UPDATED Cop Shooting of Unarmed Houston Man Back at Grand Jury This Week

Update 12/23/2014 at 1:50 p.m.: The Houston Chronicle is reporting that a grand jury has cleared HPD officer Juventino Castro in the shooting death of Jordan Baker. We'll update when we have more information from the Harris County District Attorney's Office.

Following the grand jury's decision Tuesday, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson released this statement:

"I want to express my deepest sympathies to Janet Baker and the entire Baker family. I know they are disappointed, but the grand jury's decision means they found that there was no probable cause to believe a crime was committed. It does not constitute an endorsement of the officer's actions. ...

"It is our policy to present all of these cases to a grand jury so 12 representatives of our community will hear all the evidence and make a decision on whether charges should be filed. In these cases we seek the most diverse grand jury that is available at the time and we ensure that there are no former or current police officers or prosecutors on the grand jury we present to."

--- Original story:

Renae Tran says that in the months following Jordan Baker's death, their son cried himself to sleep. Standing in the parking lot of the northwest side strip mall where an off-duty Houston police officer shot and killed 26-year-old Baker early this year, Tran said softly, "I just pray that justice will be served for Jordan and his son."

The shooting death of Jordan Baker, who was unarmed when he encountered officer Juventino Castro the night of January 16, 2014, will be back in front of a Harris County grand jury for the fourth day of testimony on Tuesday.

Castro, an HPD veteran of over a decade, had been hired by a group of stores to work security at the strip mall off 5700 West Little York after businesses reported a string of burglaries in January. Police at the time said Castro, who was in uniform, tried to stop Baker in the parking lot because he looked "suspicious" and matched a description of the robbery suspects -- namely that Baker was wearing a black hoodie.

There's no reason to think Baker had anything to the robberies at the strip center, authorities say. But according to police, "a brief struggle and foot chase ensued" when Castro tried to stop and talk to Baker. Police claim that, for some reason, Baker stopped running at some point, turned around toward the officer and reached for his waistband. Castro fired once, killing Baker, who was unarmed.

The case got the personal attention of Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson after Baker's mother, Janet Baker, showed at a December 1 town hall meeting at Community of Faith Church with local leaders like Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia and State Sen. John Whitmire. Jordan Baker's funeral service had been held in that same church nearly a year earlier.

At the end of a panel discussion, called in the wake of the decision not to indict the Ferguson, Missouri police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, Janet stood up and asked for justice for her son. The town hall prompted Anderson to allocate nearly $2 million in asset seizure funds toward body cameras for local cops. Later in the month she met with Janet Baker for three hours to talk about the case and the grand jury process, according to the DA's office.

Janet remembers her son as a doting father, loving son and a hard worker. He was studying to become a welder, hoping to get a better-paying job to provide for his son, before he was shot and killed, Janet says. "We're hopeful there will be a just outcome," she said last week outside the grand jury room. Janet has waited outside the hearings each day with supporters from the Houston Justice Coalition and local activist Deric Muhammad.

"Plain and simple, this looks like a case of profiling," Muhammad told the Press last week. "Why was Jordan stopped? Because a police officer thought he fit the profile of a suspect -- black and wearing a hoodie."

Outside the vigil Janet Baker called on Sunday in the parking lot of the strip mall where her son was gunned won, activists called for reforms to the grand jury system, pointing out that since 2004, Houston cops have been cleared every time they've gone before a grand jury for shooting a civilian. Last week, an HPD spokesman said the department is still conducting its own internal affairs investigation into the shooting. See also: Houston Grand Juries (Almost) Never Indict Cops for Shooting Civilians.

At the vigil, slam poet A.J. McQueen stood next to Janet Baker and recited a poem for the crowd.

"Imagine birthing a baby boy. Can you see him, your pride and joy?" McQueen said. "Imagine his first words not being, 'Momma, daddy I got a boo-boo,' something cute, but imagine his first words were 'please don't shoot.'"

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Michael Barajas
Contact: Michael Barajas