CONROE, Texas -- Conroe Police Officer Jason Blackwelder has been indicted on one count of manslaughter in the fatal shooting of a teen outside a Walmart in late July, the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office announced Friday.
According to the district attorney’s office, a grand jury also returned indictments of 'tampering with a government document' and making a 'false report to a police officer.'
It was the evening of July 31 when authorities said Sgt. Blackwelder followed Russell Rios, 19, from a Walmart where the teen was accused of stealing a pair of iPhone cases. Blackwelder said once in a nearby wooded area, the teen choked him. Blackwelder opened fire and killed Rios.
In Friday's indictment, a jury determined the officer “did then and there recklessly cause the death of an individual" by "failing to properly secure and maintain control" of his firearm.
The officer was also accused of tampering with records when he made a "false entry" in government records regarding the account of what happened that night.
In addition, Blackwelder was accused of making a false report by stating to responding officers that Rios was behind him when he opened fire, a statement that “was material to the investigation because the investigation involved whether the defendant was justified in the use of deadly force.”
On the night of the shooting, a police spokesman said the suspect and the officer became “engaged in a very intense struggle," and at one point the officer was being choked by the suspect “to the extent that he thought he was going to lose consciousness.”
Family members of Rios didn’t want to go on-camera at the time, but friends said the teen had just started working at a bank and was going to Lone Star College. They questioned the officer’s use of deadly force.
The D.A.’s office said manslaughter carries a punishment range of 2 to 20 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
“In the tragic circumstance of an officer involved shooting, the highest duty of our office and law enforcement is to uncover the truth,” stated Brett Ligon, Montgomery County District Attorney. “Our office, the Conroe Police Department, and the Sheriff’s Office presented a complete and thorough investigation to the grand jury as we do in all of these cases. It is our hope that these indictments will serve to assure our community that all of our local agencies are committed to always seeking justice no matter where that leads. Because the case is pending we cannot comment regarding the specific facts of this matter, but will look to the presentment of the facts to a Montgomery County jury.”
The Conroe Police Department said Blackwelder has been relieved of all duties during the investigation and his pay suspended. CPD said he has been with the department since September 2008.