ARLINGTON, Texas — An attorney for a Texas police officer in training who fatally shot an unarmed, black college football player during a suspected burglary at a car dealership defended his client’s actions Wednesday and rebuked those of the police chief who fired him.
Arlington Police Chief Will Johnson had said a day earlier that Officer Brad Miller had been fired for making mistakes that led to the deadly confrontation, including pursuing 19-year-old Christian Taylor without telling his supervisor. Miller, 49, could also face criminal charges.
“Officer Miller made decisions in the heat of a violent confrontation to save his and other officers’ lives,” Miller’s lawyer, John Snider, said in a statement.
Snider says Johnson used “20/20 hindsight to protect his job and appease anti-police activists.” He also said Johnson’s “biggest fears are getting a paper cut or losing his six-figure salary.”
“A four day ‘investigation’ and media theatrics are not even close to due process,” Snider said. “This decision, while politically expedient for Chief Johnson, is an insult to the rank-and-file officers who put their lives on the line every day.”
Police spokeswoman Tiara Richard said neither Johnson nor the department had a response to the attorney’s statement.
Officers had been called to the scene of a burglary at the dealership early Friday. Security footage from the lot shows Taylor breaking out the windshield of a car on the lot and then driving his vehicle into the glass showroom. There is no video footage of the shooting itself.
Inside the showroom, Miller ordered Taylor to get to the ground. Instead, Taylor cursed at the officer and advanced toward him. When Taylor was about 10 feet away, the officer fired, Johnson said.
Taylor continued moving, so Miller’s training officer, Cpl. Dale Wiggins, shot Taylor with a Taser.
Miller then fired three more times. At least two bullets struck Taylor, killing him, according to the chief, who said the interaction lasted only seconds. Taylor and Miller never made physical contact, he said.
Taylor’s death came two days before the anniversary of the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed, black 18-year-old who was fatally shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, and is the latest in a series of incidents in which black men have been killed by police. Johnson noted that communities across the U.S. “have been torn apart by similar challenges.”
“Although the investigation is not over, my hope is that the information shared today can assist in the healing process,” Johnson said.
About 60 protesters gathered outside Arlington police headquarters late Tuesday, demanding that Miller, who is white, face criminal charges.
The firing was “not enough justice,” said Matthew Higgins, 20, one of Taylor’s former high school classmates. “If it was a white person, it probably would have been different.”
The Arlington Municipal Patrolman’s Association issued a statement decrying Johnson’s decision. The group said it supports “Miller’s right to be judged fairly and completely on facts instead of a snapshot developed in only days,” and expressed sympathy for Taylor’s family.
“We again ask that citizens obey the commands of police officers in order to prevent these tragedies from occurring in the future,” the association said.
Taylor was a graduate of an Arlington high school and a football player at Angelo State University in West Texas.
Taylor’s father, Adrian Taylor, told The Washington Post after word came of Miller’s firing that he and his family were more concerned with burying their son. “I’m not a man of revenge, and the results can’t bring my son back,” he said.
“Right now I just feel sorry for my family and his family and for the whole nation,” Taylor told the newspaper. “I just hope it makes a change because this is happening too much.”
Before his final confrontation with Miller, Taylor held up a set of car keys and told another officer that he intended to steal a car, Johnson said.
“It is clear from the facts obtained that Mr. Taylor was noncompliant with police demands,” Johnson said.
But, the chief said, Miller’s mistakes required his firing. While he said he had “serious concerns” about Miller’s use of deadly force, Johnson said it would be up to a grand jury to decide whether Miller’s actions were criminal.
“This is an extraordinarily difficult case,” Johnson said. “Decisions were made that created an environment of cascading consequences that produced an unrecoverable outcome.”
Miller joined the police department in September and graduated from the city police academy earlier this year. Police said Miller cannot appeal his firing because he was a probationary employee.
He was undergoing field training and assigned to a more senior officer, though he was a licensed police officer authorized to carry a weapon. Police said he had never fired his weapon in the line of duty before.