In the courtroom, a square space between the jury, judge and defense and prosecutors’ tables, a Tarrant County prosecutor on Wednesday handed a plastic gun to a homicide detective.
Assistant District Attorney Tim Rogers placed a pot of hot tea on the floor, which he said represented a dog.
Rogers took a stand across from Mac Simmons and asked the detective how he would respond if he found himself standing in front of an attacking dog with a man in the background.
“I probably would have kicked it,” Simmons testified.
An Arlington police detective said another person may have a different perception of the threat or other circumstances. Simmons said he would not shoot the dog in such a scenario.
“I’d rather bite something than be in that situation,” Simmons testified.
The demonstration was an attempt to recreate the positions of people who participated in an August 2019 encounter between a former Arlington police officer, Ravinder Singh, and Margarita Brooks, a woman who was lying on a blanket outdoors. Singh fired three rounds from a pistol in an attempt to stop a running dog. At least one of the bullets fired by Singh went through the chest of the dog’s owner, Margaret Brooks, killing her. Brooks was lying behind her dog.
A grand jury indicted Singh for involuntary manslaughter, and a jury heard evidence at his trial this week in the 371st District Court in Tarrant County.
The dog weighed about 40 kg. Singh was called to check on Brooks when a man called 911 to report she was unconscious.
Singh graduated from the police academy in February 2019 and completed field training on July 1, a month before the shooting.
Under cross-examination by defense attorney Kathy Lowthorp, Simmons testified that a reasonable person might have perceived a dog as a deadly threat.
Simmons, the lead Arlington police homicide investigator in the criminal case, also testified about a 10-paragraph statement Singh prepared for the criminal investigation that outlined the narrative of the shooting. Singh submitted the statement after seeing the footage of his body-worn camera.
In the August 7, 2019, statement, Singh wrote that the dog was barking and “snapping right at me.”
Using OC spray (oleoresin of pepper, also known as pepper spray), a Taser or a baton were “not feasible,” the officer wrote, and his choice was to use deadly force.
“I feared for my life,” Singh wrote.
Brooks was in the grass to his right. “I shot to the left,” Singh wrote.
Prosecutors admit the bullet removed from Brooks’ body in her autopsy has a mark that suggests it ricocheted and likely hit the concrete sidewalk next to her first. The bounce of the projectile should not be a factor in determining whether Singh was criminally negligent, prosecutors said.
Throughout the trial, defense attorneys Lowthorp and Rafael Sierra suggested to jurors that Singh was experiencing tunnel vision, a phenomenon in which a person’s brain focuses exclusively under pressure on an immediate, serious threat, when he shot the dog.
They also suggested that the officer’s other options, a baton, Taser and OC spray have a range that would require the dog to be close.
A law enforcement expert who analyzed the shooting testified for the state earlier in the trial that Singh took a substantial and unreasonable risk that someone would be killed when he fired at the dog.
Based on images captured by the body-worn camera, Singh’s focus appeared to be the dog, not Brooks, the expert, Jonathan Priest, said Tuesday.
“Have they forgotten her here?” Rogers asked Brooks.
“Very much,” replied Priest.
Priest worked as a Denver police officer for 32 years. Now retired, Priest is a police use of force consultant and law enforcement trainer.
Law enforcement officers who use firearms are trained to be sure of their target and what lies beyond it, Priest testified.
Singh’s main failure was to shoot knowing Brooks was in the background, Priest said. The shooting was neither reasonable nor necessary under the circumstances, he testified. Brooks, 30, suffered gunshot wounds to her forearm and chest.
The shooting was a gross departure from the standard of care and presented a substantial and unreasonable risk to Brooks, the expert testified.
Under Texas law, “a person is criminally negligent with respect to the result of his conduct when he should have known of a substantial and unreasonable risk that a particular result would occur.”
Singh had other options to try to deal with the dog that would not endanger a human, the expert said.
Singh may instead have used pepper spray, a bat, a stun gun, hands or feet or a loud voice, Priest said.
“Once that bullet leaves the muzzle of the firearm, there’s no going back,” he said.
The projectile recovered from Brooks’ body bore a marking that indicated it ricocheted after hitting a hard, unyielding surface such as the concrete sidewalk next to them before striking Brooks, Priest testified.
The expert testified the ricochet and the fact that it is unclear whether one or two bullets struck Brooks were not considerations in his analysis.
Singh’s dash cam recording of the shooting was played for jurors. The video shows Singh spotting Brooks from a distance and yelling questions when her dog started barking and running in Singh’s direction.
If convicted, Singh, who resigned from the police department on Nov. 1, 2019, faces a maximum sentence of two years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
The trial, presided over by Judge Ryan Hill, continued Thursday afternoon. The state rested its case at about 2:45 p.m