Legal Battles

Dallas’ Next Big Cop Trial Begins This Week

Former Dallas Police Department officer Christopher Hess goes on trial this week.
Former Dallas Police Department officer Christopher Hess goes on trial this week. iStock/DallasO75219
For the last two years, Dallas' headlines have been dominated by cops on trial. In 2018, Dallas County juries convicted ex-cops Roy Oliver and Ken Johnson on murder charges. Last year, Dallas County juries acquitted former Mesquite officer Derick Wiley of aggravated assault after he shot a man in the back and convicted ex-Dallas Police Department cop Amber Guyger on murder charges after she shot a man in his apartment, believing it was her own. After going almost half a century without indicting a cop for an on-duty shooting, Dallas County became the epicenter of cop prosecutions in the United States.

This year isn't going to be any different.

This week — opening arguments are expected on Tuesday — former DPD officer Christopher Hess is on trial for shooting and killing Genevive Dawes, 21, in January 2017.

Body camera footage released in 2018 shows the shooting and its aftermath.  In the video, Hess and another officer, Senior Cpl. Jason Kimpel, find Dawes and her boyfriend, Virgilio Rosales, sleeping inside what turns out to be a stolen car. When the officers order them out of the car, Dawes throws the car in reverse, backs into a police car that's blocking the car she's driving in, then drives forward into a fence.

When Dawes tries to reverse again, Hess starts shooting. He doesn't stop, eventually shooting into the car 13 times, killing Dawes. Kimpel shot at the car once and was not indicted. Rosales escaped the shooting uninjured.

A Dallas County grand jury indicted Hess in June 2017 for aggravated assault by a public servant, a first-degree felony. At trial, his fate is likely to come down to whether his defense team can convince jurors that he believed his life was in danger.
Christopher Hess
Dallas County

"We've seen in several cases recently that have resulted in mistrials with a hung jury, the officer will get on the witness stand in their own defense at a trial and say, 'I thought my life was in danger,'" Philip Stinson, a Bowling Green State University criminologist who maintains a comprehensive database of alleged crimes committed by cops, told the Observer after the Oliver shooting. "As soon as some jurors hear that, they think, 'That's it, I'm not going to convict a cop who thought his life was in danger.'"

Daryl Washington, an attorney who is representing Dawes' family in a civil case against Hess and the city of Dallas, said Dawes' actions before the shooting can be chalked up to her being scared.

"It was just a frightening situation for them, the way they were approached," Washington said at a press conference. "These officers had no idea if there were babies in that car. They just started shooting. They just opened up on that car for no reason whatsoever."
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young