GREENVILLE, Texas (AP) — A former small-town Texas police officer was found not guilty of murder Thursday in the murder of a black man who offered a handshake as the officer arrived to respond to a call about a fight in a convenience store.
The Hunt County jury deliberated for more than five hours before acquitting Shaun Lucas in the death of Jonathan Price.
Lucas was an officer in Wolfe City where Price, who had played football for Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, was a city employee, personal trainer and bodybuilder with dreams of starting his own fitness center. Lucas was charged with Price’s murder on the night of October 3, 2020 and discharged from the police force five days later.
Wolfe City, about 60 miles northeast of Dallas and near the Texas-Oklahoma border, has a population of about 1,500.
It was never clear from the evidence what sparked the fight between Price and another man. Nicholas Malone testified that he, his brother, and Price had been drinking after Malone’s father’s funeral when they decided to go to the convenience store to buy cigarettes. The three lingered at the store when Malone heard glass shattering, and he saw Price brawling with another man.
“My brother and I tried to pull them apart,” Malone said, adding that the argument lasted “for a few seconds” before the two were separated, and everyone seemed to calm down before Lucas arrived.
When Lucas, who is white, responded to the report of the fight, Price greeted him with an outstretched hand and an apology for the broken glass. Lucas decided Price was drunk and tried to restrain him, but Price resisted. Lucas used a stun gun when Price approached, then shot Price when he reached for the stun gun, according to a police affidavit.
The Texas Rangers concluded that lethal force was not necessary in the confrontation since Price was unarmed. Eleven witnesses at the scene said Price was neither angry nor aggressive in his reactions, prosecutor Steven Lilley reminded the Hunt County jury during Thursday’s closing arguments.
“He died. He was killed that night,” Lilley said of Price. “If it wasn’t necessary, it was murder. Go back there and find him guilty.”
Defense attorney Robert Rogers argued Lucas had no choice but to shoot Price in self-defense “because he was terrified. That’s the only reason he fired his gun.” .
Lucas had been working for the Wolfe City Police Department for just under six months when he shot Price, according to Texas Commission on Law Enforcement records. His previous law enforcement experience had been working as a jailer in the Hunt County Sheriff’s Office for about five months.