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DALLAS (AP) – The fatal shooting of a black teenager by a white police officer outside a suburban Dallas house party has prompted concerns from some community leaders about whether a new district attorney’s investigation will be sufficiently transparent and thorough.
But attorneys who have worked with say her career of more than 30 years in the criminal justice system — including stints as a prosecutor, judge and attorney in private practice — has prepared her to deal with the intricacies and pressures of such a high-profile case.
“She’ll be up to the task and she will try to be as transparent as possible. She can handle it,” said Dallas defense attorney Heath Harris, who also has worked as a prosecutor with the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office.
Johnson is the first African-American female to serve as the district attorney in Dallas County. She was appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott after the previous district attorney, Susan Hawk, resigned in September. Hawk had quit just a month after returning to work following inpatient treatment for mental illness.
Johnson was a Dallas County prosecutor from 1982 to 1989, serving as the county’s first black female chief felony prosecutor. After being appointed a judge in 1989, she served in that position for 17 years. She then spent 10 years in private practice before being appointed district attorney. Johnson’s seat is the only countywide seat held by a Republican in Dallas.
The shooting of 15-year-old Jordan Edwards as he left a party Saturday night has become Johnson’s first high-profile case since taking office in January. Roy Oliver, a police officer in the Dallas suburb of Balch Springs, opened fire on a vehicle that the high school freshman was riding in along with his two brothers and two other teenagers. The group was leaving an unruly house party.
The shots from Oliver’s rifle shattered the front passenger-side window and struck Edwards. The teen’s 16-year-old brother was driving.
Oliver was fired Tuesday but some community leaders and activists are calling for charges to be filed against him.
“We are insisting on a transparent investigation and we are insisting that this investigation … produces a charge of murder,” said Frederick D. Haynes, a senior pastor at Friendship-West Baptist Church who was one of several activists who met with Johnson on Wednesday.
John Creuzot, a former longtime judge who has known Johnson since the two were Dallas County prosecutors, said Johnson and her office are more than capable of handling the investigation into Edwards’ death.
“There’s nothing about her that makes me think that she would compromise what she feels is the right thing to do on the case,” Creuzot said.
Creuzot, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Johnson next year for the district attorney job, is still willing to credit her for what he described as her calming influence in the role. He said the office had faced turmoil in the time leading up to Hawk’s resignation.
“She’s come in and I think she’s helped steady the office,” he said of Johnson.
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