When a Dallas cop shoots someone in the line of duty, you can count on Dallas Police Association leader Ron Pinkston to leap to the officer's defense. The cop who shot a mentally ill man who, as best a surveillance video shows, stood up from a chair? Shouldn't have been fired. Shoot an unarmed carjacking suspect who witnesses reported had his hands in the air? It's justified.
As head of Dallas' largest police union, this is Pinkston's natural role. He's supposed to protect his members' interests in the face of bureaucratic and political meddling, even when those interests are contrary to public opinion or a reasonable consideration of the evidence.
Surely, though, there's a line Pinkston won't cross. A case in which the facts are so stark that no reasonable defense of an officer's actions is possible. A line that's hopefully somewhere north of Santos Rodriguez, the kid shot by a Dallas cop in the back of a squad car in 1973.
If that line does exist for Pinkston, it's not very far to the north of Santos Rodriguez. Pinkston this week condemned the manslaughter indictment issued against Bryan Burgess, the Dallas cop fired last year for allegedly running over a man fleeing on a bicycle.
According to an arrest affidavit, Burgess and another officer were on patrol when they spotted 51-year-old Fred Bradford riding a bicycle in the 1300 block of MLK Boulevard without helmet or lights. They followed him for three blocks and watched him reach into a parked car occupied by multiple people, which Burgess and his partner deemed to be suspicious. Burgess turned on his emergency lights, and Bradford fled. Burgess pursued in his squad car, Puckett on foot.
Bradford led officers about half a mile down MLK and under Julius Schepps Freeway before he turned into a grassy area on the service road. Burgess pulled his car into the grass behind Bradford and was going too fast to stop when Bradford's feet slipped off the pedals, according to the affidavit. Burgess braked, but was unable to slow in time to avoid Bradford's bicycle. Bradford suffered eight broken ribs, a broken back, and other internal injuries and died after being admitted to Baylor Hospital.
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To review, there's a guy on riding his bike at night in Oak Cliff who looks kind of suspicious but who has, as far as anyone knows, committed no crime more serious than not wearing a bicycle helmet. Burgess, in violation of DPD pursuit policies and in apparent misapprehension of Newton's Second Law, drove after him and followed him off the road. Car and bike collide. Car wins.
Pinkston raises a couple of salient points. It's certainly odd, as he says, that a case that has languished for 14 months -- and one whose white cop-kills-black suspect narrative plays into District Attorney Craig Watkins' push for a more racially equitable justice system -- is suddenly pushed before a grand jury a week before election day. And why prosecutors pushed for a more serious manslaughter charge rather than criminally negligent homicide, which is what Burgess was initially arrested for, is also curious. But Pinkston's flat declaration that Burgess is innocent requires a tortured interpretation of events.
Pinkston told us this morning that it wasn't Burgess' squad car that wrecked into Bradford's bike but vice versa.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.