GREENVILLE, Texas (AP) — A former police officer in a small Texas town was found not guilty of murder Thursday in the slaying of a Black man who offered a handshake as the officer arrived to respond to a call about a fight at a convenience store.
The Hunt County jury deliberated for more than five hours before acquitting Shaun Lucas of 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 murdering Price the night of Oct. 3, 2020, and fired from the police force five days later.
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Wolfe City, about 70 miles (96 kilometers) northeast of Dallas and near the Texas-Oklahoma border, has a population of about 1,500 people.
It was never clear from witness testimony what triggered the fight between Price and another man. Nicholas Malone testified that he, his brother and Price had been drinking after the funeral of Malone's father when they decided to go to the convenience store to buy cigarettes. The three lingered at the store when Malone heard glass break, and he saw Price getting into a scuffle with another man.
“My brother and I tried to pull them apart,” Malone said, adding that the argument went on “for a few seconds” before the two were pulled apart, and everyone seemed to calm down before Lucas arrived.
When Lucas, who is white, answered 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 detain 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.
Texas Rangers concluded that lethal force was not called for in the confrontation since Price was unarmed. Eleven witnesses at the scene testified that Price was not angry or aggressive in his reactions, prosecutor Steven Lilley reminded the Hunt County jury in Thursday’s closing arguments.
“He’s dead. He was killed that night,” Lilley said of Price. “If it wasn’t necessary, it was murder. Go back and find him guilty.”
Defense attorney Robert Rogers contended that 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 with the Wolfe City Police Department for a little less than six months when he shot Price, according to Texas Commission on Law Enforcement records. His prior law enforcement experience had been working as a jailer with the Hunt County Sheriff’s Office for about five months.