Tommy Barnes paced back and forth along Franklin Street in front of the Harris County Criminal Justice Center on Wednesday evening, gazing occasionally at the dozen police officers standing on the opposite sidewalk.
“The police murdered my son,” he said between drags from a cigarette. “(The officer) opened the door to the car, with his hand on his gun, and put the gun up against his body, and shot my son.”
Hours earlier, in a courtroom in the building behind him, a grand jury on Wednesday morning no-billed the Precinct 5 deputy who killed Barnes’s son, Ashtian, in April. The elder Barnes, who already believed the officer should have been indicted, said the video that prosecutors only allowed him to see after the grand jury finished contradicts the police narrative of what happened that fateful afternoon.
“It don’t match up. If it ain’t the whole truth, it’s a lie,” Barnes said.
Barnes said 24-year-old Ashtian was en route to pick up his daughter from school when the deputy pulled him over on Beltway 8. The car Barnes was driving had several outstanding violations, police said.
According to a Houston Police Department statement hours after the shooting, Barnes did not provide the deputy, R. Felix, with a driver’s license, and the deputy smelled marijuana in the car. (We reached out to a Precinct 5 spokesman, who has so far declined to give the officer’s full name). Barnes refused Felix’s order to get out of the car, and instead began reaching around inside, and then started the car. Felix drew his weapon for his own safety, police said, and shot Barnes when he began to drive away with the deputy partially inside the car, police said.
“The deputy constable…discharged his weapon and struck the suspect before the vehicle reached a higher speed,” the HPD statement reads.
Barnes died at the scene.
In the video of the traffic stop, Felix appears to shoot Barnes after the car’s brake lights turn on — indicating Barnes has started the engine — but while the car is stationary. The car lurches forward only after Felix appears to fire his gun. When the car comes to a stop after about 100 feet, Felix can be heard on his radio yelling “shots fired.”
Tommy Barnes said the video proves his son was cooperating with the deputy. Ashton P. Woods, an activist with the Houston chapter of Black Lives Matter, agreed.
“He complied and he still got shot,” Woods said.
Black Lives Matter: Houston organized a protest at the Criminal Justice Center Wednesday evening, which Tommy Barnes attended. Deputies from Precinct One and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, who silently watched the demonstration from the steps of the courthouse complex and the park across the street, outnumbered the protestors.
Eddy Soria, shirtless in the humid August evening, shouted at the officers. In an interview with the Houston Press, Soria said he was a middle school classmate of Ashtian Barnes in Alief.
“I’m tired. I’m mad. I’m pissed,” he said of police killings of civilians. “There’s many more of that. Tamir Rice. Mike Brown. Oscar Grant. There are so many murders that happen.”
Soria said he is exasperated Harris County police are rarely indicted for shooting civilians (an HPD officer has not been indicted since 2004). Based on those statistics, he was not surprised the grand jury failed to return an indictment.
“It’s the same as it’s been,” Soria said. “They’re not going to indict officers. It’s a thin blue line they will not cross.”
After two sessions, a grand jury decided not to indict the Harris County Precinct 5 deputy constable.