Update from trial of cop who killed Pamela Turner
Antoinette Dorsey-James holds a picture of her sister Pamela Turner during a news conference outside the Harris County Civil Court in Houston. Baytown Police Officer Juan Delacruz has been charged with assault for fatally shooting Turner in the parking lot of an apartment complex where they both lived in May 2019 prosecutors announced Monday, Sept. 14, 2020. (Godofredo A Vasquez/Houston Chronicle via AP File)

Though the trial of Baytown police officer Juan Manuel Delacruz seemingly just began, it is nearly over. Delacruz is on trial for the death of unarmed Black grandmother Pamela Turner whom he shot and killed on May 19, 2019, while Turner suffered a mental health crisis.

Longtime activist and national chairman of the National Black United Front (NBUF), Kofi Taharka, has been present at the majority of the court proceedings. The Defender spoke with Taharka to get the rundown on what has transpired thus far as the family of Turner seeks justice in the form of accountability for Delacruz.

Kofi Taharka

DEFENDER: How is the trial going, and what are some things that we, the community, need to know?

KOFI TAHARKA: Everything we look at in this society, including this trial from the National Black United Front’s perspective we have to look at it from the fact that we’re living within a system of global white supremacy and racism. And then we also have to look at it from the long lens of history. It’s not just individual cases, if you will. I think it was Minister Malcolm that said “The most disrespected and unprotected person on the planet was a Black woman.” And in this case, it was our sister Pamela Turner. So having that view, and then also having a view of 30 years-worth of organizing and activism around police terrorism, brutality and misconduct, and the entire contradictions of the American so-called criminal justice system is how we have approached this particular case. We were on the ground immediately. We’ve been to Baytown a number of times, and stayed in contact with the family.

And first, the courts operate in a way that is not conducive to rendering justice. (02:02) It was only Tuesday of last week that the final word that finally, that the trial was gonna start on Thursday. So today (Monday, Oct. 10) is the third and final day of the trial. And I would say, it was really only about two full days of testimony.

The prosecution delivered its case. They rested on Friday. The defense only called two, in our estimation, very weak witnesses this morning. And closing arguments are going on as we speak or are supposed to begin at one o’clock and then the case would go to the jury.

One of the things that really sticks out to me from observing a good portion of this is that the police can’t police themselves. That’s like the fox guarding the henhouse. And activists in our time and organizers before our time have been saying this. And there have been major uprisings and protests throughout America over the last 10, 15 years, and going beyond that, dealing with that basic point.

So, in this trial, a part of it was a battle of so-called experts, and all of them being in law enforcement, whether they be the Texas Rangers or some type of other entity. Today, they had a “use of force expert.” And a lot of the testimony was really based upon what it is that they had to say about the video evidence.

There were three different videos. One from the apartment complex in Baytown on May 13, 2019, when Juan Cruz executed our sister there. Another is the bystander video that went public back in 2019. And then in the courtroom, the public got an opportunity for the first time, I believe, to see the body camera video. And this has been very traumatic to see someone executed in that way. It’s kinda like I think the family was very frustrated because they had not been in this situation before. And this is their mother, their sister, the mother of their children, their aunt.

Kofi Taharka and Deloyd Parker. Photo courtesy Kofi Taharka.

And a lot of tension broke out last week because of a simple statement that was made by somebody in the audience when they were talking about the bodycam video. And the judge, who I understand is a lame duck who lost in the primary, really just went off the rails, overreacted, sent the jury out twice because people were looking at their loved and had some response to it . They didn’t just sit there like robots.

So, it’s in that total context of how I was looking at it from a NBUF standpoint; there to be supportive and stand in solidarity with the family. But also understanding that it’s bigger than this one case. That it is a systematic situation that we have faced for hundreds of years within this country. And this idea that these policing agencies will be given so much clout and credibility in the court of law and analyzing something where there’s an inherent bias and contradiction to them testifying, there’s been many, many articles and studies written about. That was one of the glaring things that stood out to me.

DEFENDER: Do you have any insight into when they’ll come back with a decision?

TAHARKA: I do know that it has been stated that this judge has been rushing or pushing the trial and that from the vantage point of the prosecution or the vantage point of the family that his rulings have not been fair. For instance, there’s nothing been allowed in to talk about the fact that this police officer lived in the same apartment complex, and knew her. There’s nothing been allowed in to speak to any mental health issues that she had, to give context to the jury. So. many of those rulings have been viewed as being very unfavorable in terms of the prosecution. Another thing that stuck out to me is they have two Black men prosecuting the case from District Attorney [Kim] Ogg’s office.

Kofi Taharka

That stood out because we know everything is political. Everything is political. And heretofore, I have not seen District Attorney Ogg in the trial. Maybe I missed her in the trial. I asked a question of one of the people on the said, “Where are the white DAs? Where are the Latino DAs? You have a Latino or indigenous person as the defendant, Juan La Cruz is indigenous, or the colloquial term is Hispanic. Where are these people? So I don’t know what all of the politics are. I don’t know no what the rationale has been in that particular decision and how this plays out. On the jury, there are three people that are clearly persons of African descent. It seems that there may four or five people who appear to be indigenous or Hispanic descent.

It’s very, very interesting, all of these particular dynamics. So, knowing the criminal justice system as I do, we don’t tend to expect much. And let me say this, he’s charged with aggravated assault, not murder. That’s the charge. And typically, that’s a lot of times what happens in police terrorists’ case when someone gets murdered, they get charged with a lesser charge, which is different from what you or I would be charged with because of the inherent contradiction and bias and global white supremacist, racist system that it is, and protections that are there for those in law enforcement. He’s actually charged with aggravated assault. A grand jury indicted him, and they’ve actually taken the case to trial. So I think we have to be very analytical. We have to look at it from a historical and political and practical point of view, and a systematic point of view as to how these cases get adjudicated within the so-called criminal justice system.

DEFENDER: Anything else?

TAHARKA: In today’s society where trends and hashtags and clickbait, it’s very important for us activists, organizers and people in the community, is to not just run behind every fad or trend. So this has been three years that this family has been waiting right for this. And there was a lot of attention to it when it happened. It was in midst of a lot of other high-profile police terrorism, brutality and murder cases in that it’s very important for us to stay the course for the long haul when the TV cameras go away and everything when we’re doing organizing as well. And not be caught in celebrity activism or press conference activism or #hashtag activism. That’s not going to yield us or deliver us the results that we want.

Aswad Walker

I'm originally from Cincinnati. I'm a husband and father to six children. I'm an associate pastor for the Shrine of Black Madonna (Houston). I am a lecturer (adjunct professor) in the University of Houston...