DALLAS — 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. If he had been found guilty, Hess could have been sentenced to from five years to life in prison.
Hess, 42, was one of two officers who responded to a suspicious persons call the night Dawes was shot and killed. They found her and another person asleep in a car that had been reported stolen, police said. Dawes ignored commands to exit the vehicle, then 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's lawyers told the court that the shooting was justified because the car was a threat.
After the verdict, defence attorney Messina Madson thanked the jury.
"Today, he finally gets to breath again," she said.
"We will never tell you this is anything other than a tragedy," Madson said. "I speak genuinely when I tell you I wish he was not in that situation that night, but it wasn't a situation of his making."
Daryl Washington, a lawyer for Dawes’ family, blamed the justice system for focusing on the perceived shortcomings of victims while accused officers appear in court "with a halo over their head."
"Are we giving the perception to people that if you happen to have a criminal past, if you happen to have a drug problem that it’s OK to take that person’s life?," Washington said outside the court. "That’s the message we’re sending to the entire United States, that if you’re less than perfect then your life doesn’t matter."
Hess did not testify in his defence but other officers and policing experts told the jury that they believe his actions were reasonable.
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 had violated the department’s felony traffic stop and use of force policies, and had placed a person in greater danger than necessary.