we’ve ever seen by one of these police officers killing an unarmed Black person, much less, an unarmed Black woman, which makes it all the more reprehensible,” Crump said at the time.
On top of that, Delacruz was carrying a Taser that does not deploy more than once, Crump determined about a year after Turner was killed. Since Delacruz had already fired his Taser at Turner, he should have known that there was no threat against his life if, as he maintains, Turner took the Taser from him.
“He did not have to use deadly force while she was laying on her back,” Crump said of Delacruz at the time. “He absolutely knew that Taser could not be fired again without her changing the cartridge.”
The Houston Chronicle reported in 2020 that prior to the shooting of Turner, Delacruz had “completed dozens of hours of training in crisis intervention and use of force.”
To add insult to a literal injury, Delacruz remains gainfully employed by the Baytown Police Department and was back at work following a brief administrative leave about one week after he killed Turner.
The shooting death was so egregious that former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders invoked Turner’s name in a campaign ad. Sanders also tweeted that “Pamela Turner should be alive today.”
This is America.
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