Arlington's police chief told a community forum that race relations between officers and minority communities must be a constant priority, not just a focus during crises.
Chief Will Johnson answered questions for almost an hour Wednesday at a combination prayer meeting and question-and-answer session at Cornerstone Baptist Church, a predominantly black church near the family home of Christian Taylor, a 19-year-old unarmed black college football player shot and killed by a police officer investigating a burglary call last Friday.
Twice, a black parent asked Johnson what they should tell their children about how to act when stopped by a police officer. Johnson urged parents to instruct their children to comply with the officer's directions. He said that if the officer behaves inappropriately, the person should report the matter to a police supervisor but not to confront the offending officer directly.
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On Tuesday, Johnson fired Brad Miller, the officer who shot Taylor.
Adrian Taylor, the dead teen's father, attended the session but did not speak. Pastor Dwight McKissic Sr. presented a check for $5,000 to the Taylor family to help defray Christian Taylor's funeral expenses, which is scheduled for Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at Koinonia Christian Church in southeast Arlington.
Overcome with emotion, Adrian Taylor could barely stand.
McKissic introduced Taylor, called him forward to the stage in front of a crowd of hundreds, and handed over the money.
Taylor shook the pastor’s hand, and then doubled over while those gathered for Wednesday’s “Unity, Peace and Prayer Rally” cheered for the man who only hours earlier had finalized funeral arrangements for his son.
“We are not here to focus on race. We’re here to focus on righteousness,” McKissic said.
The pastor's words come amid a national conversation about policing and procedure following the shooting death of Christian Taylor.
A security company reported to Arlington police shortly after 1 a.m. Friday, Aug. 7 that Taylor was seen on security cameras vandalizing a sports car on the lot of a south Arlington car dealership.
Minutes later, police officers arrived – but not before Taylor had driven his own SUV through the glass window of the dealership’s showroom.
Miller, 49, was one of the first officers to arrive.
But instead of securing the perimeter of the dealership like he was instructed to do, Miller entered the building and confronted Taylor, according to Johnson.
During the confrontation, Taylor “rapidly approached” Miller, Johnson said, and Miller responded by firing his pistol four times, hitting Taylor with three bullets.
“Based on a preponderance of the evidence available to me, and the facts revealed by the investigative team, I have decided to terminate Officer Miller’s employment with the Arlington Police Department for exercising poor judgment,” Johnson said at a news conference Tuesday.
According to the police chief, Miller’s decision to enter the building “created an environment of cascading consequences that produced an unrecoverable outcome.”
After the chief’s announcement of Miller’s termination, several police officer organizations condemned the decision.
“Every officer, every employee, every American has a right to be free from a rush to judgment without the facts,” read a statement, in part, by the Arlington Municipal Patrolman’s Association, which added that it “supports Officer Miller’s right to be judged fairly and completely on facts instead of a snapshot developed in only days.”
The Texas Municipal Police Association was far more harsh in its criticism of Johnson, specifically.
“We are appalled and disappointed at Chief Johnson’s decision to dismiss Officer Brad Miller. The chief’s actions are short-sighted, ill-considered and dangerous,” said TMPA Executive Director Kevin Lawrence. “We believe he is doing what is politically expedient rather than what his duties should be to the citizens of Arlington.”
John Snider, an attorney who is representing Brad Miller, issued a scathing statement to reporters on Wednesday.
"While Chief Johnson sits behind his desk and Monday morning quarterback's an officer's actions when coming face-to-face with a violent felon, his biggest fears are getting a paper cut or losing his six-figure salary. Chief Johnson used 20/20 hindsight to protect his job and appease anti-police activists. Officer Miller made decisions in the heat of a violent confrontation to save his and other officers' lives. A four day "investigation" and media theatrics are not even close to due process. This decision, while politically expedient for Chief Johnson, is an insult to the rank and file officers who put their lives on the line every day," the statement read.
With that criticism from his peers as a backdrop, Johnson addressed the crowd gathered in Cornerstone Baptist Church.
“I’ve never been more humbled to stand before an audience, especially in God’s house,” said Johnson in his opening remarks.
NBC 5's Jeff Smith and Tim Ciesco and The Associated Press contributed to this report.