Christopher Hess Dallas cop found not guilty in shooting death of Genevive Dawes believed to have been driving stolen car. Was police force justified?
Was she a threat? A former Dallas cop has been found not guilty of assault in the death of a 21-year-old woman driving a stolen car in January 2017.
Christopher Hess, 42, the first Dallas officer in more than four decades to be indicted in a deadly police shooting, was charged with aggravated assault by a public servant in the fatal shooting of Genevive Dawes.
A Dallas County jury returned the not guilty verdict after two days of deliberations cbs21dfw reports.
Had Hess been found guilty, the former cop could have been sentenced to five years to life in prison.
Prosecutors said Hess fired 12 times at the 21-year-old mother of two.
The state charged Hess with aggravated assault and the evidence used against him was body cam video of the shooting. The former cop was fired for violating the Dallas Police Department’s policy of use of deadly force by shooting into a moving vehicle.
Were police in immediate threat?
Leading up to Dawes shooting death, foxnews reported cops on January 18, 2017, finding her and another person asleep in a car that had been reported stolen.
Dawes ignored commands to exit the vehicle, instead reversing into a police cruiser, ramming a fence and backing up again when officers opened fire, police said.
Hess shot into the car a dozen times. Prosecutors argued that his actions were unreasonable. The former officer’s lawyers told the court that the shooting was justified because Dawes was using the car as a weapon against officers.
‘Something bad was going to happen if Officer Hess hadn’t have acted and officers were going to get hurt that evening based on the actions of the two people in that car,’ defense attorney Reed Prospere told jurors.
‘Officer Hess was exemplary that night. He remembered what was important. He values human life. He made the only choice available to him,’ defense attorney Messina Madson told the jury.
Officers were never in danger, prosecutors said, because none were behind the SUV as Dawes reversed at a slow speed.
‘If you can shoot 13 times, you have time to get out of the way,’
Daryl K. Washington, a lawyer for Dawes’ family, blamed the justice system for focusing on the perceived shortcomings of victims while accused officers appear in court ‘with a halo over their head.’
‘Are we giving the perception to people that if you happen to have a criminal past, if you happen to have a drug problem that it’s OK to take that person’s life?,’ Washington said outside the court.
Washington said the verdict was a sad moment for the city of Dallas. He said the outcome and a lack of media attention on the case sent a message that ‘if you’re less than perfect, then your life doesn’t matter.’
Dominque Alexander of Next Generation Action Network called the verdict ‘a huge miscarriage of justice’ and said Dawes’ fatal shooting reflected a policy failure on the part of law enforcement, which he said is too quick to take aggressive action when a course of retreat could suffice.
‘If you can shoot 13 times, you have time to get out of the way,’ Alexander said. ‘I’m not giving excuses for the actions of Genevive Dawes. I’m saying they did not warrant her death.’
A jury found former Dallas police officer Christopher Hess not guilty Thursday in the shooting of a 21-year-old woman who died in 2017 after he shot into her SUV a dozen times.https://t.co/ayW7eYpgvy
— Cassandra Jaramillo (@cassandrajar) February 13, 2020
Define reasonable course of behavior? Are police above the law?
During trial testimony, the defense described police responding to notice that the vehicle Dawes and her fellow passenger were found in, having been reported stolen. Dawes’ family countered the single mom had bought the SUV and didn’t realize it had been stolen.
Hess did not testify in his defense while other officers and policing experts told the jury that they believed the officer’s actions were reasonable. Define reasonable?
The jury was shown body camera footage from multiple officers at the scene.
A grand jury returned the charge against Hess months after the confrontation.
Of note, the district attorney’s office declined to say why Hess was charged with assault, rather than a more serious crime. Washington said Dawes’ family had hoped for a murder charge and questioned why another officer who also shot into the car wasn’t indicted.
Former cop still faces civil lawsuit from victim’s family:
Hess was fired in July 2017 after an internal investigation found he had violated the department’s felony traffic stop and use of force policies, and had placed a person in greater danger than necessary.
The former officer is still facing a federal civil rights suit brought by Dawes’ family.
A passenger, identified as 23-year-old Virgilio Rosales, who was also in the vehicle at the time was not injured. He was arrested for unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon.
Hess’s lawyers say the former cop does not plan to return to police work.