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The family of a Black woman fatally shot by a police officer in Baytown, Texas, in May of 2019, has filed a wrongful death civil lawsuit in federal court on what would have been her 46th birthday, attorney Ben Crump announced on Thursday.
Pamela Turner was killed on the day after Mother’s Day by officer Juan Delacruz in the parking lot of the apartment complex where they both lived.
In an interview with The 19th, Turner’s daughter, Chelsea Rubin, said the lawsuit is part of her family’s ongoing pursuit of justice.
“It’s been two years coming up since my mom’s death. I’m not trying to wait anymore,” said Rubin, 23. “I think that this will make it one step closer to us finally being able to close this chapter. … We’ll actually have a chance to grieve.”
The encounter, captured on video by a bystander, began when Delacruz attempted to arrest Turner on outstanding misdemeanor warrants, including one for criminal mischief and assault. In the video, Turner can be heard saying that she is walking home and asking the officer, “Why are you harassing me?” Video shows Delacruz standing over Turner as the two struggle.
Delacruz’s attorney has said Turner was trying to use the officer’s own Taser on him and he shot her in self defense. Delacruz fired five shots at Turner while she was on the ground, the video shows.
Turner’s family has said she had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
In September, 16 months after Turner’s death, a Harris County grand jury indicted Delacruz on one count of aggravated assault by a public servant. The first-degree felony carries a punishment of up to five years in prison.
Crump said the family is suing Delacruz and the city of Baytown, calling Turner’s killing a violation of her 14th Amendment right to lawful search and seizure. Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, first elected in 2016 on a criminal justice platform and reelected last year, has called Turner’s killing “a tragedy.”
Delacruz’s trial is set to begin on May 25. That date is the one-year anniversary of the killing of George Floyd, who died after officer Derrick Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes as onlookers attempted to intervene to no avail. Chauvin is currently on trial.
Crump said Turner’s killing, which preceded the pandemic, was no less egregious. He is attempting to focus attention on the case — and killings of unarmed Black women by law enforcement officers more broadly — as Delacruz is scheduled to head to trial.
“If you were outraged when you saw the video of how police tragically killed George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, then you should be equally outraged when you see the video of how the police tragically killed Pam Turner, an unarmed Black woman in Baytown, Texas,” Crump says in an Instagram video this week that included the video of Turner’s shooting.
The Floyd killing, along with the fatal shootings of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky; Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia; and Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, sparked national protests last summer, driving hundreds of thousands of people into the streets amid the coronavirus crisis.
The cities of Minneapolis and Louisville reached record civil settlements with the families of Floyd and Taylor in recent months that also included policing reforms.
Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, joined Turner’s family members for a news conference Thursday announcing the lawsuit.
“To see another Black woman be so disrespected, be so minimized and treated as if she was nothing … to have to feel like the whole world is against us … we show up for everybody,” Palmer told The 19th before the news conference. “I know that hurt and what it feels like to have to fight a system that continues to treat us as if we are nothing.”
On what would’ve been her mom’s birthday, Rubin recalled her as a kind, generous, good-hearted mother and grandmother who was excited to meet her latest grandchild, a girl born three days before she was killed. She remembered her as a health care worker of nearly 20 years, continuing to work with her mental illness for about half of that time.
“She didn’t deserve what happened to her,” Rubin said. “She couldn’t wait to see (her granddaughter) and he completely ripped that away. He may have shot my mom and taken her life, but he killed a whole family.”