Arlington, Tex., Officer is Fired in Fatal Shooting of Christian Taylor

May 11, 2017

By Patrick McGee and Manny Fernandez
The New York Times
Wednesday, August 12, 2015
Page A1

ARLINGTON, Tex. — A white rookie police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black college football player after the youth had broken into a car dealership in this Dallas suburb was fired on Tuesday for “inappropriate judgment” in his handling of the situation, officials said.

The Arlington police chief, Will D. Johnson, said that the officer, Brad Miller, 49, had been fired for making mistakes in the fatal shooting of Christian Taylor, 19, which included entering the building without his more experienced partner and which led to “an environment of cascading consequences.” Officer Miller was hired last fall and was still in training when the shooting occurred early Friday morning.

Officer Miller’s lawyer did not return multiple phone calls or an email sent on Tuesday evening.

The police had said that Mr. Taylor — an Arlington native who was a football player and student at Angelo State University in the West Texas city of San Angelo — was shot around 1 a.m. Friday as he was confronted by officers who had been dispatched to the Classic Buick GMC dealership after reports of a suspected burglary. At a news conference, Chief Johnson said Officer Miller made bad decisions in communicating with other officers and initially approaching Mr. Taylor on his own without a plan for an arrest. There were other officers at the scene, the chief told reporters, including Officer Miller’s training officer, who tried to use a Taser to subdue Mr. Taylor.

“Based on a preponderance of evidence available to me and facts revealed by the investigative team,” Chief Johnson said, “I have decided to terminate Officer Miller’s employment with the Arlington Police Department for exercising poor judgment.”

The chief’s announcement represented a shift in the official police narrative of the events leading up to the shooting. Previously, Chief Johnson told reporters that Officer Miller and his training officer had a confrontation with Mr. Taylor inside the dealership as they tried to arrest him, and that led Officer Miller to fire his weapon. The chief had declined to describe that event, explaining that investigators had not determined “the nature of the confrontation.”

But in Tuesday’s news conference, Chief Johnson offered a detailed account of the confrontation, saying that Mr. Taylor never made physical contact with any of the officers at the scene and indicating that Officer Miller’s own actions had escalated the confrontation.

The chief also said that the officers had said they saw a bulge in Mr. Taylor’s pocket. It turned out to be a wallet and a cellphone. “It is reasonable that officers were concerned that a weapon may be present,” Chief Johnson said. “This further underscores the questionable nature of Officer Miller’s decision of entering the building alone and without an arrest plan.”

Chief Johnson said that the criminal investigation would proceed and that the evidence would be turned over to the district attorney, who would make a decision on whether to present it to a grand jury for a possible indictment. He said he had spoken to Mr. Taylor’s family.

“I certainly expressed regret that their son had been killed,” Chief Johnson said. When reached by phone on Tuesday evening, Mr. Taylor’s father hung up the phone. Another relative — Adrian Taylor, Mr. Taylor’s older brother — was asked Tuesday evening what he thought about Officer Miller being fired. “It doesn’t bring my brother back, but it’s a step in the right direction,” he said, declining to comment further.

The episode began when the Arlington police received a 911 call from the security company for the dealership reporting a possible burglary by a person later identified as Mr. Taylor.

In a nine-minute segment of surveillance video footage that was released, Mr. Taylor can be seen stepping over a gate blocking the entrance to the dealership’s parking lot and roaming among the cars in the lot.

At one point, he struck the driver’s side window of one car and jumped on the vehicle. He then kicked a hole in the windshield, climbed into the car and exited it soon after. He returned to his own vehicle, rammed the gate to open it and then drove through the windows of the showroom.

There appeared to be no surveillance footage of the critical moments leading up to the shooting, however, and neither of the two officers were wearing body cameras.

Mr. Taylor’s death came days before the anniversary of another death caused by a police shooting: Michael Brown, the black teenager fatally shot by a white police officer last year in Ferguson, Mo., and whose death helped touch off a debate around the country about police interactions and excessive use of force in African-American communities.

Activists have held rallies outside the Arlington police headquarters, questioning why the officer fired at Mr. Taylor, and protesters in Ferguson in recent days have invoked Mr. Taylor’s name in their demonstrations. On Tuesday, more than 30 people gathered outside the Arlington police headquarters, with speakers calling for Officer Miller to be prosecuted.

Chief Johnson has described Mr. Taylor’s death as a “tragedy” and vowed days ago that “there will be consequences” if the shooting turned out to be unjustified.

He had asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation to participate in and review its investigation, based on the department’s “commitment to transparency,” Chief Johnson said.

But in a statement released Monday, a spokeswoman for the F.B.I. office in Dallas said the bureau declined the request, saying it had “full confidence in the ability of the Arlington Police Department and Tarrant County district attorney’s office to conduct a thorough investigation of this matter.” The spokeswoman, Allison Mahan, said that if information came to light indicating a potential federal civil rights violation, “the F.B.I. is prepared to investigate.”

The F.B.I. did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

According to the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office, Mr. Taylor died of gunshot wounds to the neck, chest and abdomen. It remains unclear how many of the four rounds Officer Miller fired struck Mr. Taylor. Officer Miller told police investigators that after he arrived and went inside the dealership, Mr. Taylor held up a pair of keys and said he intended to steal a vehicle, Chief Johnson said. Mr. Taylor then ran toward a back door. When he was unable to open it, he turned and walked back toward Officer Miller, who told investigators Mr. Taylor was acting “aggressively” and using profanity, the police chief said.

The training officer, identified as Cpl. Dale Wiggins, a 19-year veteran, told investigators he heard “a pop” that he thought was Officer Miller’s Taser weapon, according to Chief Johnson. Corporal Wiggins then took out his Taser and discharged it at Mr. Taylor.

But that “pop” appeared to have been the sound of Officer Miller’s gun. After Corporal Wiggins’s Taser gun was discharged, three more shots were fired by Officer Miller, the police chief said.

Officer Miller joined the department in September 2014 and graduated from the police academy in March. He was nearing the completion of his field training under the supervision of Corporal Wiggins. Before joining the Arlington force, he had no previous police experience, officials said.