Sheriff’s Deputy Is Fired After Fatally Shooting Unarmed Man in Houston


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Danny Ray Thomas walking toward Cameron Brewer, then a Harris County Sheriff’s deputy, moments before Mr. Thomas was shot and killed in March. He was unarmed.

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via Reuters

A sheriff’s deputy who shot and killed an unarmed black man who was acting erratically at a Houston intersection last month has been fired, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office said on Friday.

The deputy, Cameron Brewer, who is also black, did not adhere to the department’s policy on use of force when he fatally shot Danny Ray Thomas, 34, on March 22, the agency said in a statement.

A video camera inside Mr. Brewer’s car captured part of the encounter: Mr. Thomas can be seen at an intersection with his pants around his ankles and in an altercation with another man as the deputy’s car pulls up. He can then be seen walking toward Deputy Brewer, who is yelling: “Get down, man! Get on the ground.”

The deputy was not wearing his newly issued body camera, so what happened next was not captured in the video released by the sheriff’s office. But the sound of a single gunshot could be heard, and Mr. Thomas was pronounced dead at a hospital.

Deputy Brewer, who joined the sheriff’s department in 2016, was placed on administrative duty after the shooting, pending an internal affairs investigation. In its statement on Friday, the department said that Mr. Thomas was “behaving erratically” but that he was unarmed. Although Deputy Brewer was carrying a Taser, he did not use it before shooting Mr. Thomas, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez has said.

“The brave men and women of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office are called upon to make life-or-death decisions on a daily basis, and we take that responsibility very seriously,” Sheriff Gonzalez said in the statement. “We hold the community’s trust as sacred, and we will continue to support our deputies with clear policies and the valuable training they need to protect the lives of all our residents.”

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Nonfiction: The Epidemic of Wrongful Convictions in America


“The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist,” by the Washington Post journalist Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington, a law professor at the University of Mississippi, avoids these generic problems. There is no murder mystery. The book details the wrongful convictions of two men, Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks, in the separate murders of two girls in the same rural Mississippi town in the early 1990s. But the real killer of both 3-year-olds is revealed to the reader before the wrong men are even put on trial. We are also spared the anguish of wondering if the system will ever get it right, for we know the men have already been freed thanks to the work of the nonprofit criminal exoneration organization the Innocence Project.

The crime having been solved early on, Balko and Carrington devote the bulk of the book to pulling back the curtain on the justice system’s little-known but systemic problem that put Brewer and Brooks behind bars: faulty and biased forensic evidence. Junk science convicted these men; real science set them free. The inability of judges and jurors to tell the difference is why innocent men languish in jail while the prosecutors who put them there run for higher office.

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Kennedy Brewer

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Isabelle Armand

Mississippi would have been better served by the actual actors from “CSI” conducting its forensic investigations than the autopsy specialist Steven Hayne and his “sidekick,” the bite-mark analyst Michael West. The book isn’t even really about exposing these men, as they’re already disgraced. Instead, Balko and Carrington have written a cry for help: “What happened in Mississippi may be the most wide-reaching scandal to date. Few states have encountered revelations that strike as forcefully at the very foundation of its criminal justice system. And few states’ public officials have shown less concern or taken less action after having learned of the problem.”

But, like so many who have demanded criminal justice reform, the authors are likely to fail. Not because they’re wrong, or because not enough judges and lawyers and politicians know they’re right. But because fixing the problem is just too hard.

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The real tension in Balko and Carrington’s book is why it’s too hard — whether our society’s tendency to incarcerate innocent individuals results from basic incompetence, or bald racism.

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