HOUSTON (AP) – A cellphone video of a sheriff’s deputy fatally shooting an unarmed Black man shows the man wandering in a Houston street with his pants around his ankles and continuing to approach the deputy as the officer tells him to stop.
The video, obtained by the Houston Chronicle from a civilian witness, does not show the actual shooting because a car passes in front of the cellphone camera as the Harris County deputy fires a single shot. A spokesman for the sheriff’s office said the man had an object in his hand, but no weapon was recovered at the scene.
Family members identified the man as 34-year-old Danny Ray Thomas, and said he had been devastated after two of his children were killed in 2016. The children’s mother is accused of drowning them in a bathtub.
Officers were responding to reports that a man was walking in the intersection with his pants down hitting cars as he mumbled to himself. Before the deputy arrived, a motorist had stopped in the intersection to confront Thomas. The deputy, whose name has not been released, broke up the altercation and can be seen in the video walking backward away from Thomas with his gun drawn, shouting commands at Thomas.
He can be seen telling Thomas to stop walking and get down, but Thomas continues to approach the deputy. A gunshot can be heard on the video, but can’t be seen. The deputy is next seen on the video crouching over Thomas, who is face down on the pavement.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas issued a statement Sunday calling on the sheriff’s department to release any dashcam and body-camera footage in the shooting and for the department to review its use-of-force policies to “demand lethal force only be used as a last resort.”
“It’s difficult to imagine how this shooting could possibly be justified. We must demand that our law enforcement agencies, who are sworn to protect our communities, be held accountable whenever deadly force is used unlawfully,” said Sharon Watkins-Jones, director of political strategies of the ACLU of Texas. “But whatever the excuse, another unarmed Black man has been killed by law enforcement, in the street and in broad daylight, and the only reason we know about it is because of bystander footage.”
Thomas’ sister, Kita Thomas, said she and her brother both suffered depression and helped each other survive recent events.
According to court records, Sheborah Thomas, the mother of Danny Thomas’ children, is facing two capital murder charges for allegedly drowning their 5-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son in a bathtub before hiding their bodies under a neighbor’s house in August 2016.
Court records show Danny Thomas was serving a prison sentence for a drug-related offense when the children were killed.
On Monday, Texas Organizing Project organized a rally to call for change in the policies that it said has allowed police officers to shot and kill Black and Latino citizens.
That evening, a community meeting was held with Houston Police Department, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, representatives from the county’s district attorney’s office, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and state Rep. Jarvis Johnson at a local church to discuss concerns about the shooting.
The ACLU is also calling for complete transparency in the case.
“In the immediate term, we call upon the Harris County Sheriff to release the officer’s name and any audio and video recordings to the public,” said Watkins-Jones. “The Houston Police Department must conduct a full and transparent criminal investigation into this matter. In the longer term, HCSO must revisit its use of force policies to prioritize the sanctity of human life, to require patience of its officers, and to demand that lethal force only be used as a last resort. Danny Ray Thomas should not have been killed, and with proper training in place, he wouldn’t have been.”