A white police officer has been charged with murder in the fatal shooting of a Black man following a reported disturbance at a convenience store in a small East Texas town, authorities said.
Jonathan Price was walking away from Wolfe City Police Officer Shaun Lucas on Saturday night when Lucas opened fire, killing Price, the Texas Rangers said in a statement released by the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Lucas' attorney, John Snider, said in a statement that the officer “only discharged his weapon in accordance with Texas law when he was confronted with an aggressive assailant who was attempting to take his" stun gun.
Lucas, 22, remained jailed on Tuesday. Jail records show bail was set at $1 million.
Lucas had been with the Wolfe City Police Department for a little less than six months when the shooting took place, according to records from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement. His prior law enforcement experience had been working as a jailer with the Hunt County Sheriff's Office for about five months.
Members of the community came together Monday evening for a vigil to mourn Price and demand justice. Civil rights attorney Lee Merritt said it was a diverse group of people who gathered.
“I know that people’s voices are so powerful,” Merritt said Tuesday. “Anytime that communities stand up like we’ve seen all over the country, things actually begin to change.”
Merritt said Price’s family was relieved to hear that Lucas was arrested Monday night but said “that arrest should’ve taken place two days ago.” He said it was a relatively quick arrest for a killing by an officer.
He noted that sometimes the arrest of an officer can come quickly, like in the killing last year in Fort Worth of Atatiana Jefferson, who was up late playing video games at home when an officer fired through her back window. In the Jefferson case, the officer was also charged within two days.
Following the shooting Saturday night in Wolfe City, city officials only confirmed that an officer-involved shooting had occurred and the officer had been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation by the Texas Rangers. It wasn’t until Monday night that the Texas Rangers released a statement that provided more details and said that Lucas had been charged.
According to the Texas Rangers’ statement, Lucas responded to a disturbance call on Saturday night following a report of a possible fight. He encountered Price, 31, who was reportedly involved in the disturbance, and Price “resisted in a non-threatening posture and began walking away,” the Texas Rangers said.
Lucas used a stun gun before shooting Price, who was taken to a hospital and died, the statement said.
Officials haven't released any details about the disturbance at the convenience store but family and friends of Price said the one-time college football player was intervening in a domestic disturbance when he was shot.
“When police arrived, I’m told, he raised his hands and attempted to explain what was going on,” Merritt said in a Facebook posting.
Snider said Price “did not appear to be an uninvolved, innocent party" when Lucas arrived at the store.
“Officer Lucas tried to detain Mr. Price and he resisted. After Mr. Price refused repeated instructions and physically resisted, Officer Lucas deployed his (stun gun) and continued to give Mr. Price instructions. Mr. Price resisted the effects of the (stun gun) and attempted to take it away from Officer Lucas," Snider said.
Price’s relatives and friends said Price, a Wolfe City employee, was a figure well-known in the close-knit community.
“He had a bright future. He was going to start up his own business, a fitness center,” Price's sister, April Louis, told CBS This Morning. “And it's just, it's just gone. I mean, it didn't have to end like that.”
Price played football in 2008 for Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas. Hardin-Simmons football coach Jesse Burleson tweeted that the university “lost one of our own in a terrible situation. Jonathan Price was an awesome young man during his time with Cowboy football.”
Price's mother, Marcella Louis, said Tuesday that she was able to get some sleep when she heard that Lucas had been arrested.
“My son didn't deserve this,” she said. “He really didn't. He helped everybody in this community and had a big heart and spirit.”
“I'm going to miss just seeing his smiling face,” Marcella Louis said.
Former Major League Baseball third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who grew up with Price, said on Facebook: “I’m sick. I’m heartbroken... and I’m furious.” Middlebrooks started an online fundraiser for Price's family that surpassed its $50,000 goal in less than 24 hours.
Marcella Louis said that she was born and raised in Wolfe City, adding “everybody here is so sweet.” She said the mayor and her husband “were the first one on my doorstep the next morning.”
Wolfe City Mayor Sharion Scott declined to comment on the shooting on Tuesday, her office said.
In a statement, Hunt County District Attorney Noble Walker Jr. said his office has not yet received the case as the investigation by the Texas Rangers continues. His office would not comment “on the facts of the case at this time,” Walker said.
“Our office will evaluate the case and present it to the Hunt County grand jury upon completion of the investigation,” Walker said.
As of last year, Wolfe City’s police department had five officers and a chief of police, all of whom were white men, according to Texas Commission on Law Enforcement data. The town about 70 miles (113 kilometers) northeast of Dallas has about 1,500 residents. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 71% of its residents are white, 14% are Black and 13% are Hispanic.