HOUSTON – The deputy never saw the man who walked up behind him and shot 15 times, a Harris County, Texas, prosecutor said Monday.
Deputy Darren Goforth was found in a pool of blood next to his patrol car, which he had been filling up with gas at the time of this death, District Attorney Devon Anderson said.
Shannon J. Miles is charged with capital murder in Goforth’s Friday slaying. He arrived at Harris County District Court in Houston wearing the yellow jumpsuit the county assigns to high-security inmates, his wrists and ankles shackled to his waist. Miles did not speak much during the hearing, but at one point, Judge Denise Collins admonished Miles to address her as “ma’am.”
One of Miles’ court appointed attorneys, Anthony Osso, said Miles “looked to me to have a blank expression, which is always a cause for concern.”
Miles will undergo a psychological examination as part of his background investigation, Osso said. A defense team is being put together that will include forensic experts and psychological experts, he said.
Surveillance video of the shooting shows Miles wearing a white T-shirt, red shorts and tennis shoes as he walks up behind Goforth, Anderson said.
“He puts a gun to the back of his head and shoots,” Anderson said, describing the video. Even when Goforth hits the ground, Miles “continues to unload his gun,” she said.
“The gun holds 14 in the magazine and one in the chamber,” Anderson told reporters after the hearing. “He unloaded the entire pistol into Deputy Goforth.”
Miles then drove away in a red pickup truck with a white cooler in the bed, Anderson said. A search for red Ford Ranger pickup trucks yielded a result in the same 77095 Houston ZIP code where the shooting occurred.
Investigators went to the home and found what they believed to be the same red truck in the driveway. Not only did it have an aftermarket trailer hitch like the suspect vehicle, but there also was evidence it had been carrying a cooler in its bed, Anderson said.
Police knocked on the door, and a man answering the door said the truck belonged to his brother, who had just left with their mother, Anderson said.
While police were searching the home to see if Miles was there, Miles and his mother returned, Anderson said. Miles told officers the truck belonged to him, and when asked if he had any firearms, he acknowledged having a .40-caliber in a blue baseball bag in the garage, she said.
Officers got a search warrant and recovered the gun, which ballistics testing indicated was linked to the shell casings found at the crime scene, she said.
Miles is cooperating with police, but Anderson declined to comment on his possible motive, specific comments Miles made or where and how he obtained the gun.
Targeted for being policeman?
Osso, the defense lawyer, didn’t want to talk about Miles possibly retaliating against police.
“We’re going to stay away from that,” he said. “We’re not looking to make it a race issue. We need to focus on the facts in this case so we’re going to avoid those outside forces.”
As far as authorities can tell, the only target on Goforth’s back was a law enforcement uniform.
“This rhetoric has gotten out of control,” said Goforth’s boss, Harris County, Texas, Sheriff Ron Hickman. “We’ve heard ‘black lives matter,’ ‘All lives matter.’ Well, cops’ lives matter, too. So why don’t we just drop the qualifier, and just say ‘Lives matter,’ and take that to the bank?”
The phrase “black lives matter” rose to prominence in 2013, when Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman. It gained more traction last year, when Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner died after an apparent chokehold by a New York police officer.
But whether the outrage over perceived police brutality against African-Americans played a role in the seemingly random killing of Goforth is up for debate.
In response to the shooting, Chuck Canterbury, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police, announced Sunday he was renewing his call to make killing a law enforcement officer a hate crime.
Hickman acknowledged that the motive for his deputy’s death has not been determined.
While some lauded the sheriff for saying anti-police rhetoric has gotten “out of control,” others said he prematurely linked Goforth’s death to the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
“There’s no evidence that there’s a connection between this rhetoric, or this sort of national discourse … and what happened,” CNN political commentator Marc Lamont Hill said. “It’s an awful tragedy, but I don’t think it’s connected.”
CNN law enforcement analyst Harry Houck disagreed, saying the anti-police rhetoric is undeniable. He cited a protest in Minnesota over the weekend in which demonstrators held a banner saying “Black Lives Matter” and chanted, “Pigs in a blanket! Fry ’em like bacon!”
Texas state Rep. Garnet Coleman said it was “unfortunate” the sheriff tied Goforth’s death to the “Black Lives Matter” movement — or anything that has to do with police brutality — so quickly.
But the sheriff had a point, he said.
“In general, I think the overall rhetoric is overheated, and it only leads to more injury and death,” Coleman said Monday. “We’re going to have to figure this out, whether it’s training for police or having a sit-down to decrease the rhetoric — particularly if it discusses violence at all.”
Ambush killings of cops on the rise
In 2014, 15 officers were shot and killed in ambush attacks, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund said in December. That’s triple the number of officers who were killed in ambush shootings in 2013, the group said.
Last December, New York police officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were fatally shot while sitting in their squad car. Police said the gunman declared on social media his intention to kill officers as revenge for the deaths of Brown and Garner.
“I’m Putting Wings On Pigs Today,” suspect Ismaaiyl Brinsley allegedly wrote on Instagram. “They Take 1 Of Ours, Let’s Take 2 of Theirs.”
So far in 2015, several officers have been killed in ambush attacks in addition to Goforth.
In Georgia, Fulton County police Officer Terence Green was shot while responding to reports of gunfire in a neighborhood in March. Police said the gunman “appeared to have gone on a rampage” and ambushed Green with an assault-style rifle.
In Louisiana, New Orleans police Officer James Bennett Jr. was fatally shot while sitting in his car.
Outpouring of support
If there was any hostility toward Goforth because of his job, it was quickly outweighed by the support of thousands of strangers.
As of Sunday night, donors dropped off more than $75,000 for the Goforth family at the gas station where the deputy was killed, organizer Brian McCullar said. A gofundme.com page has raised nearly $100,000.
“This was a very senseless murder and no one, be it of any race, deserved to die like this,” Kimberly Bourda Murphy wrote on the page. Goforth’s life “did matter, just as all lives matter.”
Statement from President Obama
This afternoon, on my way to Alaska, I called Kathleen Goforth, the widow of Harris County Deputy Sheriff Darren Goforth – a veteran law enforcement officer who was contemptibly shot and killed over the weekend. On behalf of the American people, I offered Mrs. Goforth my condolences, and told her that Michelle and I would keep her and her family in our prayers. I also promised that I would continue to highlight the uncommon bravery that police officers show in our communities every single day. They put their lives on the line for our safety. Targeting police officers is completely unacceptable – an affront to civilized society. As I said in my State of the Union Address, we’ve got to be able to put ourselves in the shoes of the wife who won’t rest until the police officer she married walks through the door at the end of his shift. That comfort has been taken from Mrs. Goforth. So we must offer her our comfort – and continue to stand up for the safety of police officers wherever they serve.