The Dallas Morning News
2nd police officer indicted in week
Shooting of mentally ill man was recorded by surveillance camera
A grand jury indicted a former Dallas police officer in connection with the shooting of a mentally ill man, the second indictment of a police officer in a less than a week.
After a Dallas officer was indicted and later convicted in the slaying of a 12-year-old boy during an interrogation in 1973, four decades went by before a Dallas County grand jury would indict another Dallas officer linked to an on-duty shooting.
Now there have been two in less than a week after a grand jury voted Tuesday to charge former Officer Cardan Spencer in connection with the October shooting of a mentally ill man. On Thursday, a grand jury indicted former Senior Cpl. Amy Wilburn in connection with the Dec. 9 shooting of an unarmed man who was sitting in a stolen vehicle after a car chase.
Spencer and Wilburn were quickly fired after their respective shootings, but the rare grand jury charges have left some officers stunned.
“Instead of handcuffing the criminals, we’re handcuffing the officers, literally and figuratively,” said Dallas Police Association president Ron Pinkston.
Neither shooting — unlike Officer Darrell Cain’s 1973 shooting of Santos Rodriguez — was fatal. Both victims are also seeking damages in civil court.
Spencer will now face a criminal charge stemming from the Oct. 14 shooting of Bobby Bennett outside his mother’s Rylie home.
The story made national news after a neighbor released surveillance video showing that Bennett, who was holding a knife, was standing still with his arms at his side
when Spencer opened fire.
Bennett was originally charged with aggravated assault on a public servant, a firstdegree felony, based on an account of the incident by Spencer’s partner, who had not seen the video beforehand.
He claimed that Bennett stepped toward the officers with the knife raised aggressively. But after the video went public, Chief David Brown ordered the charge dropped.
Brown fired Spencer days later. He said Spencer had argued that Bennett was clenching the knife in his hand, which couldn’t be seen on the video.
The chief ’s quick decision to fire Spencer rankled many officers and Spencer’s attorney, who declined to comment Tuesday. Brown also had detectives seek a warrant for Spencer’s arrest, but a judge declined to sign it.
Bennett, who is home but still suffers health problems, is represented in civil proceedings by attorney Don Tittle, who recently won a $1.1 million settlement against the city for a false arrest case. Tittle said Tuesday he wasn’t surprised by the grand jury’s decision.
“Certainly, the law should apply to a police officer just like it would to anyone else, and I don’t think anyone would give a sec- ond thought to an indictment of a person who shoots someone without any justification whatsoever — except for the fact that it’s a police officer,” he said.
Bennett’s neighbor Maurice Bunch said Tuesday that he was glad his surveillance camera captured the shooting.
“If it hadn’t, I don’t believe Bobby Bennett would have ever gotten out of jail,” he said. “He probably would have died in there.”
He said he hopes the fallout will send police officers a message.
“Maybe they won’t be so quick to unholster that weapon,” he said.
But Pinkston said he believes the department already has “the most restrictive” deadly force policies in the country, in part because of the department’s reactions to the Spencer and Wilburn shootings.
After the shootings, the department began field-testing uniform-worn cameras for officers, and officials are boosting the amount of deadly force training for veteran officers.
The Spencer shooting also led to the creation of a “critical incident recovery period,” which requires officers who witnessed or were involved in a shooting to take 72 hours off and watch any available video of the incident before making a formal statement to internal investigators.