An attorney for a Fort Worth police officer who shot and killed a driver in front of his children while the man’s vehicle was dragging the officer said the children were not in danger of being shot.
Officer J. Romer shot and killed Charal Thomas, 32, during a traffic stop Monday night after he refused to stop his sport utility vehicle while dragging the officer, whose arm was trapped in the driver’s side window.
Thomas’ three children, ages 7, 8 and 11, were in the back seat of the Ford Expedition.
“What if one of those bullets would have hit these babies? Then what? Then what would have happened?” Alicia White, the 7-year-old’s mother, said at a candlelight vigil for Thomas on Tuesday night.
Lance Wyatt, who represents Romer, said his client shot in a downward angle to avoid the three children.
“The angle that he fired his weapon was directly at the driver, and he was conscious of the fact that there were kids in the vehicle,” Wyatt said.
Wyatt said officers did not know the children were inside the vehicle at first because the SUV’s windows are tinted.
He said none of the other officers took a shot at the vehicle when Thomas allegedly drove off, dragging Romer, because they didn’t want to injure the children.
“They didn’t react,” Wyatt said. “They didn’t use deadly force because of concern for those children.”
Thomas was under surveillance by undercover narcotics officers when the officer stopped him at a gas station, police said. The officer discovered Thomas had outstanding warrants and tried to arrest him, police said.
White said the officers should have escorted her daughter and the other two children away from the vehicle.
“She’s 7, and they took her father from her yesterday, and yesterday she was supposed to be celebrating her birthday with her father,” she said.
But Wyatt said the situation would have unfolded differently if Thomas had followed the officer’s directions.
He said Romer believed he would be thrown from the truck and killed if he didn’t shoot.
Thomas’ family is calling for an internal investigation of the shooting.
“I’m angry because, where was the respect for these children? Where was the sense of control?” White said.
Fort Worth Police Chief Jeff Halstead said he understands the anger from the community and asked for patience while the department investigates.
Halstead also said the department may consider changing the protocol about officers reaching into vehicles during traffic stops because it can put the officer in harm’s way.
Romer reached into the SUV to unlock the door when Thomas refused to get out of the car, police said. Thomas then allegedly rolled up the window and drove off with Romer’s arm trapped inside.
Fort Worth police released surveillance video from a convenience store camera that recorded part of the incident. The department said it was the only video of the incident.
A police prisoner transport van that does not have a dashboard camera was the primary vehicle in the traffic stop, the department said Wednesday. A secondary vehicle that has a dashboard camera pulled up behind the van, but its camera was not turned on because it wasn’t the primary vehicle in the call.
Romer is assigned to the east patrol division and has been with the department for two years. He also has another six years of police experience, Fort Worth police said.
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