The Dallas Police Department has announced that the officer who shot a mentally ill man, an event that was caught on video, has lost his job and it will be up to a grand jury to decide whether he is charged with a felony.
Officer Cardan Spencer claimed last week that he shot Bobby Gerald Bennett, a 52-year-old man suffering from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, only when Bennett made an effort to attack Spencer and another officer with a knife. Yet video captured by a neighbor’s surveillance camera clearly shows that Bennett was standing yards away from the police when Spencer opened fire, hitting the man in the abdomen.
Police Chief David Brown said in a press conference Thursday that Spencer had been fired, an announcement that came after video of the October 14 incident played throughout US media outlets. Brown also said that Spencer would be charged with felony aggravated assault, but was forced to retract that claim when a federal judge refused to sign an arrest warrant.
Bennett survived the incident but remains hospitalized and in stable condition more than a week later. His family said he was off his medication and pacing in the street, so they called police in an attempt to resolve the situation.
“I had a conversation with him, told him to chill out and be cool,” neighbor Maurice Bunch told CBS of his conversation with Bennett before the police arrived. “Out of nowhere they just opened fire on him. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. He never approached them, he never came at them in any threatening manner.”
Bennett himself was originally charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon on a public servant but the police have said that charge will be dropped.
Despite Brown’s highly publicized announcement Thursday, Spencer’s attorney said that his client has yet to be arrested or charged at all.
Dallas Police association President Ron Pinkston said a district judge refused to sign the arrest warrant charging Spencer with aggravated assault, which could be punishable with a 20 year prison term.
“It tells me that there’s questions about this investigation,” Pinkston told the Dallas News. “Anybody involved knows (this investigation) was pushed through for political and media reasons… How come all investigations aren’t done in nine days?”
Spencer’s partner Christopher Watson wrote in the police report after the incident that Bennett yelled, “You all are gonna need more officers than this!” He also claimed the situation “escalated, which led an officer to fire his weapon upon the individual,” a claim that seems to be contradicted by the video.
At least four shots were fired, and Bennett’s mother told reporters she was under the impression that experienced mental health professionals would respond to her call. Yet Spencer’s lawyer told WFAA-TV in Dallas that his client was guilty of no wrongdoing.
“The facts and circumstances known to Officer Spencer at the time completely justify his actions,” attorney Robert Rogers said. “Obviously there is much more to this situation than that video.”
The uncertainty seems unlikely to calm a community outraged by the video and perception of police malfeasance.
“What happened 10 days ago should have never happened in the first place, and I want to make sure it never happens again,” Bennett family attorney George Miler. “I don’t see how [Spencer] could not be charged with a crime,” adding that the police shot Bennett in “cold blood.”