THE LAST TIME A GRAND JURY VOTED TO indict a Dallas police officer for killing someone in this town was 1973, when officer Darrell Cain shot a 12-year-old Hispanic boy named Santos Rodriguez in the head.
At least that’s what most people think. In truth, the last time that happened was 1987. June 12, 1987, to be exact. You may not remember. On that day, three police officers were indicted by a Dallas County grand jury for shooting a lanky, 20-year-old kid nine times through the darkly tinted car windows of his car.
The vote had not come easily. The 12 citizens on that grand jury had fretted and sweated and argued over two long days of testimony and many hours of deliberations. A stream of police officers and civilian witnesses had come before them. A thick file of police documents had been produced for their inspection. Aerial photographs of the scene had been passed around. Diagrams had been drawn on a chalkboard. And the district attorney’s office had made a recommendation: no-bill the three officers, Do not charge them with a crime.
But the grand jurors could not do that. Instead, by a count of 9-1, they voted to indict the officers. And then they went home, emotionally drained but satisfied that justice had been done; sobered, naturally, with the gravity of their decision, but confident that these three police officers should stand trial.
They never did. Somehow, the true-bill became a no-bill. In that strange process lie questions that the department is once again facing as it grapples with the uses and abuses of its deadly force policy in the wake of another tragic shooting death, that of Oak Cliff florist R.L. Rose. In the case of Larry Brice, now, four years later, questions are more plentiful than answers. For the citizens who deliberated the officers’ fates, it is a case that refuses to die.
It is unclear what happened to Larry Brice in the early morning of February 3, 1987. There has never been a criminal trial. There has never been a civil trial, though a civil suit filed by Larry Brice’s mother against the city and the officers is currently on appeal after a federal judge in Dallas granted summary judgment for the defendants, in effect throwing the case out without a trial.
The only investigation of the shooting was conducted by police officers, who concluded on March 10, 1987, just a month after the shooting, that the three police officers who shot and killed Larry Brice had been justified in doing so.
These are the facts of the case, according to the 102-page Internal Affairs Division report on the investigation:
At 12:21 a.m. on February 3, Larry Brice was driving north on Lawnview Avenue, past Grove Hill Memorial Park cemetery, in a 1984 white Pontiac Firebird with darkly tinted windows. At Samuell Boulevard, he took a right-hand turn but did not use his turn signal. Officers Dale Mercer and Jon Lumbley, neither of whom had been out of the academy more than 16 months, decided to pull him over for not signaling.
But Brice did not pull over. When the officers put on their flashing lights and siren, he sped away, leading them on a 19-minute chase through the streets and freeways of East Dallas and Pleasant Grove, as far west as the Mesquite line.
Toward the end of the chase, a second patrol car. driven by officers Jesse Reyes and Lawrence Lucido, intercepted the chase and became the lead car. Reyes had been out of the academy three years; Lucido had been out nine months. A police helicopter carrying three officers joined the two squad cars. Brice drove on. Finally, he turned into a dead-end street, just west of the intersection of Highway 175 and Interstate 635. The short street, called Portnoma, was lined on both sides with small, boxy, wood frame homes. At that hour of the morning, most people were asleep.
Brice hit a metal barricade at the end of Portnoma, backed up, then drove into the field that lay beyond it. It had been raining that day; the field was wet and muddy.
Lucido and Reyes followed Brice into the field. Brice made a U-turn, as though he were going to try and drive back out the way he had come. The officers followed. At that point, Brice’s car, wheels spinning, appeared to get stuck in the mud. Mercer and Lumbley, meanwhile, arrived on the scene in their patrol car, which they parked at the entrance of the field. The helicopter hovered overhead, its bright beacon zeroed in on the frantic activity below.
All four officers approached Brice’s car-Mercer and Lumbley from the front, Reyes and Lucido from the back-Police accounts differ on what happened next. While all agree that Mercer ran in front of Brice’s car, an investigator’s report taken at the scene shortly after the incident states that Mercer “slipped on the wet grass, landed on his back, and was lying directly in front of the Pontiac.” Mercer, however, claims that the car moved forward as he passed in front of it and struck him, knocking him to the ground.
Once on the ground. Mercer says, he put his feet against the car’s bumper “and began pushing frantically in an effort to keep from going under the wheels,” All the while, he says, the car’s engine was racing.
Somehow, he says, he managed to pull his revolver out, kick himself over on his right side, “even with the front corner of the vehicle,” and get off a shot. As he rose to his feet, he says, he fired three more times through Brice’s window. His shots prompted the others to open fire. Reyes shot five times into Brice’s window. Lumbley fired two shots into the passenger window. Lucido. who says he watched Reyes and Lumbley firing into the car from either side, did not fire.
Brice was pulled from the car, severely wounded. Reyes cut his shirt off. Lumbley and Mercer began CPR as five other officers arrived. One of them advised Reyes, Lumbley, Mercer, and Lucido not to say anything until Phil Burleson, a Dallas Police Association lawyer who had been summoned, got there.
Brice was taken by ambulance to Southeastern Methodist Hospital in Pleasant Grove, where he was treated for nine gunshot wounds-one in the head, two in the chest, four in the left arm, one in the right arm, and one in the left shoulder. He died at 1:07 a.m.-46 minutes after making a right turn in front of a cemetery.
THE GRAND JURY GOT THE LARRY BRICE CASE ON THE morning of June 10, 1987. It was one of 65 cases they had to rule on that day. The others ran the normal gamut from burglary to robbery to DWI, forgery, car theft, and drug peddling. It was clear from the minute the jurors looked at the Brice case on their daily worksheets that it was going to be a challenge. Unlike the others, which were brief, two-line mentions on legal-sized pages, the Brice case had an entire page unto itself. Down the right-hand side of the page were the names of 44 people who were scheduled to testify. And once testimony began, the grand jury had serious problems with the police department’s story of Larry Brice’s death.
“I led the questioning on this,” says Mitchell Rasansky, 53, a Dallas banker and real estate investor who was the assistant foreman of that jury, “because I smelled something wrong. Something just wasn’t right. I don’t know exactly why . . . the pictures they showed us . . . the police officers. ..”
Usually, the grand jury hears testimony from only one person per case-the police officer handling the case, or sometimes the victim, if the victim saw who did it. The court bailiffs are the ones who decide who should testify. They review the cases ahead of time, pick the witnesses, and send out the subpoenaes. If the grand jury is not satisfied with that testimony, or has follow-up questions that require an answer from someone else, they can request other witnesses to appear, including the defendant if he wants to testify on his own behalf.
Police shootings are different. Because indicting a police officer is such serious business, the assistant district attorney in charge of that particular grand jury reviews the case, too. He confers with the bailiff. Usually, they decide to bring in everyone who might have seen something. In the Brice case, that meant the four officers directly involved, the three officers in the helicopter, three supervisors and one patrol officer who pulled up within minutes of the shooting, a physical evidence investigator, an IAD investigator, and 33 residents of Portnoma Lane and the adjacent street.
It was already clear from their affidavits that most of the residents would be of little help. While many heard the helicopter and the shots, 31 of the 33 never saw the chase or the shooting; some slept through everything. Of the two who did see something, Sam Pettit, a city sanitation worker who lived in the house closest to the field, saw the Pontiac and the patrol cars but threw himself and his girlfriend on the floor when the shooting started. He could provide no details of what transpired. The only witness who could provide any details was an electrician named Perry Daniels who lived on the next street and had a clear line of sight from his front window to the field. But for reasons that would later become clear, he did not show up to testify.
With nothing else to go on. the jurors found themselves relying on the police testimony. That testimony troubled them.
Bill Hamilton, 47. co-owner of Annette 2 Cosmetiques, remembers going to the blackboard with another juror, Billy Ratcliff, a 43-year-old computer program manager with IBM. They sketched the scenario as described by the police. “I asked the policemen who were involved in the chase to give us their full recollections,” Hamilton says. “And after we drew it out on the board and all of that, it was clear to me that someone needed to take a closer look at this. It appalled me.”
Several of the grand jurors could not understand, from a logistical point of view, how Mercer was able to put his feet on the bumper, push himself over his right side, draw his revolver, fire off a shot, rise to his feet, and get three more shots off-all in a matter of seconds. Or, more importantly, why he had to shoot at all if, in fact, he had pushed himself out of the path of the car.
’That was always my problem with it.” Hamilton says. “If he had rolled away from the car, and he was no longer in danger, why did he shoot? It was rotten from the very beginning.”
And why, some members wondered aloud, was Mercer ever on the ground in the first place? After a 19-minute chase, why would he purposely run in front of alive car that had its engine racing?
To answer that question, Rasansky asked that a police officer from the department’s training academy be brought in. According to Rasansky, the training officer testified that it was contrary to training principles for officers to fire at a suspect in this situation. Rasansky says that Quincy Ollison, the assistant district attorney in charge of that grand jury, cut the training officer short. “It was obvious he was pushing this guy away because it was such damaging testimony against the Dallas Police Department.”
The IAD investigator who testified, Kevin Powell, believed Mercer’s actions were justified. Although police general orders prohibited an officer from voluntarily placing himself in front of an oncoming vehicle, Powell argued that since officers believed Brice’s car had been stuck in the mud, it therefore wasn’t “oncoming” when Mercer ran in front of it.
The grand jurors were not convinced.
“I just didn’t see how the car could have moved being in the position that it was,” recalls Mattie Lee Nash, 68, a West Dallas community leader who had sat on four grand juries. “My question was why did they chase him that far after he went into a dead-end in a residential area? The bullets could have gone anywhere, and the car was bogged, and since no shots came from that car, they could have used another procedure to capture him.”
Daniel Polito, 69, a retired fund-raising consultant from Car-rollton. believes that there was no reason to have ever shot Brice. “It was unprovoked, I think,” he says. “The police department- and I don’t have anything against the police, you understand-but I think there has been a lot of deadly force shootings that obviously are suspect. In that one. half the department was chasing that guy in the field and helicopters and everything. It was wild. The guy didn’t do anything. He had a traffic infraction-and they started to chase.
“They had him trapped,” Palito says. “He was cornered in there. They could have used a bullhorn and not even approached the car: ’You’re under arrest; get out of the car with your hands up.’ But none of that took place. So the guy didn’t have a chance.”
That was the general feeling in the room the day the grand jury voted, which they believe was Friday, June 12. Several grand jurors say that jury foreman Mimi Oliver, a 30-year-old housewife who at the time was married to state District Judge Jesse Oliver, was absent that day, so Rasansky filled in as acting foreman. Oliver can’t remember if she was there or not. One other juror was absent that day-Robert Swesnik, then a 71-year-old retired oil and gas company executive.
That meant, if Oliver was indeed absent, that there were 10 present. And nine votes were needed to indict. “It was very clear that that afternoon when we took the vote, there wasn’t any having to talk anybody into it,” Rasansky recalls.
By a vote of 9 to 1, the grand jury true-billed the three officers. The lone vote to no-bill was cast, the others say, by Lucretia Winkle, a North Dallas resident and wife of a lawyer. Winkle was the only grand juror who declined to be interviewed for this story,
Several grand jurors remember vividly how the assistant district attorney, Quincy Ollison, reacted to their vote.
“He was upset,” says Lloyd Iglehart Sr, who has been a shipping clerk at General Motors for 27 years. “He slammed the door and went out. He was that upset.”
RUBY SKELLEN, LARRY BRICE’S 47-YEAR-OLD MOTHER, remembers preparing herself for three no-bills.
“I had already been told by Peter Lesser not to be upset,” says Skellen of the well-known criminal defense lawyer who had counseled her just after her son’s death. “Peter said it was going to be a no-bill. So I had already trained my mind so that I would not go down the tubes when it was a no-bill.”
Lesser was sure the officers would be no-billed because, he believes, the system is set up to produce that result. In a police shooting, the police investigate themselves, then present their case to the grand jury, which has no other evidence to consider. The district attorney, ostensibly the objective party in this, almost always sides with the police.
“They depend on each other,” Lesser says of the police and the DA. “Cops get the evidence for the DA in all the other cases. They’re part of the same team. It’s a we-versus-them mentality.1’
Ruby Skellen didn’t know anything about the relationship between the DA and the police; or how police shootings are investigated; or how grand juries make decisions. Before her son was shot, she’d only had one encounter with the legal system in her life-and that was a speeding ticket.
So Skellen was shocked when, in the immediate aftermath of her son’s death, she was unable to get any information from the police about what happened. The two police officers who came to her door the day of the shooting were more interested in asking questions about her son than explaining how he died. They promised to get in touch by phone the following day. They never did. An officer she reached by phone a few days later promised to get her a copy of the incident report on the shooting. He never did. She asked police where she could find the Pontiac; she was told they didn’t know, although she later learned it was kept at the city pound until the city auctioned it off to a Missouri man. Whatever clothes and possessions Larry had in the car that night disappeared except for $15 in bloodied bills and coins, which the police sent to Skellen. She keeps them in a safety deposit box.
“That’s all I have left of Larry,” says his mother.
It was clear to Skellen from the very beginning that if she were going to learn anything about her son’s death, she’d have to find it out on her own. She began going to the library to read books and articles about police shootings. She attended the congressional hearings on deadly force held here in Dallas. She called city and county officials. She joined a victims’ group. She interviewed 45 lawyers about her case. None would take it.
“One lawyer was on the 15th floor of a lovely glass building along the freeway,” she recalls. “There were beautiful Oriental rugs on the floor and a china cabinet filled with fine things from Japan, ultrafine things. I wasn’t there long. He said he didn’t get to the 15th floor by taking my type of case. He said he had two Porsches in the garage, and he wanted to keep it that way.”
Lesser did want the case-“I thought the officers murdered the kid and got away with it,” he says-but had to turn it down when conflict-of-interest questions arose about his appointment to the Dallas Citizens Police Review Board.
What kept Ruby Skellen going, crusading for Larry, crusading for justice, were her memories of a sweet, skittish kid whose life had taken on a randomness since he was 13 and his parents unexpectedly divorced. Since then, he had bounced unhappily between homes, going from his mother to his father to friends. At the time of his death, he was living with friends in Pleasant Grove and working part-time at a muffler shop.
Larry called his mother several days before he died to tell her that he wanted to marry his girlfriend Lisa and have the first Brice boy. Skellen remembers telling him that he ought to think about getting on his feet first-getting a steady job. a place of his own, some direction. “Oh, come on Mom,” she remembers Larry chiding her. And they laughed and hung up, for the last time.
Skellen can only speculate about why her son ran from the police that night. For a long time she thought he fled because of the more than $1,600 he owed on as many as 25 outstanding traffic tickets. He had asked her to help him pay the tickets, and she had refused. That haunted her for many months after his death. “Larry was always a difficult child,” she says. “Anything I told him to do he never did, and he was always in some kind of bind. I went to Toughlove because Larry had the upper hand on me, and I could never say no to him. In Toughlove I learned from other people that it was okay to say no-and when Larry asked me to help him on all those tickets, I said no.”
And for a long time, she blamed herself for his death.
Not any more.
“Today I know Larry would have run away anyway,” she says. “Because he was scared. And he had a life history of hyperventila-tion-so I’m positive that he was hyperventilating the whole time.”
THERE WERE TWO GRAND JURIES HEARING CASES back in June of 1987. Grand Jury A met every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Grand Jury B met on Tuesday and Thursday. It was Grand Jury A that heard the Brice case. They voted to indict the three police officers on Friday, June 12. On Monday, they were told there was a problem with the indictment.
The first indication that something was wrong came when Quincy Ollison walked into the grand jury room that morning. His boss, Chief Felony Prosecutor Hugh Lucas, came in, too.
The true-bills on the police officers, Lucas explained, were invalid. The group had voted to indict the officers for homicide, but homicide was not an indictable offense. There were five different degrees of homicide-murder, capital murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, and criminally negligent homicide. In order to true-bill, the jurors had to vote on one of those five,
The jurors were confused. As usual, Ollison had given them their worksheets that day. And, as usual, the charges they were to consider for each case were already on those sheets, right next to the name of the defendants. The charge that had been on the worksheet next to the three officers’ names was “homicide.” Which is why the grand jurors had voted to indict them for homicide.
Ollison and Lucas held firm. The vote was invalid. The grand jury would have to vote again.
To this day, not one grand juror can explain why they had to revote. What was told to them that day didn’t make sense; it still doesn’t. All they knew was that in 3,400-pius cases, there had never been a problem with their vote. And now there was.
Hugh Lucas is extremely uncomfortable discussing what happened in the Brice case. In a 1988 newspaper article-in which County Commissioner John Wiley Price, who was angry over a number of police shootings, accused Lucas of somehow influencing the Brice grand jury-Lucas denied ever being in the same room with those grand jurors. When asked about his role for this story, Lucas at first declined to comment. Then, after being told that 11 of 12 jurors remember his ordering the revote, he admitted doing so.
“I wasn’t in there but three minutes . . .” he says. “My mistake was going in there at all.”
But Lucas says the grand jurors’ insistence that they were somehow duped-not allowed to indict-just isn’t the case. The homicide charge that appeared on their worksheets was standard for a police shooting. Unlike other shootings, in which the police work up a case, charge the suspect with a specific crime, and then file the case with the DA, police shootings are handled more gingerly. Police don’t charge their own with a crime, and they don’t formally file the case. They simply turn over their evidence to the DA and let the grand jury decide if the officers should be charged with a crime.
“It’s not fair to charge a guy with murder when it’s clearly self-defense or justifiable [homicide],” Lucas says.
Since there is no charge for the grand jury to consider, the DA’s office labels the case “investigation of homicide” and puts “homicide,” for short, on the worksheet next to the officers’ names. It leaves it up to the grand jurors, if they decide a crime may have been committed, to pick the degree of homicide they want the officers to be tried on.
The Brice grand jurors say that if “investigation of homicide” had been written on their sheets instead of “homicide,” it would have tipped them off that this was not a bona fide charge. But “homicide,” written alone, looked legitimate.
“I don’t know why we write it like that,” Lucas shrugs. “That’s just how we’ve always done it-as far back as I can remember.”
But, Lucas says, no matter what was written on the sheet, Ollison should have explained everything to the grand jurors.
Ollison, who now works for the U.S Justice Department in Virginia, says he doesn’t remember specifically explaining the process to the jurors, but he assumes he did. “Gosh,” he says, pausing for 30 seconds. “This is my answer-I believe that I instructed the grand jury on the chargeable offenses and penalty ranges for those offenses, as I did consistently with every case that was brought before them.”
But all 11 grand jurors interviewed for this story say he did not. And they suspect that he neglected to do so on purpose-in case they ignored his recommendation to no-bill.
What strengthens their suspicion is that Ollison knew in advance that one of the nine who voted to indict, Bill Hamilton, was going to Germany on a vacation that weekend and would not be returning to the grand jury, which had only five days left in its term. Ollison also knew that juror Robert Swes-nick, who could generally be counted on to go along with the DA’s recommendation on a case, had been absent on Friday on business but would be back Monday.
“I’m sure they said to each other, ’Hey, the only chance we have here is that somebody’s not here today, and there’s one new guy, so we can take a chance and have a swing vote,’ ” says Rasanksy.
Adds Hamilton: “The technicality was found because they were not satisfied with the indictment. So they came back with this technicality and got what they wanted.”
Ollison is outraged at the mere suggestion of impropriety. “If they believe that, then they have absolutely no confidence in our system of government,” he says. “Those people were fully aware that they control the vote on whether or not a person should be indicted or not indicted in Dallas County. So if they’re going to shirk their responsibilities on the DA’s office or on me or the Dallas Police Department, then shame on them.”
Lucas and Ollison point to the fact that in the grand jury system, the jurors are the ones in control, and if the Brice jurors had not wanted to take another vote that Monday because of Hamilton’s absence, all they had to do was say so.
“What that grand jury foreman should have said is, ’We’re going to take another vote on this as soon as the guy comes back from out of country,” Lucas says. “There is nothing mysterious about that . . . That’s what they could have done if they’d wanted to.”
But Hamilton wasn’t coming back during the grand jury’s term, jurors point out. And besides, not one juror remembers thinking they had any choice but to vote again, immediately. “We never even thought about asking for a delay,” Rasansky says. “We were told there was a problem, and we had to revote. And that was it.”
Lloyd Iglehart laughs at the notion that the grand jury was in control that day-or any day for that matter. “They’ve got you by the neck down there,” he says. “You’re ordered to do everything the way they want it done. If it’s not a major case and not involving a police officer, they let you go the way they want. I’m not the sharpest guy in town, but good night . . . I even thought of going down and telling the judge I want to be a grand juror again because I’m nobody’s fool, and people aren’t getting justice.”
When the second vote was taken that Monday, the results were sadly predictable, the jurors say.
Hamilton’s absence changed the true-bill to a no-bill, by a vote of 8 to 1. Mimi Oliver was back, but her vote was not even in question-she had shown little interest, let alone outrage, in the Brice case from the beginning. “1 wasn’t emotionally involved in the situation.” she says. “And that’s the way I tend to handle things. Not get too upset.”
Especially when it came to police shootings. Her grandfather was a policeman, Oliver says, and she can understand how police officers could make a “mistake.”
Oliver’s vote made it 8 to 2.
Swesnik was the swing vote. Knowing that Swesnik had missed most of the evidence in the case. Rasansky, who drove with Swesnik down to the grand jury every day, had briefed him on the case that morning. He told Swesnik how troubled the jurors had been with the police scenario, how he didn’t think they’d been given all the facts.
Before the revote that day, Swesnik recalls Ollison and Lucas giving the group a quick refresher on the evidence, including the officers’ testimony and another look at the aerial photographs.
“In any event, after that, he [Hugh Lucas] explained to us that, unless we were real sure, we really didn’t want to indict these officers because in the first place, it would ruin their lives and records and so on,” Swesnik says. “And that in all probability there wasn’t enough to really prosecute to get a guilty verdict. And we’d be using up a year of their time while they were on the force and not doing anything but still getting paid . . . This was an obvious attempt to sway us from indicting them,”
At the time, though, with little else to go on, Swesnik thought Lucas’s pitch seemed reasonable.
“If the DA felt there wasn’t enough evidence to get a conviction, then what was the point of indicting them?” Swesnik recalls thinking.
His vote made it 8 to 3.
But then the DA got an unexpected gift. Sylvana Alonzo, a 23-year-old employee of the state child support office, was rattled by the unexpected need to revote. She felt intimidated by Lucas and Ollison that day. Though she had voted to true-bill on Friday, she voted to no-bill on Monday,
“Some of the grand jurors are very inexperienced, like myself,” she says. “And so you go with what he says. I knew they were guilty-or I felt they were.” she says. “I knew they were protecting themselves because they were saying the same thing. Exactly. They had memorized what to say.”
Alonzo knows her switch did not make the difference between a no-bill and a true-bill. Still, she has regretted her vote since the day she left the grand jury.
“That case has really bothered me,” she says. “Not every day, but constantly. I’ve told my husband several times that I just feel very guilty and that he [Brice] just didn’t deserve to die like that. Can you imagine-11 bullets?
The vote was 7 to 4 that day. Four days later, three no-bills were handed down by the grand jury.
Judge Larry Baraka, who impaneled that grand jury says he was never told that two votes had to be taken in the Brice case. And if there was a problem with the way the case was handled, he wasn’t made aware of it.
“I wish that grand jury had come to me about that,” Baraka says. “I would have gone up to talk to them, and the state would have had to show me in the law that there was something they |the grand jurors] should have done, and if they couldn’t, I would have instructed the grand jury not to revote and held the DA to its finding . . .
“Either way, probably I would have postponed the grand jury’s vote-those grand jurors who had to leave town, their vote should have been counted for something.”
THE REVOTE ALONE WOULD BE enough to justify serious doubts as to whether justice was done in the Larry Brice case. But there are other reasons why the grand jurors in the Brice case aren’t sleeping easily these days.
Shortly after the grand jury no-billed the officers, the Dallas Citizens Police Review Board took up the Brice case. And for the first time in its history, it voted 4 to 3 not to accept the IAD’s finding that the officers were justified in what they did. They concluded that the officers had shot blindly through darkly tinted windows; that by shooting across the car at each other, they endangered themselves; and that Mercer erred in judgment when he ran in front of Brice’s car.
The review board’s comments led to nothing. The officers were never reprimanded, suspended, or fired. All three still work for the department; Reyes has been promoted to sergeant.
Then, six months after the grand jury no-billed the officers, something else happened. Something more significant than the review board’s findings.
Mitchell Rasansky took a drive to Pleasant Grove on business. As he passed a street called Fortnoma, the name sounded familiar to him. Curious, he turned his car around and went back. Then he remembered that this was the street where Larry Brice had been shot. He drove down to the dead end- and couldn’t believe what he saw.
This was not the same place he had seen in aerial photos in the grand jury. This was a much smaller field than the one in the pictures-filled with trees, hemmed in on one side by a steep embankment and railroad tracks. It was stunningly different. So much so, Rasansky says, that it was impossible to believe that the police thought Brice could escape them. Because he had nowhere to go.
“I knew right then that we had been purposely deceived,” Rasansky says. “We had been shown the wrong pictures so we would get a completely different picture of what happened.”
He felt so strongly about the discrepancies that he took Robert Swesnik to the field. And when Swesnik saw the field at the end of Fortnoma, he, too, felt misled. Something wasn’t right. “I think if I were to do it now,” Swesnik says of his vote, “I probably would go to indict.”
Rasansky went back out to the field last October. This time, he walked down a street called Wixom, which is adjacent to Port-noma. The street, which was longer than Portnoma, also dead-ends into a field. A large field. With no trees or embankments or obstructions. It was the field in the aerial photos. Rasansky was sure of it.
Lucas says it is highly unlikely that the wrong pictures were shown to the grand jury-unless you believe that all the different arms of the police department that investigated the shooting conspired to do so. “I guess if you have a 100 percent corrupt department, you could be misled all the way down the line,” he says. “But I don’t think you have that.”
And yet, there is one more strange development in this case that leaves these 11 grand jurors wondering.
When Perry Daniels, the most important civilian eyewitness to the shooting, did not show up to testify, some of the jurors asked Ollison about him. They remember Ollison saying that Daniels couldn’t be found. The police had said he had moved to Arizona.
In fact, Daniels never moved anywhere. His brother-in-law, James Smith, who also witnessed the shooting, did move to Arizona, but his name wasn’t even on the grand jury’s list-despite the fact that Dallas police found him in Arizona and arranged for the police there to lake a sworn statement from him.
Daniels was subpoenaed, but by the time he got the subpoena in the mail, the day for his appearance had already passed. So he was never able to tell the grand jury something that might have been important: He is sure that Larry Brice tried to get out of the car that night.
“I saw the car come in and hit the barricade, and I only saw one squad car,” Daniels says. “The helicopter light was on the kid, and he was trying to escape-find another route. He was fishtailing. The squad car was on top of him more or less. After he did a fishtail, his back end kind of dropped down, like in the mud. I said to my brother-in-law, ’He’s stuck now.’ “
Daniels says that while the car was turning in the field, he saw more red lights coming down Portnoma. All the while, the helicopter light-’which was so bright that it was just like day out there”-was focused on Brice’s car.
“Then it appeared like he [Brice] opened the car door and tried to take off running,” Daniels says. “I was telling Jim he was going to take off running. When he opened the door, that’s when the shooting started, and the helicopter light went off. There were four or five shots. Then quite a good pause-seven seconds or so. And then another shot . . . I was always curious about that long pause. And the shot after that. And the helicopter turning off its lights like that. I couldn’t figure that out. It was like they didn’t want anyone to see what happened.”
That suspicion was reinforced when, immediately after the shooting, the officers standing in the now-dark field turned a flashlight on Daniels and Smith, who were still standing at Daniels’s living room window. The flashlight then moved to the license tag on Daniels’s truck, then back to Daniels and Smith.
“We figured right then that they called it in and knew who we were,” says Daniels’s wife Kim, who had joined her husband and brother at the window by that time. “It was real intimidating.”
So intimidating, in fact, that Daniels did not seek out the police over the next few days to tell them what he had seen, even when he learned from a newspaper reporter that they were looking for him. “I’d run through a stop sign-rolled through it-and didn’t pay the ticket,” he says. “And all I could think about was them flashing that light on my truck.”
The police finally found him, and he gave them a statement. Robert Swesnik and Sylvana Alonzo say today that if they had heard Perry Daniels’s story, that vote would have been 9 to 2.
Even Mimi Oliver, who, unlike Swesnik and Alonzo, never thought twice about her vote at the time, says she would have been “strongly influenced” by Daniels’s testimony.
Questions have been raised about the Brice shooting before. In an October 1988 series, The Dallas Morning News reported that the Brice case was one of nine in which police and autopsy reports clashed. In the Brice case, for example, the four officers insisted that they fired all their shots through the car windows. The county medical examiner, after reviewing his autopsy report, concluded that the shot to Brice’s head did not go through any glass first and, unlike the others, which had been fired from a distance, that shot was fired at medium range-18 to 24 inches away. That could mean that the shot struck Brice after passing through a hole in the window. Or, in keeping with Daniels’s suspicions, it could mean that Brice was shot outside the car.
What the stories did not say-because the paper did not have access to the IAD investigative report on the shooting-was that even though Reyes claimed to have fired five shots through the driver’s window and Mercer claimed to have fired three, police evidence investigators found only seven holes in the window.
After the News’s series ran, a special grand jury elected to review all nine cases, plus a 10th case-that of 70-year-old Etta Collins, who was shot by a police officer as she stood at her front door near Fair Park in late 1986. But nothing came out of the new investigation of those 10 cases. No indictments were issued, and no specifics about any of those deliberations were ever released to the public.
Perry Daniels, however, can provide at least one piece of information about the process: He received a subpoena to appear before the special grand jury, too. The new subpoena arrived on time-but it had the wrong location written on it. After more than an hour of waiting outside the wrong courtroom, Daniels inquired and was sent on to the right place. But after waiting outside that courtroom for a time, he was dismissed. Neither grand jury ever heard his testimony.
But it doesn’t have to stay that way. The Brice case could be reopened today. Judge Baraka says. The DA could present the case to a new grand jury-though Baraka says that’s unlikely. Or a current grand jury could ask to reexamine the case. Or, Baraka adds, any citizen could call a current grand juror and ask that the case be reopened.
The epilogue only makes the members of the April 1987 grand jury more certain than ever that the Larry Brice case was a gross miscarriage of justice.
“The whole time we were down there, we never indicted a police officer,” says Lloyd Iglehart. “And when we indicted those three, they didn’t want it. And they weren’t going to let us do it.”