Child injured in HPD capturing had a part of cranium eliminated, attorney says

Daisha Smalls had just finished pumping gas at a Chevron station in southwest Houston when an armed man ran up and demanded she get out of the driver’s seat.

The 19-year-old refused to leave her car, where her 1-year-old son Legend Smalls sat tucked in his car seat. She screamed what any mother would: “My baby’s in the back seat.”

The man, a robbery suspect fleeing authorities, jumped in her lap and tried to put the car in gear, she said. Smalls saw flashing blue-and-red lights and heard sirens as officers surrounded her car. Then, before she knew what happened, the shooting started.

A Houston police officer identified as E. Garza opened fire at the sedan, killing the man who sat on top of Smalls and putting a bullet in the baby’s head.

“My son has been fighting every day for his life,” Smalls said, wiping away tears during a Tuesday news conference to address the March 3 shooting at 7931 Southwest Freeway. “My baby didn’t deserve this. My baby didn’t deserve to be shot — especially not by the police.”

Nearly two weeks later, the infant remains in pediatric intensive care and doctors have described his prognosis as “wait and see” and “hope for the best,” said civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Smalls alongside attorneys Antonio Romanucci and Darren Miller.

The attorneys said they plan to soon file a lawsuit against the Houston Police Department after they develop more facts in the case.

Doctors removed the bullet from the baby’s brain, though fragments remain, his mother said. Part of the boy’s skull was removed to alleviate pressure from brain swelling, Crump said. The infant was on a ventilator for more than 10 days and has suffered many seizures. Smalls has hardly left her baby’s side.

Crump condemned the police officer’s decision to shoot into the car. Even if the officer did not see the baby, he must have known the woman was in the car, Crump said. Surveillance footage from the convenience store shows a well-lit gas station and officers in close range.

“Why would the police not respect her life? They knew she was in the car, this innocent black woman, but yet they started shooting in the car,” Crump said.

The personal injury lawyer has represented many victims of police brutality, including the family of George Floyd.

“Right now in America, we’re talking a lot about when it comes to African Americans, that police often shoot first and ask questions later — and they don’t do that to other citizens,” Crump said, adding that law enforcement should apply the same policy to black men and women that they apply to other people. “That’s all we’re asking for.”

Crump called on police to release body-camera and other surveillance footage.

The Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences identified the man killed by the officer as 33-year-old Broderick Woods of Houston. He was driving a black Mercedes Benz that police said they believe was tied to at least two aggravated robberies. Officers pursued Woods in a chase that ended at the gas station, where the fleeing man tried to carjack Smalls.

Woods was a father of three who was likely running from police because he did not want to go to jail, an uncle told The Chronicle.

Following the shooting, Houston police released a statement saying that Woods failed to obey verbal commands from officers instructing him to drop the pistol and show his hands. The officer fired his weapon more than one time because he “fear(ed) for the safety of the citizen and her 1-year-old child,” the department said.

In a news conference immediately following the shooting, executive assistant chief Troy Finner called for prayers for Smalls, her baby and Garza.

“I don’t think the officer realized that (the baby was in the car),” Finner said. “Don’t know if it’s a graze wound, that’s what they suspected.”

Romanucci, a Chicago attorney, said he thinks the officer who discharged his weapon violated the department’s own policy for using deadly force only in objectively reasonable circumstances. An HPD handbook states that it is the policy of the agency “to value and preserve human life.”

“We know you do not shoot unless you know what your target is. And clearly the Houston police did not know their target because they hit Legend squarely in the skull — not a graze wound,” Romanucci said. “There was grave potential for injury to citizens and that’s exactly what happened, so under their own rules this was not a justified shooting.”

Police are conducting an internal investigation of the shooting and Garza, who began his HPD career in 2006, was placed on administrative leave.

“To have to encounter issues like this over and over again — we’ve got to make a change,” said Miller, the third attorney and a Houston resident of four decades. “We can’t continue to do this.”

Related Articles

Back to top button