A 1-year-old boy is still fighting for his young life after being shot in the head by a Houston police officer who was chasing a robbery suspect earlier this month.
Daisha Smalls said at a news conference Tuesday that her infant son, Legend Smalls, remains in pediatric intensive care. Legend was shot during an officer pursuit on March 3 and had to have the right side his skull removed to relieve swelling on his brain. He spent 10 days on a ventilator and still struggles to breathe on his own.
“My baby didn’t deserve this,” a distraught Daisha Smalls said during the March 16 media briefing. “My baby didn’t deserve to be shot, especially not by the police.”
The forlorn 19-year-old mother said her son still has bullet fragments in his head. She was flanked by her legal team, led by prominent civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump. Crump held a photo of Legend Smalls and told reporters that the boy’s family worries about his quality of life after having a bullet removed from his brain.
“Little Legend is strong; little Legend is fighting. And we’re all praying that he will get through this,” he said.
The tragic shooting unfolded at a Chevron gas station on Houston’s west side late the night of March 3. Houston police were chasing an armed carjacking suspect who crashed his vehicle and ran to the Smalls car just after Daisha finished pumping gas. The mother said she was getting back into her car when the man, who has been identified as Broderick Woods, jumped in and told her to give him the car. She said she refused, telling him that her baby was in the back seat.
Police arrived moments later and saw Woods carjacking Daisha Smalls. Officers approached Daisha’s vehicle and demanded Woods drop his gun, according to Houston Police Department. When he refused, 15-year veteran Officer E. Garza fired multiple shots, killing Woods and wounding Legend Smalls, HPD Executive Assistant Chief Troy Finner told reporters the night of the shooting.
Surveillance footage showed the man running from his car to Daisha Smalls’ as a swarm of officers descended upon the scene. Crump demanded that police release any bodycam footage from the incident.
Authorities said Woods had no relation to Daisha or Legend Smalls. Garza was placed on administrative duty pending the outcome of an internal review by HPD’s Special Investigations Unit, a standard practice in all officer-involved shootings. The Harris County District Attorney’s Office is also conducting a separate investigation, outgoing Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said in a statement Tuesday. Acevedo announced at a press conference Monday that he’s leaving HPD to take the helm as police chief of the Miami Police Department in Florida.
In Tuesday’s statement, the chief reiterated the department’s stance that Garza acted to protect Smalls as she when he opened fire on Woods. But Crump said the officer endangered Daisha Smalls and her infant son with his actions.
“Little Legend will live the rest of his life with the consequences of their decision to shoot into his mama’s car even though they knew that she was in there,” he fumed. “Why would the police not respect her life? They knew she was in the car, this innocent Black woman. But yet they started shooting in the car, knowing that bullets have no names on them. And when you shoot into the car, you put her life at risk; not to mention, one of those bullets had Legend’s name on it. Was it worth that to put their lives in danger like that?”
Tuesday’s police statement indicated Acevedo and Finner went to the hospital to check on Legend and meet his mother. But at the news conference Tuesday, Daisha Smalls said she’s had virtually no contact with the police department other than when she was called her to pick up her vehicle.
Chicago civil rights attorney Antonio Romanucci, one of Crump’s partners in the case, confirmed that the legal team intends to file a civil lawsuit against the police department. He said they’re gathering facts about the shooting in preparation for the litigation.
Romanucci disputed initial reports from police that Legend Smalls suffered a graze wound, telling reporters the officer’s bullet struck him squarely in the skull.
“Nobody knows whether the Legend that Daisha woke up with on March 2 of this year will be the Legend that she has waking up with her for the rest of this child’s life,” Romanucci said. “And that’s heartbreaking, ladies and gentlemen. And that’s because the rules were not followed.”
Attorneys sought to address a conflicting narrative that Daisha Smalls was still standing outside the vehicle when police shot at the suspect. Daisha made clear during Tuesday’s conference that she was sitting in her car when the man jumped in.
“I just want my baby to be safe, I just want my baby to be healthy, I just want him to recover. I just want him to be back to how he used to be,” she said. “I miss my son. My son didn’t deserve this. And I don’t want to leave my baby’s side at all.”
Romanucci cited the “objectively reasonable” standard of care in the Houston Police Department’s use-of-force policy, which dictates officers must consider the “totality of the circumstances” and the safety of uninvolved victims or bystanders before deploying deadly force. The attorney said the officer’s decision to fire shots at the armed suspect was unjustified. But the policy does state officers can use deadly force to protect others from an imminent threat or death.
“Even if this suspect had taken Daisha hostage, you don’t shoot. This is not the movies, this isn’t a TV show. This is real,” Romanucci said. “Under their own rules, this was not a justified shooting. And as a result of this needless harm, this mother has to suffer watching her child struggling to breathe on his own.”