Attorneys are seeking a new trial for a 19-year-old man recently convicted of aggravated assault after The Dallas Morning News reported digital police evidence is missing in the case.
Jordan Rodgers’ lawyers argued in a motion filed Wednesday that he is entitled to face a jury again after they learned via a reporter’s inquiries that the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office identified his case as one of 14 in which evidence was deleted.
This is the first known motion requesting a new trial because of deleted evidence since The News broke the story in early March about the police audit. Defense attorneys for pending homicide cases are now asking judges to have prosecutors declare on the record whether police data was deleted — a move which could be replicated by other lawyers looking for answers for their clients.
Rodgers was standing trial in late February when District Attorney John Creuzot says he learned of widespread Dallas police evidence preservation issues. Dallas police are reviewing about 450 capital murder and murder cases to look for deleted evidence.
Rodgers was initially indicted for murder in the slaying of Gloria Roque, according to court records. The murder charge was dismissed and then reindicted. However, Rodgers ultimately went to trial for a lesser charge of aggravated assault, and the murder charge was dismissed after his conviction.
The murder charges accounted for two of the 14 cases with deleted evidence, but his aggravated assault case could be audited once police expand the review’s scope to include other violent crimes. The same prosecutor was assigned to all of Rodgers’ cases.
The court filing revealed the lead detective in Rodgers’ case did not know evidence — including body-worn camera videos — was deleted without being shared with the DA’s office. Emails included in the motion show the lead prosecutor was also unaware of the missing videos.
Creuzot said earlier this month that prosecutors were alerting defense attorneys as they heard from police about lost evidence.
Creuzot said his office learned Feb. 21 of missing evidence in a murder case. Four days later, on Feb. 25, the number rose to 14 homicide cases.
On both these dates, Rodgers was on trial, the motion reads. Despite this, the motion alleges that “when the DA’s office learned of the missing videos, they did not inform the Court or the attorneys trying the case.”
The motion alleges procedures to notify the court about evidence issues are “either wildly inadequate or were not followed because counsel only learned about the missing videos from the media (nearly a month after trial).”
“It’s like seeing only two-thirds of the chessboard,” Niles Illich, Rodgers’ appellate lawyer, told The News.
Creuzot reiterated in a written statement Thursday that the review process “is ongoing and continues to develop … not just day to day but often hour to hour.”
“Our office continues to take this situation very seriously to ensure the rights of all involved parties are kept intact, however, as this is a developing situation so are the protocols and processes we are instituting on our end,” the statement read. “We are moving forward the very best way we know how with the information we have.”
Dallas police spokeswoman Kristin Lowman declined to address any questions about Rodgers’ case, instead referring to past statements that the department’s audit is ongoing and will be “thorough and complete.” No timeline for completion is set.
In the written statement, Creuzot said police are notifying his office of potential evidence problems and a task force is relaying information about individual cases.
Defense attorneys for five other people told The News on Tuesday that they had not been made aware that evidence in their clients’ cases was deleted before being reached by reporters.
Dallas police Executive Assistant Chief Albert Martinez previously said evidence was deleted due to human error, such as detectives not saving them quickly enough in case files or because of officers improperly labeling the videos. Others may have been deleted because of deficiencies in DPD’s processes, he said.
Rodgers was found guilty of aggravated assault in the death of Gloria Roque, a 79-year-old woman killed in a drive-by shooting Oct. 31, 2019. He was sentenced to 24 years in prison, according to court records.
Roque was sitting on her couch when a passing vehicle opened fire into her home in the 3700 block of Meyers Street. Roque was struck in the back and later died from her injuries.
The gunmen were targeting Rodgers’ “opponent” but shot into the wrong Meyers Street home, Kimberly Ann Garcia told investigators. Garcia, who admitted to driving the car, said Rodgers had a pistol and fired multiple times into the house, according to the affidavit.
Garcia pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to 15 years in prison for Roque’s slaying.
In emails included in the motion, prosecutor Christy Harris wrote to defense lawyers Tuesday that she became aware of nine body-worn camera videos in Rodgers’ case that were deleted.
In one response to Harris, Detective John Valdez said some of the deleted footage was filmed by multiple officers sent to Rodgers’ neighborhood to look for him. Valdez said the footage showed a traffic stop, but officers did not search the car.
Footage from one of the responding officers was shared with the district attorney’s office, Valdez said, which he confirmed in a screenshot dated Dec. 3, 2019.
“I didn’t know about the other officers [sic] recordings until we started all this audit stuff,” Valdez wrote.
In another response sent shortly after, Valdez wrote that he identified additional footage from two other officers who took Garcia to jail. The video was taken after Garcia was interviewed at her house. Valdez noted she asked for a lawyer and was not interviewed again.
“I didn’t know about these [videos] until this email,” he wrote to the prosecutor.
Harris then forwarded Valdez’ responses to Rodgers’ trial lawyer Scott Palmer. In the email, she notes that prosecutors did not bring up at trial the incident where police responded to Rodgers’ neighborhood.
“It may be that these videos are not consequential,” Illich told The News, “but imagine if they are.”
The motion notes that if defense lawyers were informed of the missing videos before trial, they “could have made an educated decision” about whether to ask the court for more time to investigate.
“In some case, somewhere, this really will matter,” Illich said.