In Small-Town North Texas, a White Cop Will Go On Trial for Fatally Shooting a Black Man

Rookie Wolfe City cop Shaun Lucas shot and killed Jonathan Price, an unarmed Black man, in October 2020. After months of waiting, a trial date in the murder charges brought against Lucas has been set.
Rookie Wolfe City cop Shaun Lucas shot and killed Jonathan Price, an unarmed Black man, in October 2020. After months of waiting, a trial date in the murder charges brought against Lucas has been set. Yumi Kimura from Yokohama, JAPAN, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
When Raylisa Price was planning to move back to Wolfe City in October 2020, she hoped to build a closer relationship with her half-brother Jonathan Price.

Raylisa grew up in Commerce, not far from Wolfe City, and moved with her sister Sabrina and their mother to California before Jonathan was born. Last year, Raylisa, now 49, had made big plans to catch up on lost time with Jonathan.

“I had it all planned out. We were going to be going to the gym together, watching late-night movies together, really get a real brother-sister connection,” she said. “We’d never gotten to be close, and I decided I wanted just surprise him, just show up."

Then came the phone call and "all hell broke loose," she said. On Oct. 3, a few weeks before she intended to move, Wolfe City police officer Shaun Lucas shot and killed Jonathan, who was 31 at the time.

When it came to national headlines, it was an all-too-familiar tragedy. A white police officer had shot dead an unarmed Black man, this time outside a Kwik Check convenience store. Instead of movie nights and gym sessions, Raylisa found herself reading about her brother in the Washington Post, trying to comfort her father from afar.

Her son had just moved in with his girlfriend while pursuing his master’s degree in neuroscience at San Diego State University. Originally fine with moving away from him, Raylisa was no longer able to follow through. “I was all of the sudden too scared to leave my only son, because I was terrified this same thing would happen to him,” she said.

The Texas Rangers collected footage of the encounter from Lucas’ body camera and interviewed eyewitnesses. Though the Rangers rarely recommend prosecuting officers for murder following a deadly shooting, Officer Laura Simmons, who led the investigation of Lucas, recommended he be charged with murder only days later, saying his actions were “not justifiable force.”

Nearly a year has passed. Raylisa eventually overcame her fear for her son and moved back to Wolfe City in last December to take care of her dad and grieve closer to family. Sabrina also returned to Texas in April. They’ve waited for news about the trial, while Lucas sat in Collin County Jail, the court’s backlog growing as the pandemic wore on.

A trial date was finally announced a few weeks ago: Lucas will face a jury trial for first degree murder in Hunt County on May 23, 2022.

The Price family wants a conviction and a life sentence for Lucas. After a Minnesota jury convicted Derek Chauvin of murdering George Floyd only three months before Lucas shot Jonathan, some experts speculated that the conviction marked a turn toward tougher prosecutions of officers who use deadly force. Others noted that the number of murder charges brought against cops nationwide jumped from six to 18 the year after Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, and predicted the same might happen again.

Phillip Stinson, professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University, said the data doesn’t actually indicate that Lucas is more likely to be convicted. “I’ve seen a lot of people say, ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve seen a spike since Michael Brown,’ but its not statistically significant,” he explained.

Lee Merritt, a Dallas-based civil rights attorney, knows what to expect at trial. “With Mr. Price being a big strong former football player, the officer is going to say he feared for his life,"  he said. "And especially when you have this racial dynamic, typically that works in Texas."

Since Jonathan was killed in Wolfe City, a rural town of 1,400 with only three police officers on its force, the case quickly lost the nation's attention. “Sometimes it bothers us when we think about the other cases and how much publicity they’ve had,” Sabrina said.

Still, Sabrina said she’s focused on outcome: seeing Lucas sentenced to life in prison for first degree murder.

“We can wait. We don’t care as long as Mr. Lucas stays in jail. Where he’s sitting, we want his ass to remain,” she said. “If Jonathan had to lose his future, his dreams, I feel Mr. Lucas should also suffer that.”

"If Jonathan had to lose his future, his dreams, I feel Mr. Lucas should also suffer that." - Sabrina Price

tweet this
In the years leading up to his death, Jonathan was working to establish himself as an entrepreneur. He'd been a star football player growing up, and his family and friends always assumed he’d make it to the NFL. But after a series of injuries, his sisters said, Jonathan began to look for ways to spread his fitness expertise in Wolfe City. His ultimate goal was to open a top-tier gym in Wolfe City.

Jonathan eventually wanted to move to a bigger city and decided to pursue real estate and fitness training in Dallas. “Both he and I, we both always wanted to move to the city,” Sabrina said. “But we would always tease him, because he’s such a planner. We’d be like, 'Hey I hear you talking about it, go do it,'” she said, laughing.

Jonathan stuck to his plan. He moved to Dallas with a group of friends in 2017 to start a real estate business together. For the first time in his life, Jonathan lived outside of rural North Texas, and he loved it.

When things took a bad turn with his business partners after a year or so, though, he packed up and went home to Wolfe City, hoping to regroup. He’d resolved to return to Dallas with a solo business plan.

While he saved up his money and plotted his return to Dallas, Jonathan delved into personal training. “He’d really just train whoever," Raylisa recalled. "Everyone loved him here."

Meanwhile, Shaun Lucas was earning himself a reputation within Wolfe City as overly aggressive toward Black people, according to the Washington Post. On one instance, he arrested a 65-year-old Black man for public intoxication after mistaking the man's chronic limp for drunken swaying. Another ex-resident told the Post she stopped visiting her parents in Wolfe City because she was so afraid of running into Lucas.

Lucas’ friends and family disputed this, saying he’d never been a bigot. “There’s not a racist bone in that kid’s body,” Lucas’ stepfather told WFAA at the time.

In September 2020, Sabrina made the trip from California to Texas to catch a Dallas Cowboys game and hit the town with her brother. “We went partying in Deep Ellum after the game, doing it up. It was great,” she said.

It was the last time she saw her brother alive.

On the night of Oct. 3, 2020, Lucas responded to a report of a fight at the Kwik Check. Witnesses later said Jonathan had tried to break up the fight. At some point, Jonathan approached Lucas, but the officer shocked him with a Taser. A few moments later, Lucas fatally shot Jonathan.

Body camera footage of the encounter hasn't been publicly released, and the Texas Rangers denied the Observer’s public records request for it. Lucas’ legal team insists Jonathan had reached for the Taser in a threatening manner, justifying Lucas’ use of deadly force.

Texas Rangers investigator Laura Simmons saw things differently. On Oct. 5, she recommended Lucas be charged with murder. Wolfe City officials fired Lucas on Oct. 8.

Lucas’ legal team and the Hunt County District Attorney’s Office declined to comment.

As they wait for the trial in May of next year, Sabrina said she wants to focus on Jonathan’s legacy. "People need to know what his dream was for his community," she said. "They should know that he was a young man from Wolfe City, trying to develop something bigger."
KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Murney is a reporting fellow at the Dallas Observer and a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. His reporting has appeared in Chicago’s South Side Weekly and the Chicago Reader.
Contact: Michael Murney