Jordan Ross Hatcher made a number of undeniably stupid decisions on the afternoon of January 24, 2013. He stole a Wii controller from a Grand Prairie Target, then knocked down the cop who tried to stop him. The 22-year-old, a recently discharged Marine, according to his obituary, then ran across State Highway 360 to Tarrant County College's Southeast Campus, where he was surrounded by no fewer than six cops. Even after they hit him with pepper spray and a Taser, he refused to go down.
Whether he should have been shot, however, is a different question, one that is raised in an excessive force lawsuit filed by Hatcher's parents on Tuesday against Grand Prairie police and officer Wesley Bement.
Bement, who shot Hatcher four times, was no-billed by a Tarrant County grand jury in June 2013 and returned to duty after briefly being placed on temporary leave.
Grand Prairie PD concluded that the shooting was justified, saying that Hatcher had grabbed Bement's Taser, placing the officer in fear for his life.
In their lawsuit, Hatcher's parents argue that Bement never should have reached for his gun. The pepper spray the five TCC police officers who were on the scene were using was working. He was rubbing his face and walking away with the Taser which, they say, he hadn't grabbed but found beneath his arm, where Bement had left it after shocking him.
"The person closest to Hatcher when he was shot, a TCC police officer, was nearly shot by Bement, did not have her gun drawn, was not being attacked, was attempting to spray Hatcher with her mace/pepper spray, and did not understand why Bement was shooting," the suit says.
That will be a tough argument to make in court, since a jury is likely to give deference to the cop when he's confronted with a Taser-wielding suspect who's in the middle of a struggle with police.
But focusing only on the moment that Bement pulled the trigger blurs the equally important question of whether Grand Prairie police could have handled their encounter with an aggressive but initially unarmed shoplifter in such a way that they didn't feel compelled to shoot him.
The parents get at that in their second claim, alleging that the city of Grand Prairie failed to provide proper training to Bement and other officers in how and when to use deadly force.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.
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