HOUSTON (AP) – A fired Texas sheriff’s deputy was indicted Thursday in the fatal shooting of an unarmed man during a March confrontation.
A grand jury in Houston indicted former Harris County Sheriff’s deputy Cameron Brewer on a charge of aggravated assault by a public servant for the death of 35-year-old Danny Ray Thomas.
In the confrontation, which was partially captured on video, Thomas had his pants around his ankles and was unarmed as he advanced toward Brewer, who had told him to get on the ground. Thomas’ family said he was having a mental health crisis.
The shooting happened about 30 seconds after Brewer arrived at the scene. Brewer, who is black, was equipped with a Taser at the time of the shooting.
Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said when law enforcement exceeds its authority, the community will hold them accountable.
“Law enforcement officers have very, very difficult jobs. They perform them well almost all of the time,” Ogg said. “But in this case, the deputy exceeded his lawful use of force. He disregarded his training and a man who was innocent died.”
Wes Rucker, Brewer’s attorney, described the ex-deputy as an “honorable officer” for the last seven years who was a former teacher and a mentor with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
Rucker said Brewer felt justified in using force against a man whom he believed was high on drugs.
“He was placed in fear of his life out there,” Rucker said.
Brewer was not in custody late Thursday but Rucker said he was working on arrangements for his client to turn himself in to authorities.
If convicted, Brewer faces up to life in prison.
Ogg said the grand jury had the option of indicting Brewer on a murder charge. She said aggravated assault by a public servant is “not a lesser charge” as it has the same punishment range as murder.
The sheriff’s office fired Brewer in April after an internal investigation found he failed to follow the department’s use-of-force policy.
“The brave men and women of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office hold our community’s trust as sacred,” Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said in a statement. “We will continue striving to earn that trust anew, every single day.”
Brewer’s indictment was the first time since 2003 that a grand jury in Harris County, where Houston is located, has issued an indictment in a fatal shooting by an on-duty officer.
Since 2010, a total of 347 officer-involved shootings, both fatal and non-fatal, have been presented to Harris County grand juries and only two have been indicted, including Brewer. The other one involved a former Houston police officer who was indicted for a 2016 incident in which he shot and wounded a neighbor after a fight over their dogs.
Thomas’ family filed a federal lawsuit in April against the county for wrongful death.
His family said Thomas had been grieving the loss of his two children, who authorities allege were drowned in a bathtub by his ex-wife in 2016.