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2 Dallas police officers won’t face criminal charges over Diamond Ross’ death in custody

Ross’ family had called for disciplinary action for Sgt. Larry Moody and William Ortega, but an attorney representing the pair say the officers “followed policy and procedure.”

A grand jury declined to indict two officers Wednesday on charges related to the death of Diamond Ross, a 34-year-old woman who died of an overdose while in Dallas police custody in 2018.

Ross’ family and attorney had called for disciplinary action for the two officers involved in the case, Sgt. Larry Moody and William Ortega, who has since resigned and is now an officer in the Allen Police Department.

“We are pleased that the grand jury reviewed all the facts and followed the law. These officers followed policy and procedure,” said Jane Bishkin, an attorney representing Moody and Ortega.

The investigation of two officers in the death of Diamond Ross (shown) found improper conduct but did not result in criminal charges.
The investigation of two officers in the death of Diamond Ross (shown) found improper conduct but did not result in criminal charges.(Family of Diamond Ross)

Ross’ brother, Alvin, and her mother, Ethelyn, said they felt hurt and disrespected by the grand jury’s decision. They said they believe the city is hoping the case will “quietly go away.”

“I’m completely and utterly devastated,” Alvin Ross said. “The total disrespect and disregard for the life of my sister is hard to take. The fact that nobody wants to do anything or acknowledge that the officers were disrespectful is hurtful.”

The Dallas County district attorney’s office and the Dallas Police Department declined to comment.

Ross had been taken into custody on Aug. 18, 2018, in the 1400 block of Exeter Avenue, not far from her home in southern Dallas. Police said Ross had been arguing with her boyfriend and acting erratically, including by punching through an air-conditioning unit. Records show it took multiple officers to subdue her.

She was cleared by Dallas-Fire Rescue officials to be transported to jail, but police instead took her to the city detention center, about 8 miles away, for booking on outstanding warrants. Once there, she was found unresponsive, and a different Dallas-Fire Rescue crew took her to Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas, where she died just after 7 a.m. the next day.

The county medical examiner’s office determined that Ross died from an accidental overdose of PCP, an illegal psychedelic drug also known as angel dust.

The case spurred protests in the city and an internal investigation by Dallas police. In 2019, police released videos showing Ross repeatedly asking officers for water and help as she was placed in a patrol car and taken to jail. Footage from inside the jail shows her being dragged into a holding cell and placed in a wheelchair.

Police later determined that two officers — Moody, who was a senior corporal that was training Ortega at the time — had given “improper” transport to a prisoner and had failed to provide medical treatment. Ortega resigned during the internal investigation, and Moody was issued a written reprimand.

Last year, after months of trying to find answers in the case, Ross’ family and their attorney Justin Moore filed a lawsuit against the city of Dallas and agencies including the Dallas Police Department, Dallas Fire-Rescue and the Dallas marshal’s office.

Ethelyn Ross, left, mother of Diamond Ross, and other family members listen to attorney Justin Moore, center, talk about 'disturbing" video released by the Dallas Police Department in November 2019 showing the final hours of Diamond Ross, a 34-year-old woman who died in police custody of an overdose in 2018. (Irwin Thompson/The Dallas Morning News).
Ethelyn Ross, left, mother of Diamond Ross, and other family members listen to attorney Justin Moore, center, talk about 'disturbing" video released by the Dallas Police Department in November 2019 showing the final hours of Diamond Ross, a 34-year-old woman who died in police custody of an overdose in 2018. (Irwin Thompson/The Dallas Morning News).(Irwin Thompson / Staff Photographer)

The case also resurfaced last month after a wooden coffin bearing Ross’ name was found on the front lawn of Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot’s home.

The D.A.’s office issued a statement shortly after the coffin was found, saying that the Ross case would be presented to a grand jury once authorities had finished their investigation.

Moore said he plans to find out “what evidence was presented to the grand jury that was ultimately used for them to come to that conclusion.”

“This continues a trend in this county in which we allow officers not to face criminal liability for their bad acts, and unfortunately this is just another chapter in that saga,” Moore said. “We think there was more than enough there to find an indictment on these officers.”

He said the city had elected to leverage qualified immunity, a controversial doctrine that has largely protected officers from individual liability in civil lawsuits.

Moore said he plans to turn his focus to the civil lawsuit. He said he already had little faith in the criminal justice apparatus and finds it “really kind of strange” that the district attorney’s office submitted the case to the grand jury after declining to do so in April 2019.

Creuzot said earlier this month that the office had closed the case in 2019 but reopened it that same year after determining “in-custody deaths, such as Ms. Ross’, should be presented to the grand jury, even in cases of drug overdoses and suicide.”

“We can’t be using grand juries to rubber stamp officers avoiding liability,” Moore said. “If that’s what they did here, we need to figure out if that’s the case and that needs to be addressed.”

Staff writer Krista Torralva contributed to this report.

Kelli Smith, Breaking News Reporter. Kelli covers breaking news at The Dallas Morning News. She is a native of El Paso, Texas, and a recent graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Before joining staff, she reported for The Chicago Tribune and KTSM, the NBC affiliate in El Paso.

kelli.smith@dallasnews.com @KelliSmithNews
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