Houston sheriff draws praise after arrest in Jazmine Barnes shooting




 

The arrest of a suspect in the drive-by shooting of a 7-year-old black girl in Houston has eased racial tensions surrounding the case and prompted praise for the local sheriff who called for "important discussions" about race and gun violence.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said charges could be filed soon against a second suspect in the death of Jazmine Barnes, who was shot while in a car with her three sisters and mother.

The family had identified the attacker as a thin, white male driving a red pickup. Jazmine's mother, LaPorsha Washington, had suggested the attack may have been a hate crime.

The case drew a national spotlight, and New York-based activist Shaun King led a drive that produced a $100,000 reward for information leading to a conviction. A "Justice for Jazmine" rally drew hundreds of supporters Saturday.

It was King who was given a tip that Gonzalez said broke open the case. But the man arrested Saturday, Eric Black Jr., is a 20-year-old black man who was driving a dark SUV.

Gonzalez said the case appears to be a case of mistaken identity - apparently by the attackers who mistook the family's car for another vehicle and by the family who identified another vehicle at the scene.

Gonzalez said video shows a red pickup was in the area near the shooting, but evidence indicates it was not involved in the attack. He did not blame the family for the mistake.

"We do not believe in any way that the family was involved in anything nefarious," he said. "You are talking about small children, they witnessed something very traumatic. Very likely the last thing they saw was the red truck."

More: Murder charge filed in death of Jazmine Barnes, 7, in Houston

More: 'We will find you': Manhunt after 7-year-old killed in Houston

Black and his passenger mistook Washington's car for a vehicle belonging to people they had fought with in a bar a few hours earlier, prosecutor Samantha Knecht said at a court hearing Monday. Black told investigators his passenger fired into her car, Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez declined to confirm reports in local media that the alleged shooter was in custody. He did say it did not appear the shooting "was related to race." And he said the discussions provoked by the shooting were positive.

"We know that there's important discussion that does need to take place about race, about the real feel and concern that hate crimes are in an uptick in this country," Gonzalez said. "We also need to talk about gun violence."

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat and vocal activist for Houston's black community, stood by the sheriff's side as he spoke. Then she offered praise.

"It's wonderful that we have a sheriff who's willing to engage in a dialogue about violence, about hate, about guns," she said.

Christopher Cevilla, Jazmine's father, said he breathed "a sigh of relief that police did their job and found who they feel is the right suspect."

Deric Muhammad, an organizer of a rally on Saturday in Houston to demand "Justice for Jazmine," commended Gonzalez for working with the community to solve the case.

"We are still heartbroken at the thought of a 7-year-old innocent child losing her life in such a violent way," Muhammad said in a statement. "We are no less heartbroken that those person(s) currently charged with this homicide are black; not white."

James Dixon, pastor at the Community of Faith Church in Houston, also applauded Gonzalez.

"We are blessed in this city to have the kind of collegial relationships between pastors and law enforcement and elected officials where we all really work together, we cry together, we pray together, we serve together and sacrifice together," Dixon said. "In moments like these, we come together in order to mend and heal broken hearts."

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Houston sheriff draws praise after arrest in Jazmine Barnes shooting

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