Police Abuse

DOJ Investigation of Police Killing of Jordan Edwards Something to Watch

How it plays out could reveal just how far the attorney general can roll back progress made on police accountability.



So far, Jeff Sessions' tenure as attorney general has been more or less a worst-case scenario. He's escalating the war on drugs, ordering prosecutors to seek maximum penalties again. He's scrapped a forensic science commission aimed at weeding pseudoscience out of the criminal justice system. He's ordered a review of all consent degrees with police departments found to be committing civil rights violations by the Department of Justice (DOJ), one of the few things the Obama administration got right. After a federal judge approved a DOJ-negotiated consent decree over the Sessions-led department's newfound objections, the attorney general warned it could lead to higher crime, echoing the kind of "Ferguson effect" concern pushed by the former FBI director James Comey even during the Obama administration.

Sessions, as one Twitter user rightly noted, seems like one member of the Trump administration with a coherent worldview and the competence to see it through. Unfortunately, that worldview is terrifying. Combined with the Trump administration's fast and loose approach to traditional political-career boundaries in government, Sessions' tenure could have far-reaching effects on the kinds of civil rights cases the DOJ pursues.

So it should be interesting to follow the DOJ's investigation, opened last week, into the police shooting of Jordan Edwards, a 15-year-old Texas boy who was shot and killed by a police officer who had open fired on a car full of teenagers leaving a party. Police initially claimed the car was being driven "aggressively" but the police chief withdrew that statement after body camera footage showed the car driving away. The police officer, Roy Oliver, was fired and later charged with murder.

Dallas district attorney's office, which is pursing the murder charges against Oliver, confirmed the DOJ investigation to Reuters, but the agency was not able to get a comment from the DOJ. The department hasn't announced the investigation yet either.

Trump made his pro-police law and order sentiments a central part of his campaign, insisting police were treated unfairly in the U.S., and chose as his attorney general, Sessions, a politician who has expressed the same kind of deference and the desire to institutionalize it in a department which, however flawed, is charged in part with the responsibility to protect civil rights from government abuse. Whether or not Sessions and the Trump administration acknowledge it, it remains a duty.