A former Dallas police officer is not guilty of assault in the fatal shooting of a 21-year-old woman in January 2017, a jury decided Thursday.
Christopher Hess was charged with aggravated assault by a public servant in the shooting of Genevive Dawes. A Dallas County jury returned the verdict after two days of deliberations. Hess could have been sentenced to from five years to life in prison if he had been found guilty.
In court, Hess closed his eyes in apparent relief, after the verdict was read by Judge Birmingham. His attorney Messina Madson telling reporters outside of court that "(Hess) made a hard decision but he made the right decision."
Dawes' family filed out of court in tears, still processing the verdict.
“This is embarrassing for the city, it’s embarrassing for us, I don’t see how we let this stand," Dawes' cousin Joseph Vickery said.
Next to Vickery, Dawes' grandma was visibly shaken as she brought up her two young children.
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“He left two little babies without a mother, asking where is my mommy, I don’t know what to tell you she’s in heaven," Christina Salcedo said.
Prosecutors declined to answer questions from reporters but said briefly they "respected the jury's decision." Their case encountered numerous obstacles, including witnesses that were at times combative and police officers at the scene who testified they believed Hess' made the right decision to fire.
“Every other officer said they felt (Hess) made the right decision, so at that point he doesn’t need to testify, so at that point it’s their burden and they didn’t meet it," Madson said.
Madson said she doesn't expect Hess to try to get his job back or become a police officer anywhere else.
Hess, 42, was one of two officers who responded to a suspicious persons call in January 2017. They found Dawes and another person asleep in a car that had been reported stolen, police said. Dawes ignored commands to exit the vehicle, reversed into a police cruiser, rammed a fence and was backing up again when the officers opened fire, police said.
Hess shot into the car a dozen times. Prosecutors argued that his actions were unreasonable. The former officer did not testify in his defense but his lawyers told the court that the shooting was justified because the car was a threat.
A grand jury returned the charge against Hess months after the confrontation, which at the time made him the first Dallas officer in more than four decades to be indicted in a deadly police shooting. Since then, several other North Texas officers have been charged in fatal shootings.
Hess was fired in July 2017 after an internal investigation found he violated the department's felony traffic stop policy, use of force policy and placed a person in greater danger than necessary.
If convicted, Hess faced up to 99 years or life in prison.