A Dallas County grand jury indicted a former police officer this week on murder and aggravated assault charges after he gunned down an unarmed teenage burglary suspect. Although the officer claimed that he had feared for his life before opening fire, the grand jury found that he did not shoot the teen in self-defense.
On March 13, off-duty Farmers Branch police officer Ken Johnson reportedly saw two teenagers breaking into his SUV in the parking lot of his apartment complex. As the teens attempted to steal seats from the SUV, Johnson grabbed his weapon and began chasing them.
Jose Cruz, 16, and Edgar Rodriguez, 16, tried to escape in Cruz’s Dodge Challenger, but Johnson followed in his SUV. Surveillance video recorded Johnson’s vehicle ramming the back of the Challenger near a gas station, causing the car to spin out of control.
A photograph taken from a bystander appears to show Johnson standing in the street while aiming his gun at the teens. Despite the fact that Cruz and Rodriguez were unarmed, Johnson approached their vehicle and opened fire into the Challenger. Cruz died at the scene, while Rodriguez survived a bullet wound to the head after receiving medical treatment at a local hospital.
Charged with murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon by the Addison Police Department, Johnson resigned from the Farmers Branch Police Department. Johnson’s police chief had accused him of violating department policy for chasing the teens and ramming them with his personal vehicle.
After Cruz’s death, his mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit that is pending in federal court. According to her suit, Cruz’s mother accused Johnson of firing 17 bullets into her son’s car even though they were unarmed.
In his previous job as a police officer with Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), Johnson had been accused of using excessive force at least three times. Although Johnson was cleared of any wrongdoing, he failed to disclose those complaints when applying to Farmers Branch Police Department.
“They’re not celebrating, of course, because you can’t celebrate the death of Jose Cruz. You can only celebrate the fact that Officer Johnson will be charged for the murder of Jose Cruz,” Carlos Quintanilla, a spokesman for Cruz’s family, told NBC5. “There’s still a chance that he can go to trial and jury can find him not guilty, so they have temporary justice but they don’t have full justice until they actually see Officer Ken Johnson in prison with a number that says convicted.”
On Friday, the Dallas County District Attorney announced that a grand jury had found probable cause that Johnson committed murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. After posting bail, Johnson is currently awaiting trial.