Bill Calls for Outside Prosecutors to Present Cop-on-Civilian Shootings to Grand Juries

Jordan Baker was unarmed when HPD officer Juventino Castro shot and killed him last January
Jordan Baker was unarmed when HPD officer Juventino Castro shot and killed him last January
Courtesy of Janet Baker

Jordan Baker was riding his bike near a strip mall off 5700 West Little York last January when he encountered Juventino Castro, an HPD officer of over a decade. Castro was moonlighting as a security guard, hired by a group of stores that had recently reported a string of burglaries. Police say Castro, who was in uniform, flagged 26-year-old Baker because he looked suspicious and matched the description of the robbery suspects -- the "description" being that Baker was a black man wearing a hoodie.

Investigators would later say there's no reason to think Baker had anything to do with the robberies at the strip center. He had a kid at home, was studying to become a welder, and had no criminal record to speak of (he'd been charged with misdemeanor pot possession and evading arrest when he was a teenager, but those charges were dismissed). Yet for some reason, "a brief struggle and foot chase ensued" when Castro tried to stop and talk to Baker, according to police. Castro later claimed that, for some reason, Baker stopped running at some point, turned toward the officer and reached for his waistband, even though he was unarmed. Castro fired once, killing Baker.

As with all officer-involved shootings, the Harris County District Attorney's Office presented the case to grand jury in December to decide whether Castro was justified in shooting and killing an unarmed man. According to the DA's office, there were no witnesses to the shooting; it was Castro's word against that of a dead man. And, as has been the case in every single HPD-involved shooting for over a decade, the grand jury cleared Castro.

Invoking Baker's name, Missouri City state Rep. Ron Reynolds has filed a bill to take officer-involved shootings out of the hands of local district attorneys, and would instead call for a special Attorney General-appointed prosecutor to investigate and present such cases to a grand jury. "Jordan Baker. Mike Brown. Eric Garner. There are blatant problems with the criminal justice system, and many of you have demanded change," Reynolds said in a statement announcing his HB 1840.

As the Chron reported in a startling 2013 investigation, HPD officers involved in shootings have been cleared every single time they've gone to a grand jury since 2004. Of the 121 people HPD officers have shot between 2008 and 2012, more than a quarter were unarmed.

Among other reforms, critics and activists have called for a more independent investigation into officer-involved shootings; the thinking goes that the symbiotic relationship that exists between police and prosecutors keeps questionable police shootings from getting a fair shake when DAs present such cases to a grand jury. As J. Michael Solar, a local attorney whose handled many cases involving excessive police force told us last year, "The partnership between law enforcement and prosecutors makes it virtually impossible for any subsequent prosecutorial review to be unbiased."

The bill from Reynolds (who, it should be noted, has had his own problems with the criminal justice system) would make it so that special prosecutors are assigned whenever there's an officer-involved injury or death. "Texas needs an independent, impartial, specifically appointed prosecutor to handle these most sensitive incidents," he said in a statement. "Fostering trust in the criminal justice system is a worth reason to change the procedure."


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