Officer Who Shot Mentally Ill Man Fired; Grand Jury to Hear Case

Officer fired after disciplinary hearing; incident to go to grand jury

The Dallas police officer who shot a mentally ill man in a disputed incident caught on video has been fired, and the shooting will be referred to a grand jury.

Dallas police said Thursday that Officer Cardan Spencer was terminated for violating the department's deadly force policy and policies for dealing with mentally ill people.

"We are not going to look the other way," Police Chief David Brown said in a news conference on Thursday.

He also apologized to Bennett's family.

"Officers are not above the law," Brown said.

Brown said Spencer had been charged with aggravated assault, but the police department later said that the former officer had not been charged. Police drew up an aggravated assault arrest warrant for Spencer, but the judge did not sign it, instead directing detectives to prepare a grand jury referral.

Spencer said in the police report that he fired at Bobby Gerald Bennett, 52, on Oct. 14 after the man threatened him and another officer with a knife. But video captured by a neighbor's surveillance camera shows that Bennett didn't move toward the officers until he crumpled to the ground from a gunshot.

On Thursday, Brown said that while Spencer was emotional and regretful about the shooting, it ultimately was his decision to shoot. More officers and medical personnel were on the way, and all officers are trained to deal with mentally ill people, Brown said.

"That fear must be reasonable fear, and officers must use time and distance when appropriate as a reasonable alternative to using force," he said.

Bennett was charged with aggravated assault after the shooting, a charge that was dropped after the video came to light. Brown said police received copies of the surveillance video on the first day of the investigation into the shooting.

Following an outcry after the video was publicized, Spencer was placed on indefinite administrative leave before he was terminated Thursday.

Brown confirmed that a second officer would be investigated, saying he had instructed the Internal Affairs Division to look at Officer Christopher Watson, Spencer's partner.

Watson wrote the reports of the shooting for police records, and his accounts conflict with the video. In two separate reports, Watson wrote that Bennett took two steps toward the officers and raised a knife, indicating aggression.

"We're really taken aback," Brown said. "The first statement written by Officer Watson is not what happened. We're really struggling with how did he see something that didn't happen."

Watson has been placed on leave.

Brown said the three-pronged investigation -- criminal, professional and civil -- of the two officers caused the 10-day length between the incident and disciplinary action. Brown added that it took great patience to not comment during the investigation.

"I have the scars to prove it," he said.

Brown said he wants to equip every officer with body cameras, but said it would be "a huge undertaking."

"The advent of body cameras and mandating that they be engaged on every contact, I think, is the future of law enforcement."

Brown also detailed previous incidents involving Bennett, including a situation in Euless during which he had a weapon during a confrontation with police. Brown said Bennett also told police he was trying to have an officer fatally shoot him.

Neither Bennett's attorneys nor family members have confirmed that was his intention.

Bennett's mother, Joyce Jackson, said her son has schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

"When you're mentally ill and you're off your medications, you schiz out at times," she said Thursday. "You never know what they're going to schiz out about or how they're feeling about their own life."

Jackson said she is glad Spencer was fired but is focused on her son's recovery.

I can breathe a little bit better for other people knowing that the officer is not going to be on patrol," she said. "But do I feel relieved? Relieved at that, I am, but this issue is going to go the rest of my life, as well as my son."

She said she is grateful her neighbor captured the shooting on camera.

"I hope their eyes are wide open to what has transpired here and realize that, no matter where they are, they don't know who is watching. They don't know who is taking a tape," she said.

Bennett's attorney, George Milner, said Spencer's firing was justified, saying Bennett was "shot in cold blood." Watson also should be terminated if he lied, Milner said.

"I support our police force and believe Dallas has one of the best departments in the country," Mayor Mike Rawlings said in a statement. "We must keep it pure of any perceptions of wrongdoing, and that's exactly what Chief Brown has done by handling this investigation thoroughly and expediently."

Editor's Note: According to statements made by Police Chief David Brown during a news conference, an earlier version of this story stated that Officer Cardan Spencer had been charged with aggravated assault. The department later said that a judge had not signed an arrest warrant for Spencer but instead directed police to prepare a grand jury referral.

NBC DFW's Randy McIlwain and Omar Villafranca contributed to this report.

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