HOUSTON—Anytime deadly force is used in Harris County either by police, or by a civilian, 12 people decide if that shooting was justified.
Every three months a new group is seated for a full year on the Harris County Grand Jury. But before they decide anything they get training that most people never see.
It starts with a legal briefing, and continues with the same system used to train police on shoot or no shoot cases.
“A lot of people have misconceptions about what police are supposed to do when they encounter someone with a weapon,” said Kurt Bonsel, an investigator for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.
Bonsel also runs the training simulator system used by both law enforcement and the grand jurors if they choose.
The system is a screen the size of the room and various video scenes that depict dangerous situations. You never know how you may react until you get there.
One participant fired at a suspect the second there was a possible threat.
“You did not know that was a weapon in his hand, but you started shooting?” Bonsel asked him. “I don’t tell them what they need to do. I tell them police officers will be going into these scenarios.”
The system is very realistic and it does get your heart racing.
Julian Ramirez is the Harris County Assistant District Attorney that is the chief of the agency’s civil rights division.
“A number of cases that they will hear every session will deal with self defense. It is important for them to fully understand,” he said.
Ramirez said that is because, for the most part, Texas law is simple, shootings whether they involve a police officer, or a civilian, rely largely on reasonableness. The test is if the grand juror feels the action—firing the gun—was reasonable under the circumstances.
“This puts them into the police officers’ shoes and I think gives them some greater insight into those decisions that they are called on to make,” Ramirez said.