- Eva Ruth Moravec Special to the Statesman
A Brazoria County jury has acquitted a former police officer for accidentally shooting his sleeping neighbor through their shared apartment wall.
After the verdict – which the six-member jury reached Tuesday after less than one hour – Reggie Rossow Jr. walked up to former Freeport police officer Matthew McInnis and shook hands with the man whose bullet caused severe injuries, including the removal of Rossow’s spleen.
“It was just some closure; it was the first time I’ve ever seen him, face-to-face,” said Rossow, 37. “That’s just the way I was raised.”
McInnis, who was a 25-year-old rookie cop when he fired his duty weapon while in bed, said the handshake with the injured man “meant a lot. Hopefully we can rebuild, hopefully we can have some kind of relationship. This has been two years in the making, and there are a lot of emotions built up.”
The circumstances of the shooting — Rossow was asleep in his bed at home, doing nothing to attract police attention — are unlike those in any other officer-involved shooting in Texas, according to an analysis of reports that are now required for all officer-involved shootings under a 2015 state law.
An analysis of those reports shows that Texas officers shot 354 people in the two years from September 2015 until October 2017. One in six shootings by officers involved gunfire at people who were unarmed.
McInnis told investigators the shooting happened at 4 a.m. Jan. 30, 2016, as his alarm awoke him in his Clute apartment, about 57 miles south of Houston. McInnis, who is white, had just started his adult life: He was fulfilling his lifelong dream of becoming a peace officer and had just moved into his own apartment with a roommate, also a police officer.
Rossow, who is black, lived in the adjacent apartment with his wife and son, Noah. While Noah often sleeps in bed with his father, Rossow was alone in his bed when he was shot. He awoke to a “pop,” he said, then felt blood on his back and awoke his wife, asking her to call 911.
Meanwhile in the apartment next door, McInnis searched for the empty shell casing – which was in his sheets – and traced the bullet’s path through his headboard and two walls. Then he knocked on his neighbor’s door and later applied pressure to Rossow’s back until paramedics arrived.
“I’m not from here, I’ve never been on my own before,” McInnis said when asked moments after the shooting about sleeping with a loaded gun. A body-worn camera recorded the exchange.
“I opened my eyes and heard it go off, heard the discharge,” the former officer said. “That’s what woke me up, and I guess I had my hand on the gun or finger on the trigger and it went off.”
It took months for Rossow to recover physically, and the loss of his spleen requires him to get annual vaccinations. While he said he’s feeling better, he continues to struggle financially and is still in the process of getting compensation from the state for crime victims.
McInnis resigned from the Freeport Police Department in February 2016. The Clute Police Department investigated the shooting and recommended no charges. But the case also went before a grand jury, which in June returned an indictment for a misdemeanor charge of deadly conduct, stating that McInnis was reckless in shooting his firearm through the wall.
“Ultimately, charges were brought,” prosecutor David Smith said during opening statements. “We’re not letting an officer who discharged his firearm get away with it. We’re asking that he be held accountable for his actions.”
After hearing McInnis’ explanation of what happened, Rossow was certain that the all-white jury would find the former officer guilty.
“But I guess those six people just don’t know me, aren’t like me, and don’t come from where I come from,” Rossow said.
The jury was picked at the end of October, but, two days in, a juror was hospitalized and there were no alternates. Then, a death in Judge Marc Holder’s family and planned vacations pushed the trial’s resumption to Monday.
The trial lasted four days, during which defense attorney Charles Adams raised more than 250 objections, living up to a statement he made during jury selection that he would “zealously represent my client.” While McInnis was expected to testify, he chose Tuesday not to, Adams said.
After the jury verdict, McInnis said he was looking forward to spending time with his family. “I’m just thankful,” he said as his eyes filled with tears. A conviction could have brought up to a year in jail and up to $4,000 in fines.
It’s rare for an officer to be punished after shooting someone, even more so if it happened while the officer is off-duty, but several have been recently.
Former Farmers Branch officer Ken Johnson was indicted last year in the fatal shooting of a suspected burglar, whom Johnson allegedly chased and shot while off-duty.
Awaiting trial on charges of murder and four counts of aggravated assault by a public servant is former Balch Springs police officer Roy Oliver, accused of shooting into a car full of teenagers, killing 15-year-old Jordan Edwards.
This week, a fired Dallas police officer received a two-year probated sentence for attempted deadly conduct in the shooting of a mentally ill man in 2013. Cardan Spencer, 34, was charged with aggravated assault by a public servant but pleaded guilty to a reduced charge.
Earlier this year, former Garland officer Patrick Tuter was placed on probation for nine months for fatally shooting an unarmed man five years ago. Originally charged with manslaughter, Tuter pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of discharging a firearm in certain municipalities.