Oklahoma cop Randy Trent Harrison was convicted by a jury today of first-degree manslaughter in the killing of teen Dane Scott Jr. The charges stemmed from a March 14, 2012 incident in which Harrison attempted to pull the teen’s vehicle over. Scott, 18, refused to stop, initiating a high-speed chase that ended in a fight with police captain Harrison and an attempt to run away, at which time Harrison shot Scott in the back.
Captain Harrison and Scott were known to each other before the shooting, as Harrison had arrested Scott previously for drug violations, causing Harrison’s pursuit of Scott to turn from professional to personal according to prosecutors. In 2011, Harrison arrested Scott for allegedly selling drugs near the Del City, Oklahoma, high school. Scott was also seen by Harrison as he allegedly sold marijuana out of his home, and the pursuit that led to the death of Scott began with him allegedly selling drugs to a passenger in his vehicle.
Harrison’s defense depicted Scott as a drug dealer who had been carrying a gun at the time of the scuffle. The officer was able to take hold of that gun, and claims that he believed Scott to be reaching for a second when he was shot.
Occurring only a few weeks after the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the incident prompted the defense to maintain that the prosecution filed charges in this case in order to prevent the racial tension and protests that followed the Martin case. Dane Scott Jr. was black; Captain Randy Harrison is white. For their part, prosecutors stayed away from the issue of race, saying that Harrison did not shoot Scott because he is prejudiced, but instead focused on the unlawfulness of the action. Three African-Americans sat on the jury.
The baggy pants that Scott had on at the time of the shooting became a focal point in trial, as eyewitnesses recount that he was attempting to hold them up while running from Harrison, who claims that he thought that Scott was reaching for a gun in his pants pocket. No weapon was found on Scott after the shooting.
The district attorney of Oklahoma County, David Prater, closed his case on Monday, asking for a conviction in the cop’s killing of the teen. He maintained to the jury that Harrison also put bystanders and another officer in danger as he fired four shots at the teenager who posed no threat, but was simply running and holding up his pants. The fourth shot hit Scott in the back at the same time as a fellow police officer shot him with a Taser from 10 -15 feet behind him. The second police officer testified that he did not see another weapon on Scott, and an eyewitness claimed that it appeared as if Scott was raising his hands to surrender when he was hit by Harrison’s shot.
Testifying on Monday, Harrison explained to the jury that he shot Scott because he feared for his life, saying “He had just tried to kill me. He would kill anybody to escape.” Harrison added that he had no wish to kill Scott, but that Scott’s behavior had left him with no other choice.
Scott’s criminal record included prior juvenile court convictions for misdemeanors relating to drugs as well as a felony charge of possession with the intent to distribute that was still pending.
Harrison’s sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 8 under the Oklahoma jury’s recommendation that the cop, now convicted of first-degree manslaughter in the killing of the teen, serve four years in prison. Showing no emotion as he was handcuffed, Harrison was escorted to jail. His defense attorney vows that he will appeal the conviction.
By Jennifer Pfalz