FORT WORTH, Texas -- A Tarrant County judge has declared a mistrial in the case of Fort Worth police officer who shot a man holding a barbecue fork.
The jury was deadlocked Wednesday morning, and the judge sent in an Allen charge, asking the jury to reconsider and keep deliberating. They sent back a note saying they were deadlocked 5-7 and wouldn't agree on a verdict.
The judge declared a mistrial just before 11:20 a.m.
“In our constitutional system of justice, we trust juries to make decisions in every trial based on the law and the evidence in each individual case," Criminal District Attorney Sharen Wilson said. "The jury carefully considered this case and was unable to reach a unanimous verdict. We will consider the jury’s inability to reach a verdict and the evidence presented at trial to decide whether a retrial is justified.”
The jury deliberated for four and a half hours Tuesday, and almost two hours Wednesday.
Fort Worth police officer Courtney Johnson faced a charge of aggravated assault by a public servant. If he was convicted, he could have faced up to 99 years or life in prison.
Johnson left court Wednesday surrounded by police officers, and made no comment.
Johnson’s attorneys, Jim Lane and Tim Choy, say evidence showed their client likely pulled the trigger as a reflex to what his left hand was doing with the shotgun at the time.
“He didn't intentionally shoot this man,” Lane says. “He feels terrible about the whole situation.”
Prosecutors argued that Johnson was reckless back in June 2015 when he responded to a 911 call about a prowler with a knife and encountered then 54-year-old Craig Adams in his own driveway with an object in his hand.
It turned out, Adams had a barbecue fork in his hand. Prosecutors pointed out that even though he put the fork down and had gotten down on one knee, Johnson still shot him with a shotgun.
Activists representing the African American community and supporting Craig Adams also feel terrible about the situation, but for other reasons.
“I'm really hurt right now,” says Jacqueline Craig, “because I have to accept the fact that we, as African Americans, our tax dollars are actually paying the police officers to murder and brutalize us. We don't get the justice we deserve here.”
Craig, who was seen being physically handled by a Fort Worth police officer in a viral video last year, spoke along with others after the mistrial.
“We’re going to continue to beg Sharen Wilson’s office to retry this case,” says Rod Smith, “because this case has enough merit that we can walk away with a guilty verdict. Because he did it recklessly.”
A member of Adams’ family declined to make immediate comment Wednesday, saying they weren’t taking news of the mistrial very well.
District Attorney Sharen Wilson released a statement Wednesday saying they’re considering whether a retrial is justified. Her spokeswoman later said that decision could come in the coming days.
“[Johnson] wants a resolution to this case, but at the same time it's good to know the jury, who are citizens of Tarrant County, almost half or more than half believe he should've been acquitted,” Choy says.
Earlier, the firing of the gun was the main focus on Tuesday, as Johnson took the stand for the second day.
At the prosecutor's request, Johnson showed the jury how he had disengaged the safety of his shotgun, racked it and pointed it at Adams.
Prosecutor Tamla Ray asked Johnson a string of questions about the gun's firing. "Do you still believe that gun misfired?" Ray asked.
"No ma’am, I do not," Johnson responded.
"You don’t believe the gun misfired?" she asked again.
"No ma’am," he said.
"So you don’t believe it malfunctioned?" Ray said.
"No ma’am, I do not," Johnson said.
Defense attorney Jim Lane addressed the gun firing in his closing argument.
"He didn’t intentionally do this," Lane said. "This was an unintentional discharge."
The defense, who'd also questioned Johnson on Monday, argued that much of the information was information Johnson had not known at the time. Those pieces of information included that Adams was at his own home, that he suffered from mental illness, that he had physical limitations and that he was not holding a knife, but rather a fork.
The defense says Johnson perceived the incident that could potentially be a deadly situation.
At the time of the shooting, he'd been a police officer for about two years. Before that, he was in the armed forces and was a teacher.
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