By Jamie Landers and
The family of a man who was fatally shot in a Costco parking lot in northeast Dallas last year gathered Tuesday to push for the 16-year-old boy who police say pulled the trigger to be tried as an adult.
In front of the Henry Wade Juvenile Justice Center in West Dallas, Mary Elbanna joined her four siblings, their mother and a few dozen others to call for justice for her father, 60-year-old Ali Elbanna.
Elbanna was shot Nov. 16 after two men, a woman and the 16-year-old robbed him, according to police.
The Dallas Morning News is not naming the boy due to his age.
His adult certification hearing, previously set for Tuesday, was rescheduled for July 8.
Mary Elbanna described her father as a private man, which is why the family initially declined to speak to reporters following the shooting. However, after learning about the “wide range of potential punishments” for those involved, some she considered a “slap on the wrist,” she said her family decided their case needed more attention —and community support.
“When decisions are being made under a cloak of darkness, no one fears being held responsible when it ends up going in the wrong direction,” said Elbanna, who was formerly Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson’s chief of staff.
Ali Elbanna, who was born in Lebanon to Palestinian refugees, lived in DallasFort Worth for more than 30 years. His youngest daughter, Stephanie Elbanna, said he began working his way out of poverty as a child, selling and buying merchandise on the streets, before achieving his dream of owning his own business — a small wholesale shop in Arlington.
Then, she said, he devoted his life to helping others.
“The way he grew up, with absolutely nothing, helped people to grow, helped people to be good, helped people to be honest,” she said. “If they needed strength, he made himself stronger.”
Stephanie Elbanna said she is concerned that if the boy is not tried as an adult, it would not only make the statement that her father’s life didn’t matter, but could embolden other young people.
“Taking an innocent life in an open area, it’s almost as if to say, ‘I have a right to do this,’” she said. “We can’t let young people think actions don’t have consequences.”
Adult certification in Texas
In Texas, defendants 17 and older are tried in adult court. But prosecutors can ask juvenile court judges to move the cases of minors ages 14 to 16 to adult court based on several factors, including age and the nature of the crime.
“The closer you are to 17 the more likely you are to be certified, because if you were 17 you’d be considered an adult anyway,” said Dallas attorney George Ashford III, who is not involved in the case.
A judge will consider evidence from prosecutors and the defense before reaching a decision, including a report conducted by the juvenile department that looks at the individual’s history.
If juveniles are tried in adult court and convicted, they remain with others their own age until they turn 18 or 19, Ashford said. This gives them time to mature before moving into the adult prison population.
If they are convicted in juvenile court, prosecutors can send the case to a grand jury and ask for a “determinate sentence.” This allows authorities to keep them in juvenile detention until age 19 and then, depending on the sentence and their behavior, transfer them to an adult prison.
Although attorneys and victims’ families may push for the certification hearing to go a certain way, the decision rests with the juvenile court judge.
“Regardless of what the offense is, regardless of what the juvenile department recommends, regardless of what the family wants — the ultimate decision is on the judge,” Ashford said.
What happened in November
Dallas police responded just before 7 p.m. Nov. 16 to a shooting in the parking lot of the Costco Business Center at 8282 Park Lane, where Ali Elbanna was found wounded. He died at a hospital.
Investigators said James Levels, 17; Janiya Lashay Miller, 17; and Jacoby Bryce Tatum, 19, approached Ali and “demanded property” before the 16-year-old shot him.
The group had committed another robbery beforehand, according to an arrestwarrant affidavit, taking two cellphones. Those victims were able to give police a description of the robbers, who drove away in a black pickup.
The phones were tracked to NorthPark Center, where police found the truck and Miller, who had the phones, police said. Officers also found the two men and the juvenile and took them into custody.
Levels and Miller admitted taking part in the robbery that led to Ali’s shooting as well as two other robberies, the affidavit says.
Levels and Miller were being held in the Dallas County jail Tuesday, with bail set at $800,000 each. Both face one count of capital murder and three counts of aggravated robbery. It was unclear whether they had attorneys.
A grand jury determined there was insufficient evidence to indict Tatum for capital murder. He bonded out of jail on the robbery charges April 5.
‘This is only the beginning ’
Mary Elbanna resigned as the mayor’s chief of staff earlier this year to spend more time with her family.
“Very quickly, it all became too much,” she said. “My family needed me and I needed them, as we all continue to now. This is only the beginning.”
Johnson held his third State of the City address Nov. 17 and voiced his support for the city’s latest budget, which increased investment in the police department and public safety. He praised police Chief Eddie García on his violence-reduction plan —police statistics have shown a reduction in violent crime during the new chief ’s tenure, though homicides have seen an uptick this year.
In a statement Tuesday, Johnson said he is grateful for the police department’s work in the case.
“Public safety is not just a talking point,” he said. “Real lives are at stake — including the lives of the people closest to us.”
Johnson said Elbanna’s death was “abominable and unimaginably tragic.”
“This is — and always has been — the Elbanna family’s story to tell, and they have the right to tell it on their own timeline and in their own way,” Johnson said. “I just hate that they have to tell it ; Ali Elbanna should still be here with his wife and his amazing children.”