A look at the slaying of suburban Houston sheriff's deputy

AP News
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Posted: Aug 31, 2015 6:00 PM
A look at the slaying of suburban Houston sheriff's deputy

HOUSTON (AP) — Shannon J. Miles is charged with fatally shooting a suburban Houston sheriff's deputy in an attack the sheriff said was possibly fueled by rising tensions linked to the Black Lives Matter movement. A guide to key aspects of the case:

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THE SLAYING

Deputy Darren Goforth, 47, a Harris County deputy for 10 years, was filling his patrol car Friday evening at a gas station in Cypress, a suburb northwest of Houston, when he was gunned down.

Miles, who is black, allegedly walked up to the white deputy from behind and shot him 15 times, including in the head and back after he had fallen from the initial shots.

Miles was arrested Saturday based on witness descriptions and surveillance video of his pickup truck, which was found outside his mother's home a few blocks from the shooting scene. Ballistic tests showed that a handgun recovered from the home matched the weapon used to attack Goforth, District Attorney Devon Anderson said.

The 30-year-old Miles has a lengthy criminal record going back to 2005, with offenses including criminal mischief, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct with a firearm. His maximum sentence was 15 days in jail.

Miles also spent time in a mental hospital following a 2012 arrest. He was found to be mentally incompetent after being charged in 2012 with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, according to Joe Frederick, a prosecutor in Travis County, which includes Austin.

He was declared competent in February 2013, but the charge was dropped because the victim could not be located, Frederick said.

Anthony Osso, one of Miles' court-appointed attorneys, said his client intends to plead not guilty.

"He had indicated to the investigating officers that he was not involved in the case," Osso told The Associated Press Monday in a phone interview after Miles appeared briefly in court.

"What I want to do is investigate the case and defend my client based on the facts of the case and not opinion in the public eye or rhetoric that's espoused on social media," Osso said.

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THE TARGETING

Sheriff Ron Hickman said the attack was unprovoked and suggested that the shooting could be connected to the Black Lives Matter movement.

"We've heard black lives matter, all lives matter. Well, cops' lives matter, too," Hickman said. He added that a "dangerous national rhetoric that is out there today ... has gotten out of control."

No physical evidence has yet surfaced to support the idea that the shooting was in any way related to the protest movement. But other law-enforcement leaders did not hesitate to draw the correlation.

"There's no doubt in my mind that Deputy Goforth was murdered because of the color he wore, because he was blue, because he was an officer," Joe Gamaldi, a vice president of the Houston Police Officers' Union, said Monday.

Roland De Los Santos, a Houston police officer, said the death of Goforth, his friend for 40 years, was "a direct result of things that are being said."

DeRay McKesson, a St. Louis-based leader of Black Lives Matter, said in a social-media posting that it was "sad that some have chosen to politicize this tragedy by falsely attributing the officer's death to a movement seeking to end violence."

There was no immediate response to an email from The Associated Press to a contact listed on the Black Lives Matter website.

Bob Goerlitz, president of the Harris County Deputies' Organization, declined to speculate Monday about the motive of the suspected gunman.

"I don't get into that," Goerlitz said. "Who knows what was motivating him? All we know is our brother's gone."

The district attorney also declined to comment on a motive.

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VIOLENCE AGAINST OFFICERS

Goforth was the sixth officer in the nation shot and killed in August, according to the nonprofit National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which tracks on-duty officer deaths. Of the 84 on-duty deaths so far in 2015, 25 were firearms-related, down from 30 at this time in 2014. Traffic accidents account for the largest number of officer deaths, at 38.

Last December, two New York City patrolmen, partners Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, were gunned down as they sat in their patrol car. The gunman, Ismaaily Brinsley, ran into a subway station and killed himself.

Before the ambush, Brinsley posted on an Instagram account that he was planning to shoot two "pigs" in retaliation for Eric Garner's death in an apparent police chokehold. Garner had refused to be handcuffed after being stopped on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes on a Staten Island street.

In March, two police officers were shot and wounded in Ferguson, Missouri, the scene of violent protests over a police shooting of Michael Brown a year ago. Jeffrey L. Williams was charged in the shooting. His attorney has denied that Williams targeted police as a demonstration was breaking up.

A study for the International Association of Chiefs of Police showed that from 1990 to 2012 the number of ambushes accounting for officer slayings grew from about 12 percent from 1990 to 2000 to 21 percent from 2001 to 2012. During that period, 1,219 law enforcement officers were slain, according to the study.

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BLACK LIVES MATTER

The nationwide Black Lives Matter movement traces its beginnings to the Trayvon Martin case in Sanford, Florida, where the 17-year-old black teenager was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordinator. The movement grew after 18-year-old Michael Brown, also black, was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.

Protesters cited the movement earlier this summer in Texas, after a 28-year-old black woman named Sandra Bland was found dead in a county jail about 50 miles northwest of Houston. She had been arrested three days earlier on a traffic violation. Texas authorities said she committed suicide, but her Chicago-area family is skeptical of that. The case remains under investigation.