Officer Cardan Spencer who was fired about a week ago over an October 14th shooting of a mentally ill man, Bobby Bennett (left), now faces a grand jury investigation. Police Chief David Brown initially intended to charge Spencer with aggravated assault, but the judge who was presented with the arrest warrant refused to sign it and directed the police to take the case to a grand jury. It was an unusual move, getting an arrest warrant signed is extremely easy.
Former Texas State District Judge John Creuzot told KHOU, “I don’t know that I’ve ever really seen it…All you’re submitting is that there is cause to believe the person probably committed an offense, and that’s a very low standard. It doesn’t mean the person is guilty.”
While the police were asking a judge to sign the arrest warrant, they did not allow Officer Spencer to leave the police station, according to his lawyer, intending to arrest him promptly.
“Officers are not above the law,” Chief Brown said firmly. “We as a police department are not going to look the other way.”
Spencer wrote in his police report of the incident that he shot Bobby Gerald Bennett, 52, after the man lunged at him with a knife.
Fortunately, a neighbor’s surveillance camera captured Bennett not moving toward officers and his arms staying at his side. There were also two witnesses who were in a nearby car. Bennett did survive the shooting and told police in an interview that he was feeling suicidal at the time and wanted to commit ‘suicide by cop’. Bennett’s mother, Joyce Jackson, told the media that, “When I told my son this police officer was fired, the very first words he said were ‘mom, does he have a family?’”
Dallas Police Association president Ron Pinkston defended the officer saying, “I think the officer had to defend himself and his partner, because he feared his life and his partner’s life were in jeopardy.” Pinkston went on to say that the internal investigation was rushed due to public and media pressure and that it was “unprecedented” for it to be completed in 9 days. Police shooting investigations normally take several months. He also said, Spencer believes he was “betrayed by a department that he was trying to serve.”
Chief Brown said that the department is continuing its investigation and are now focusing on Officer Christopher Watson, Spencer’s partner. In his own police report, Watson wrote that Bennett had taken two steps forward and raised his knife before Spencer shot him, “We were really taken aback that the first statement written by Officer Watson is not what happened,” Chief Brown said. Additionally, Watson changed his account after watching the surveillance video.
According to a police report, Bennett was sitting outside his mother’s home with a knife when police arrived. He yelled, “You all are gonna need more officers than this!” The surveillance video does not show an escalation, which would lead an officer to fire their weapon, according to police spokesman Warren Mitchell. In fact, dispatchers told Spencer that Bennett was unstable, had a weapon, was threatening suicide, and had tried to commit ‘suicide by cop’ previously. Less than 30 seconds elapse between the officers arriving and Spencer shooting Bennett.
“Cops are not superhuman. They have fear, but that fear has to be reasonable,” Brown said. Bennett is in stable condition and has been charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon on a public servant, but Chief Brown said those charges would be dropped. He is technically in police custody though because of a parole violation. He failed to report to his parole officer at the designated times for several months.
Bennett has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar. He was not on his medication at the time of the incident and had been arguing with his mother. Jackson said the police assured her they would send officers trained in dealing with the mentally ill. Spencer had been on the force for 7 years. Jackson’s attorney, George Milner questioned whether there was a “deficiency in training” that prompted the shooting and said there may have been negligence on the part of the Police Department. Brown is currently considering equipping his officers with personal cameras. The Dallas Police Department has been under mounting criticism for more than a year. In the summer of 2012, community activists became upset upon learning of a string of police shootings. One of these incidents sparked a riot when an officer fatally shot an alleged drug dealer. The officer was cleared of charges. More recently, there was a fatal shooting in March of an unarmed man. Police say he was choking an officer. An autopsy revealed the man was on drugs at the time. A grand jury declined to indict.
Rev. Ronald Wright of Justice Seekers Texas told the media in a press conference, “There is a culture in the Dallas Police Department: Shoot first and ask questions later.”
Brown said that Spencer was upset when told he was terminated and indicated his intent to appeal the termination. Spencer’s attorney, Robert Lee Rogers, said he expected the grand jury to find his client’s actions justified, “My client believed he acted the way he was trained to act by the Dallas Police Department…facts and circumstances known to Officer Spencer at the time completely justify his actions.”