Former Dallas police officer Christopher Hess had no choice but to shoot Genevive Dawes on Jan. 18, 2017, his lawyers said during opening statements Tuesday. Dawes posed an immediate threat to Hess and his colleagues. She was a felon committing another felony, incapable of following officers orders' to show her hands and stop trying to escape from a Dallas apartment parking lot in a stolen car.
"In that car was a loaded gun," defense attorney Messina Madson said. "This gun was stolen. Additionally, possession of this gun, regardless of its status, would've been illegal for both the driver and the passenger. ... You will learn that the car was stolen, and that operating that car was a felony offense for the driver, Genevive Dawes.
"She made a drug-induced decision that night to avoid a felony arrest. You will learn that she had both meth and heroin in her system."
Madson, formerly a top deputy in Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk's office, followed a script that should sound familiar to anyone who's followed Dallas' most recent cops on trial. Botham Jean, murdered by Dallas cop Amber Guyger, was nearly a perfect victim, except for the fact that he smoked pot. Defense attorneys for Derick Wiley, the Mesquite Police Department officer who shot Lyndo Jones in the back, repeatedly told jurors about Jones' use of cocaine and marijuana. Wiley was acquitted.
Hess killed Dawes so his fellow officers could "go home to their families," Madson said, making the whole incident sound simple.
Body camera video of the shooting paints a far more complicated picture.
After a 911 call, a half-dozen cops showed up to the Five Trees apartment complex in Old East Dallas to find Dawes and her boyfriend, Virgilio Rosales, sleeping inside that stolen car.
When the officers demand Dawes show her hands and get out of the car, she throws the car in reverse, backs into a police car and then drives forward into a fence. She can't get out of the parking lot.
Dawes starts reversing again, and Hess starts shooting, eventually firing into the car 12 times, killing Dawes. Hess' partner, Jason Kimpel, fired one shot at the car, striking its frame, according to prosecutors. The other four officers in the parking lot didn't shoot their guns.
"You will hear from multiple officers on the scene," lead prosecutor George Lewis said, "who will tell you that they didn't fire (their guns) because they did not perceive a threat at the time."
DPD officer Erin Evans said she did not feel a threat worthy of using deadly force as she and her fellow officers stood off with Dawes and Rosales in the parking lot, but said under cross-examination that Hess may have felt differently.
"I didn't perceive a threat to me, the vehicle wasn't coming towards me, and to my knowledge I didn't know that anyone else was in danger. I didn't perceive," Evans said, "but we have different perceptions. We have different angles and different visions and different knowledge of a certain situation from different angles."
Evans said it was possible Dawes didn't acknowledge officers' commands because she was still asleep in the car as they were being given.
Hess, 42, is charged with aggravated assault by a public servant, a first-degree felony. Testimony in his trial is expected to continue Wednesday.
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