The tow truck driver who shot and killed a young, unarmed probation officer named Lance Lemons earlier this month was not arrested afterward, and Dallas police are still refusing to identify the shooter. They say they don't have to reveal his name unless they decide to send his case to a grand jury. But whether the driver will ever face charges for killing Lemons remains still uncertain.
"They have NOT made a grand jury referral yet," was the last we heard from a Dallas Police Department spokeswoman in an email. "As it stands, it's still an open investigation."
Lemons was visiting the Flats At Five Mile Creek, an apartment complex in Oak Cliff that had an arrangement United Towing that sounds typical of every other apartment complex's arrangement with tow companies -- the company is allowed to visit the property late at night and remove cars that don't have the right parking decals. "Residents of the location can have a decal and that indicates that they can legitimately park in the location," a DPD officer said in a news conference shortly after the shooting. Lemons' car was legally parked in the visitor's spot and it wasn't going to be towed, police said.
According to police, the tow truck driver left his truck idling and then walked several feet away to check for parking violations.
It was then, police say, that the employee noticed his truck going in reverse and someone in the driver's seat. It was Lemons. The employee fired one shot toward the drivers side window, killing him. He was 27.
On the surface, Lemons doesn't fit the profile of someone who would want to steal a tow truck. A criminal record search in Dallas County under his name turned up no matches. And he had been working in law enforcement as a Dallas County probation officer. He was at the department for a year until his death. His former boss says his specialty was working with troubled juvenile offenders. "He was just called to do it," says Marcine Jones, his former supervisor, and he "had a niche for relating to them." Jones also praised Lemons' work at a speech during his memorial service several weeks ago.
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Lemons was unarmed. But under Texas law, that may not matter. Dallas police said shortly after the shooting that they haven't arrested the driver because they are investigating to determine "whether the [tow truck] employee has a defense to the prosecution because he was protecting his property, or theft, during night time."
Texas law offers broad protections for people who use deadly force to protect their lives and property. In 2007, Texas expanded powers given to shooters, no longer requiring shooters to retreat before resorting to deadly force. In the years after that law was changed, justifiable homicides in Texas jumped by 16 percent, a 2010 Houston Chronicle investigation found, so it seemed to go over well with shooters. The "theft-at-nighttime" defense was most famously used several years ago by the San Antonio man who shot and killed a Craigslist escort who wouldn't have sex with him. His defense team successfully made the case that it was a justifiable homicide because he was trying to recover the $150 the escort stole from him.
Send your story tips to the author, Amy Silverstein.