A police officer in Texas was indicted on Monday in the fatal shooting of a Black woman outside her apartment complex just over a year ago in a case that has garnered national attention.
The episode during which the woman, Pamela Turner, 44, was shot was partially captured on video, and she was among the victims mentioned at the funeral service in Houston for George Floyd, whose death in police custody in Minneapolis this spring touched off protests for police reform across the country.
The officer, Juan Delacruz of the Baytown Police Department, was indicted by a grand jury in Harris County, Texas, on one count of aggravated assault by a public servant, a first-degree felony, officials said. He could face five years to life in prison if convicted, according to the district attorney’s office.
Police officials described a violent encounter on May 13, 2009, between Officer Delacruz and Ms. Turner, whom he was trying to arrest on outstanding warrants. A police spokesman said the officer shot Ms. Turner after she took his Taser and shot him with it; a lawyer for Ms. Turner’s family said she didn’t use the Taser on him.
“Pam Turner’s killing was a tragedy,” Kim Ogg, the Harris County district attorney, said in a statement on Monday. “It is important to acknowledge that her family and the community are in pain.”
“Ultimately, we presented all of the evidence to a grand jury that determined the Baytown police officer should be charged with a crime for his actions when he shot Ms. Turner,” she said, noting that the case was investigated by the Texas Rangers and the civil rights division of her office. “We respect their decision, and we will be moving forward with prosecution.”
Lt. Steve Dorris, a spokesman for the Baytown Police Department, said in an interview on Monday that Officer Delacruz, who was hired in 2008, was still employed by the department and had a “nonenforcement” role. In a statement, the department urged the public to be patient and to “have trust and faith” in the legal process, which was still unfolding.
A telephone message left for Officer Delacruz’s lawyer on Monday evening was not immediately returned. Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for Ms. Turner’s family, did not immediately responded to an email seeking comment.
Mr. Crump has criticized how long it took local officials to investigate Ms. Turner’s killing.
Last month, Mr. Crump wrote on Twitter: “Where’s the outrage over Pamela Turner? Over an ‘investigation’ that’s lasted more than 1 YEAR?! Every morning, Ofc. Juan Delacruz puts on his uniform and goes to work at Baytown Police Department. Every morning, the family of Pamela Turner mourns her death and prays for JUSTICE.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton mentioned Ms. Turner during the funeral service for Mr. Floyd on June 8. At a news conference a day earlier in Houston, Mr. Crump stood at a lectern full of microphones, with a mask hanging off his left ear. He said he was joined by other lawyers who would provide updates “not only on the Floyd case, but on the Ahmaud Arbery case, on the Breonna Taylor case, on the Pamela Turner case!”
“I mean, it’s so many things — too many to name,” Mr. Crump said, shaking his head.
As the case against Officer Delacruz proceeds, questions remain about his encounter with Ms. Turner, which took place in the parking lot of her apartment complex. That night, Lieutenant Dorris said that the encounter was initiated by Officer Delacruz, who had spotted Ms. Turner in her apartment complex and knew she had outstanding arrest warrants. A spokesman for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office said on Monday that Ms. Turner had a misdemeanor criminal mischief charge that was filed against her on May 1, 2019, and a misdemeanor assault charge filed on April 25, 2019.
When Officer Delacruz tried to arrest Ms. Turner, they struggled, the lieutenant said.
In video of the encounter that was taken by a bystander, Ms. Turner and Officer Delacruz are seen standing near a parked car. “I’m walking, I’m actually walking to my house,” she says. “You’re actually harassing me.”
Then, a pop sound is heard, and Ms. Turner falls to the ground, with Officer Delacruz on top of her. She yells “I’m pregnant” and struggles with the officer, who backs away from Ms. Turner. Images from the video stop but the audio continues, and several gunshots can be heard.
The police have said that Ms. Turner was not pregnant.
In a news conference later that evening, Lieutenant Dorris told reporters that Officer Delacruz had initially shot Ms. Turner with his Taser. But, he said, she “was able to get the officer’s Taser away from him and actually Tase the officer, which forced the officer to draw his duty weapon and fire multiple rounds at the suspect.”
“If you’ve ever been struck with a Taser,’’ the lieutenant added, “it’s a very painful experience.”
Ms. Turner’s family members and their lawyer have disputed that account, saying the specific Taser model used by the officer could not be fired a second time without being manually reloaded, which they say Ms. Turner would not have been able to do in such an encounter.
On Monday, Lieutenant Dorris declined to say whether Officer Delacruz had been shot with his own Taser. He referred questions to the Texas Rangers and the local district attorney’s office, both of which handled the criminal investigation. The Police Department’s own administrative investigation is continuing, he said.
A message seeking comment from the Texas Rangers was not immediately returned.