Sep. 24-A day after a jury delivered a not guilty verdict in the trial of Shaun Lucas, a former Wolfe City police officer charged with murder in the shooting death of Jonathan Price, the attorneys involved and people in Hunt County offered a mixed bag of reaction.
The decision came after more than six hours of deliberations at the close of an emotional trial that hinged on whether Lucas, a freshly minted police academy graduate, was justified in using deadly force against Price, a well-liked and longtime resident who was unarmed the night of Oct. 3, 2020.
Price's family wept in the courtroom after the verdict came down.
In a statement, Hunt County District Attorney Noble D. Walker Jr. said his office was disappointed with the verdict and believes the law and the evidence supported a conviction.
"Our office, as well as local law enforcement, worked very hard to seek justice in this case for Jonathan Price and his family," Walker said. "We hope and believe Jonathan will continue to be remembered by all those who knew and loved him for the positive impact he had on the people of Wolfe City and beyond."
Walker credited the efforts of First Assistant District Attorney Steve Lilley and Assistant District Attorney Allison Flannagan as well as Texas Ranger Laura Simmons and multiple law enforcement officers in presenting the prosecution's case.
"Investigating and prosecuting a peace officer is not easy, but it was the right thing to do in this case and we will continue to stand by victims of crime regardless of who the evidence shows the alleged perpetrator to be," Walker said.
Lead defense counsel Robert Rogers maintained that Lucas acted properly that night.
"On Oct. 3, 2020, he was forced to make the split second decision that no officer wants to make," Rogers said. "We have contended from day one that, although tragic, his decision was reasonable and justified under the law."
Rogers added that the process of law in the United States applies to everyone, including law enforcement officers.
"The system works, and in this case the jury made the right decision," Rogers said.
At the trial's conclusion, Lucas, 24, was released from custody. He had been jailed since his arrest following the shooting.
Attorney Lee Merritt, who represents the Price family, could not be reached for comment Friday.
Testimony during the trial revealed that Lucas was the only officer on duty that night and he responded to a report of a fight in progress outside a convenience store.
Price had come to the store a short time earlier after drinking with close friends and got into a brief scuffle with another person. The altercation was over by the time Lucas arrived, although there was still a crowd at the scene.
Video of the scene showed that Price approached Lucas and shook his hand. Lucas testified that he was trying to de-escalate the situation and, realizing Price was intoxicated, informed Price that he intended to detain him.
Price refused to be detained and walked away, and Lucas repeatedly instructed him to stop. At one point, Lucas grabbed Price's hand. Price pulled away and Lucas warned him that he would use his Taser, which he eventually deployed.
Price staggered forward and raised his hand moments before Lucas shot Price four times. Price was rushed to the emergency room at Hunt Regional Medical Center in Greenville, where he was pronounced dead.
During closing arguments Thursday, Rogers said Lucas, a police officer for about four months, was faced with unknowns, unsure if he was dealing with disorderly conduct or an aggravated assault. He acted appropriately, Rogers argued.
"Everything Shaun Lucas is doing is reasonable and everything Jonathan Price is doing is not," Rogers said. "This was a tragedy. You can't put it any other way."
Lilley reminded jurors that Price was unarmed and that 11 witnesses at the scene that night testified that Price was not angry or aggressive in reacting to Lucas. A Texas Ranger investigating the incident and a sergeant with the Wolfe City Police Department testified that Lucas had no cause to use deadly force against Price.
Lilley referred to the body camera video used as evidence, noting the entire confrontation between Lucas and Price lasted 48 seconds. Slowing the video frame by frame, Lilley showed that as Price reached forward he never touched the Taser before Lucas fired.
"Jonathan Price already had a bullet in him by then," Lilley said, arguing that Lucas was not justified in using deadly force. "All the evidence in this situation was that this was not reasonable."
Price's death almost two years ago was felt strongly in Wolfe City. Hundreds of people filled Don Howard Stadium at Wolfe City High School to remember Price prior to his funeral. Price was a cherished member of the community and one of the school's 2007 graduating class.
The City of Wolfe City issued a statement in firing Lucas four days after the shooting through City Attorney Daniel Ray.
"Contemporaneous with the criminal investigation and because Mr. Lucas is a certified peace officer, the city was required to conduct an administrative investigation of Mr. Lucas's misconduct," Ray said. "... Mr. Lucas was terminated for his egregious violation of the city's and police department's policies."
The majority of statements posted to the Herald-Banner's Facebook page expressed outrage with the jury's verdict.
"It is all kinds of wrong," said Sherry Lair Johnson. "That should have been a guilty verdict hands down."
"Jonathan did not deserve to be shot whatsoever," said Brandon Clemins. "Knew him personally and he was a great guy."
A few, however, said the jury's decision should be respected.
"I wasn't there so it's hard for me to say," Baise said. "He was found not guilty by a jury of his peers, so that's OK with me."
Cynthia Wood Fowler agreed with the verdict.
"I was not in the courtroom or on the jury. But I have faith that the jury made the best decision with the evidence presented to them," she said.