By Greg Moses
Below are transcribed excerpts from the Rocha files released by the Travis County District Attorney’s office following an announcement that the Grand Jury had decided to issue no criminal indictments. Here are a few key phrases:
- Rocha’s body was off to my left side but now he was on top of my boss. I could see Sgt. Doyle and Rocha fighting.–Julie Schroeder
- he was still on his feet and struggling. I was hoping we could get him to the ground. At that time I heard a pop….–Schroeder’s boss
- The path of the gunshot wound was back to front, left to right, and downward.–medical examiner
- Probable body positions for the deceased include down on one or both knees or bent over at the waist.–Forensic consultant
- I could see Julie standing to the east of an unknown male who was laying face down on the ground and Sgt. Doyle was on his knees on the west side of the subject–Backup Cop
- I hear the guy say "weapon" but I didn’t see anything in his hands. I saw him get on his hands and knees and saw the female officer with her left hand trying to put him on the ground and she was kinda kneeling with her left hand and knee. I saw her with a gun in her right hand. I saw he was lying flat. I don’t know if the guy was fighting with the officer or resisting because I did not see that. I thought that the police were going to arrest him and put him up. I walked off back to my house but then I heard a shot….–Witness
What to make of this sad, sad stack of docs? There is no question that Daniel Rocha had been a troubled kid and was making some poor choices in the first weeks of his adult life. He was very likely engaged in illegal activity of a not very unusual kind on the night he was killed. He was involving himself in petty drug dealing. From the testimony of friends and teachers, Daniel was a spirited character with an outlaw edge.
The record shows that he was also doing things that anyone would call cops to stop, such as burglary or theft. But on the night of his death was he engaging in the kind of behavior that justified a killing? If he was no role model, he was also no monster, and no stack of previous behaviors attributed to him would warrant anything near a summary execution–not even in Texas.
In this case, it appears from the evidence released by the grand jury that Officer Schroeder displayed a pattern of poor judgment in her impulsive decision to make the traffic stop and in her life or death determination to detain Rocha right then and there. Reports from her partner and her boss indicate that they were not quite prepared in advance for the ‘take down’ when she abruptly initiated it.
The inability of Schroeder and her boss to contain Rocha even when double teaming him indicates that the ground was poorly chosen for this action. From the time Officer Schroeder threw her car into reverse, the tone for this tragedy was set. It is difficult to imagine that good cops would find this a worthy pattern of action.
The expert report from Oklahoma indicates that the probable position of Daniel Rocha at the time of shooting was on one or two knees or bent over, with Officer Schroeder at arm’s length to his left. In other words, the probable positions confirm Officer Schroeder’s statement, that Rocha was not fighting her at the time of the shooting.
Schroeder’s claim that Rocha was doing something more than trying to get away from her boss seems incredible when compared to her boss’ statement that he was hanging onto Rocha’s foot. So there is no question that Daniel Rocha was playing with fire in his gangsta attitude, but there is also an expectation that cops are trained to deal with such cases in ways that do not escalate into on-the-spot executions. I think that’s why they are called peace officers. To kids, especially teenage males, we have to suggest better things, but then again, we have to be pretty careful that we not pretend to have offered Daniel a well-chosen world to work with. When I think of the comment that he had a slight learning disability, then I can see how he was following the wrong crowd, he just wasn’t so quick as the one who first jumped the fence. A slight learning disability is all it would take for that moment of hesitation, then that moment of tragic motivation to follow his friend over the fence.
Did Officer Schroeder raise a gun to that first escapee? No, she called him by name, just to let him know that she knew who he was and where to find him another day. He climbed a tree, waited, and lived to hear the shot. What was so different about Daniel that night?
I don’t know if the Police Association intends to come off this way, but in their public comments about this mess, they seem to indicate that any resistance to police may very well justify deadly force. In other words, they want absolute authority in this life. If this is the message that the grand jury was trying to send–‘obey or die’–then the grand jury has run too far into police state mentality. Everyone has a role to play in breaking cycles of unfairness. Unfortunately, in these docs one finds too many trails of continuing evasion.