Jonathan Price was considered a hometown hero in the Wolfe City community. In the small East Texas town about 70 miles from Dallas, Price, 31, was a motivational speaker, a mentor to student-athletes in the area and a frequent participant in community service activities. He worked for the city as a maintenance contractor and was a personal trainer on the side. His dream was to open his own gym.
But that dream ended with Price’s death on Oct. 3. Price, a Black man, was shot and killed by a white police officer after witnesses said he broke up a fight between a man and a woman at a gas station.
“He was there breaking up a domestic fight between a couple, which is something that I know he was always standing up for the right thing,” Case Roundtree, a childhood friend of Price, told Yahoo News. “That’s not uncommon for him.”
In the aftermath, this mostly white town of 1,500 has been brought together in mourning for a man many knew and adored. The community has also given itself the kind of self-examination about race relations and policing that much bigger cities have been facing this year.
The alleged confrontation was over by the time Wolfe City Police Officer Shaun Lucas arrived at the gas station. The entire interaction between Price and Lucas was captured on a body camera, according to an affidavit released Wednesday, written by a Texas Ranger. That footage has not been released.
According to the affidavit, Price greeted Lucas upon his arrival. Price asked the officer “you doing good” several times and extended his hand for a handshake. Price also apologized for broken glass on the ground, telling the officer someone had tried “to wrap me up.”
Lucas, 22, thought Price appeared intoxicated and tried to detain him, according to the affidavit. Price said, “I can’t be detained” as Lucas grabbed at his arm. As Price began to walk away, Lucas shot him with his Taser. Price turned back toward the officer and appeared to reach out to grab the end of the stun gun, according to the affidavit.
Lucas then fired four rounds from his handgun, striking Price in the upper torso. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Lee Merritt, a civil rights attorney representing Price’s family, said on Facebook that he was told Price raised his hands and tried to explain what was going on when the officer arrived. “Police fired tasers at him and when his body convulsed from the electrical current, they ‘perceived a threat’ and shot him to death,” wrote Merritt.
Two days after the shooting, Lucas was charged with murder in the killing of Price. In a statement Monday, the Texas Rangers said that Price “resisted in a non-threatening posture and began walking away,” and that the officer’s actions weren’t “reasonable.” Lucas remains jailed Friday on $1 million bond.
Lucas’s attorney, John Snider, has said that the officer “only discharged his weapon in accordance with Texas law when he was confronted with an aggressive assailant who was attempting to take” his stun gun.
On Thursday, Lucas was fired from the police department. A statement from Wolfe City said he was terminated for “his egregious violation” of city and police department policies.
Emotions around town are still high. The Wolfe City community is devastated and angry, but united.
“Everybody is still upset, but the community is supporting our family,” Derrick Ingram, a nephew of Price, told Yahoo News. “They’re backing us up.”
Since Price’s death there have been several rallies, peaceful protests and candlelight vigils in and around Wolfe City calling for Lucas’s conviction.
“Nothing is going to fully make us feel better,” said Roundtree, 32. “I say ‘us’ as his family, his Wolfe City family. ... We would all love to see the verdict come out and [the officer] in jail for the rest of his life so he can ponder on this and think on it and realize what he did. It’s just a terrible thing and it should have never, ever happened.”
Former Boston Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks grew up with Price in Wolfe City. Shortly after the shooting, Middlebrooks posted to Facebook and Twitter, calling the incident “purely an act of racism.”
This one hurts... for so many reasons. pic.twitter.com/Z1gTYJFXuX
— Will Middlebrooks (@middlebrooks) October 4, 2020
“I’ll let you do the math,” wrote Middlebrooks. “There’s no excuse this time.”
“It just makes me open up my eyes and pay attention to what’s going on in the world,” said Ingram, 24. “At first I wasn’t taking Black Lives Matter seriously, but when they hit home, it took it to another level. I just want justice for whatever is going on, because he didn’t deserve this.”
“It’s eye-opening for sure,” Roundtree said. “I’ve always known that police brutality is there. I just see it as you have good people and you have bad people and there’s good cops and there’s bad cops. ... I just think the police officer acted completely wrong.”
Price’s high school football coach, Doug Samples, who drove Price to and from high school for two years, said he was numb when he first heard about his death. Samples believes that this tragedy has forever changed the city.
“It has actually brought the community closer together and made more people in town aware of the problems facing African-Americans in our society today,” Samples, 41, told Yahoo News. “It made me realize that this problem is not only a big-city problem. It is a nationwide problem. It’s just a shame that it took this tragedy to open a lot of eyes. It’s not something we can ignore or push aside anymore because we don’t think it affects us. It’s going to take a conscious effort by all people to get rid of this threat to our society.”
“I hope this story does reach out to other people from little towns,” Victoria Jones, an extended family member of Price, said. “Maybe this will open the eyes that are even in your own little towns and places that you’re comfortable and you know the police. But now you have this new cop in town that doesn’t know you like the rest of them.”
Lucas had been with the Wolfe City Police Department for a little less than six months at the time of the shooting, according to records from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement. Prior to that, he worked as a jailer with the Hunt County Sheriff’s Office for about five months. The Wolfe City Police Department did not return Yahoo News’ request for comment.
Tony Coleman, an Oklahoma City, Okla., attorney who grew up in Wolfe City, told the AP that race relations in the town have always been good.
“I have as many white friends as I do Black friends,” said Coleman, who is Black. “In fact I probably have more white friends than Black because the disparity of the population is that great.”
Coleman, who is also representing Price’s family along with Merritt, added that the community feels “betrayed” by the killing.
Those closest to Price ultimately want his legacy to live on through the people he touched and the things he cared about.
“He was super goal-oriented and I learned that from him,” said Roundtree. “His legacy will definitely live on in Wolfe City and I hope further than that.”
“Everyone needs to know what an amazing person he is,” said Samples. “He cared for every single person he ever came in contact with and would do anything to help someone struggling.”
To fulfill one of Price’s lasting desires, Ingram plans to open up a workout facility in his uncle’s name.
“To honor my uncle, in the next three years, I really want to try to open up a gym like he was pursuing,” said Ingram. “We had talks about [opening one up] ... so I want to pursue that.”
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