After three mistrials, a jury convicted former Oklahoma police officer Shannon Kepler of manslaughter for the death of 19-year-old Jeremey Lake in 2014.
Tulsa County Sheriff's Office
After three mistrials, a jury convicted former Oklahoma police officer Shannon Kepler of first-degree manslaughter for the fatal shooting of his daughter's boyfriend, Jeremy Lake. The shooting took place in 2014, while Kepler—who was still with the Tulsa Police Department at the time—was off-duty.
According to reports, Kepler and his wife had kicked their adopted daughter, Lisa Kepler, out of the house and taken her to a homeless shelter in an attempt to "scare her straight." It was there that she met Lake, who lived with his aunt nearby. Lake was mixed-race, but identified as black. When Shannon Kepler, who is white, learned through Facebook that his daughter had started dating Lake, he drove to Lake's house, which he found using police resources.
Lake was walking near his home with Lisa Kepler when her father pulled up in a black SUV and fired multiple shots, Tulsa Word reported. Lake was fatally struck by two bullets.
In court, Shannon Kepler testified that he shot Lake in self-defense and that Lake was armed. However, there was no evidence that Lake had a gun, and multiple witnesses testified that Lake was unarmed. In court, Lake's aunt said that her nephew was actually reaching out to shake Kepler's hand to introduce himself.
After Kepler admittedly shot Lake, he fled from the scene and did not call 911.
Before the guilty verdict against Kepler on Thursday, the case had to be tried four times because the jury could not unanimously convict the former officer. Previous jurors have come out and said that racial bias amongst the majority-white jury played a role in delaying justice for Lake. (Each of the hung juries only had one black juror, according to CBS.)
"Just because he was a black kid who lived in a bad part of town, they could not look past that to bring justice to his family," one juror wrote in a Facebook post, according to Tulsa World.
Indeed, it's not unlikely that the white juror pool was more likely to believe that Kepler was acting in self-defense, despite the lack of evidence for his claim. Countless studies have shown that white people perceive black men as more dangerous and threatening than white men of the same size and weight. The Sentencing Project, an organization that advocates for criminal justice reform, has convincingly argued that jurors should be required to undergo implicit bias trainings for this reason.
Lake's case calls to mind many other deaths of unarmed black men by law enforcement officers. (Lake was killed four days before Michael Brown was fatally shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.) But he is a rare exception because Kepler was, eventually, convicted. The jury recommended a 15-year sentence and a $10,000 fine.