A Houston Police Department officer will not face criminal charges in connection with two of the three fatal shootings in which he was involved over the past couple of years, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office confirmed Tuesday.
Grand juries have found there isn’t enough evidence to charge HPD Officer Devin Inocencio in the deaths of Dontel Thompson, a 19-year-old killed while running from police in April, and Charion Lockett, a 27-year-old aspiring law student shot outside his home in early 2022.
The grand jury reached its decision in the Thompson case Thursday. A separate grand jury found no grounds for criminal charges in the Lockett case in April, a decision that has not been previously reported.
Inocencio, a five-year veteran of the department, was also among the four officers who fired shots in a shooting that killed a 52-year-old kidnapping suspect in Montgomery County in August 2022, according to an HPD press release.
Montgomery County officials would not confirm Tuesday whether a grand jury has heard that case, but they said there was no pending criminal case against Inocencio. Douglas Griffith, the president of the Houston Police Officers’ Union, said a grand jury found insufficient evidence for charges in the Montgomery County case.
While the grand juries declined to pursue charges against Inocencio, Thompson’s mother and a lawyer for Lockett’s mother criticized the officer’s actions Tuesday.
“I just want the world to know he wasn’t a bad kid like they thought he was, he wasn’t another typical Black man that does stuff that deserves to die,” said Thompson’s mother, Shamara Carroll. “The officer is just a trigger-happy officer.”
Efforts to reach Inocencio were unsuccessful Tuesday afternoon. Griffith said Inocencio could not comment on the cases due to HPD policy.
Griffth described the three shooting victims as violent offenders “that chose to use a weapon to either threaten the officer or another party.” (Lockett’s family has denied his involvement in any criminal activity, noting his lack of arrest history prior to the shooting.)
“Play with guns, this is what happens,” Griffith said. “The officer here is in a highly trained, specialized unit that goes after violent offenders.”
Body-worn camera footage from Inocencio clearly captured the fatal shooting of Thompson and provided some context to Lockett’s death.
In Thompson’s case, Inocencio was part of a team conducting surveillance on an armed robbery suspect in north Houston. After witnessing Thompson rob a store, police began chasing him, according to an HPD press release issued the day after the shooting.
As Thompson ran through front yards in the same direction that Inocencio was parked in an unmarked police car, Inocencio jumped out of his vehicle and yelled “put your f—ing hands up,” body camera video showed. Thompson continued to run toward Inocencio with a gun in his hand, albeit not clearly pointed at Inocencio.
As Thompson neared him, Inocencio fired 10 shots at increasingly close range. Carroll said prosecutors told her Thompson was hit eight times, including two in the back, though the Houston Landing could not verify this account.
Griffith said the shooting was “completely justified” because it’s “very clear to see the suspect’s armed, running at them with a pistol in hand.” Police are legally justified in using deadly force if they have a reasonable belief that there is an imminent threat of serious harm or death to themselves or others, according to HPD policy and federal legal precedent.
Carroll described her son as a loving child who enjoyed traveling and drawing. She said Thompson had recently fallen to peer pressure and made mistakes, which is “what jail is for.”
“It’s not fair,” Carroll said. “His life is gone and this officer is able to continue to … take care of the streets, but he’s killing young Black men.”
Inocencio’s involvement in Lockett’s case, meanwhile, remains in contention.
In the hours leading up to Lockett’s death, police obtained a warrant for his arrest on an aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon charge. Family members of Lockett, who held two college degrees, believe he was falsely accused of the crime by a former high school friend carrying a grudge.
Body camera videos show officers pulling up to Lockett’s home in unmarked vehicles to arrest him. Before the officers reached the driveway, gunshots rang out. Police said Lockett fired the first shots while seated in a car in the driveway, prompting officers to return fire. However, lawyers for Lockett’s mother allege officers fired first.
Body camera footage from multiple officers, including Inocencio, does not clearly show the moments leading up to the gunfire. The video depicts Inocencio firing his weapon, but it doesn’t show whether he hit Lockett.
Lockett’s mother filed a federal lawsuit after the shooting, alleging that Inocencio and three other officers used excessive force and failed to properly identify themselves as police.
“(Inocencio) opened up the car door and pointed a gun at someone without saying, ‘Police!’” said Randall Kallinen, a lawyer representing Lockett’s mother, who noted that Inocencio was aiming at Lockett from behind an unmarked vehicle door. “The average person will go, ‘I’m gonna get shot by some gang members here,’ but it was actually the police.”
The lawsuit is pending in court. A judge rejected the officers’ request to dismiss the case in February, a ruling they are appealing.