Members of the Hearne City Council voted unanimously on Saturday to direct the city's police chief to terminate a police officer who shot and killed a 93-year-old woman earlier this week.
Pearlie Golden died Tuesday night after a family member contacted police and told them she had threatened him with a gun. The events that followed are still under investigation, but police said Officer Stephen Stem engaged with the suspect and then fired his gun, striking Golden.
The shooting sparked outrage in Hearne and beyond with many questioning the officer's use of force. Council members held an emergency meeting Saturday afternoon to vote on Stem's future with the department.
Tuesday's incident was Stem's second fatal shooting involving a suspect. An investigation cleared Stem of wrongdoing in a 2012 shooting in Hearne, but this time City Council members voted to terminate the officer before the official investigation was complete.
Hearne Mayor Ruben Gomez said the City Council's own investigation into the matter led them to take Saturday's action.
“The information that was provided to us, we feel we needed to make this decision,” said Gomez.
Gomez said the City Council members received the advice of the city attorney, Bryan F. Russ, Jr, who also recommended they terminate Stem.
Gomez and Russ declined to speak about the factors that led to the council's decision.
“It's not one factor, it's the totality of the circumstances that we looked at,” said Russ.
The council members discussed the issue behind closed doors for less than half an hour before they returned to council chambers and voted to have Stem terminated. The unanimous vote prompted applause from dozens of people who had packed into council chambers for Saturday's meeting.
“We feel like our voice is being heard and our cries have been heard. Hopefully from this point on we will have answers,” said Hearne resident Jannifer Taylor.
Golden was described as a nice woman who was always seen picking up cans throughout the community, using the money to support herself.
“My heart hurts to know it could have been handled a different way, totally differently. And now she's gone and there's nothing we can do about that,” said Hearne resident Gayla Bundage.
Stem wasn't present at Saturday's meeting. His attorney, Robert McCabe, issued a statement prior to the council's decision. He said based on his initial review of the evidence, he believes his client's actions were immediately necessary given the circumstances created by Golden.
The statement read, in part, “Although the end result was tragic, his actions likely saved not only his own life, but also saved the life of the citizens who called 911 seeking immediate help from the Hearne Police Department.”
McCabe went on to state that he and his client look forward to an objective, thorough and professional investigation by the Texas Rangers, and ultimately he believes the Robertson County grand jury will conclude Stem acted justly.
Following the meeting, Hearne's police chief told Local 2 he would follow the order and terminate Stem, effective immediately.