Houston, TX – Four Houston police officers who were fired for the fatal shooting of a man suffering a mental health crisis in 2020 got their jobs back on Monday morning.
Critics said former Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo fired the four officers involved with the fatal shooting of 27-year-old Nicolas Chavez to placate an outraged community in the immediately wake of George Floyd’s death in the custody of the Minneapolis police.
It appeared that Chief Acevedo was trying to make an example out of Houston Police Sergeant Benjamin Leblanc and Houston Police Officers Omar Tapia, Luis Alvarado, Patrick Rubio when he released the bodycam video and terminated them less than two months after the incident.
“The discharge of those 21 shots for those four members of the Houston Police Department are not objectively reasonable,” Chief Acevedo said at the time. “I believe that anyone that watches this tape, that sees this, would see that they had a lot of opportunities and a lot of other options readily available to them.”
“You don’t get to shoot somebody 21 times, because at that time, when we discharged those 21 rounds, Mr. Chavez was at his greatest level of incapacitation,” the police chief said. “I cannot defend that.”
But the Harris County District Attorney’s Office spent four days presenting evidence to a grand jury and was unable to get an indictment against any of the officers, KTRK reported.
The Houston Police Department’s (HPD) Administrative Discipline Committee reviewed the case and six out of 10 members recommended the officers not receive any discipline in connection with the Chavez shooting, according to the Houston Chronicle.
An Independent Police Oversight Board panel also reviewed the videos of the incident.
The Chavez family filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city alleging excessive force, the Houston Chronicle reported.
A federal judge dismissed most of the claims in July of 2021.
The fired officers appealed their terminations and the matter went to arbitration on March 7, the Houston Chronicle reported.
Union attorneys argued that all four officers had responded according to the training they had received from HPD and suggested Chavez may have been suffering from “excited delirium” when he was shot.
The city only produced one witness to support its case, Houston Police Assistant Chief Chandra Hatcher, the Houston Chronicle reported.
In a minutes-long hearing on Monday morning, Arbitrator Lori LaConta found the city had not met its burden of proof to support its case.
LaConta reinstated all four fired officers and ordered that they should receive backpay, the Houston Chronicle reported.
“We were easily able to prove the officers had acted in the manner they were trained,” Houston Police Officers’ Union President Douglas Griffith said.
The incident occurred just before 9 p.m. on April 21, 2020 when officers responded to multiple 911 calls about a man who was jumping in front of cars on Interstate 10, KTRK reported.
Callers told the dispatcher that he was yelling at cars and throwing himself in front of vehicles.
“It looks like he’s having a mental breakdown,” one of the callers told the dispatcher in an audio recording.
Then callers began calling 911 to report a man running between houses with a metal pipe.
One of the callers said that the man had broken a water slide in his backyard, KTRK reported.
Police responded to the scene and found the 27-year-old Chavez behaving very strangely in the middle of the street as he experienced a mental health crisis.
Bodycam video showed the officers tried to tell Chavez that everything was going to be okay, but he didn’t believe them and said so.
“No, it’s not,” Chavez yelled back at them. “I just got out for the same s—t and she lied. I did six months.”
“She lied?” a female officer asked him in the video. “Well, we can talk about it. Just calm down. Just take it easy, okay? Have a seat.”
“I’m an MHMRA patient and I feel like dying,” Chavez told the officers.
Then he began begging the officers to shoot him, the bodycam video showed.
Officers tried to talk Chavez down and repeatedly asked him to take a seat, but the unstable man ignored all of their commands.
The video showed Chavez was waving his arms around and hitting himself.
Although he was unarmed, police said that he threatened officers and made a lunge for one of the officers Tasers that had fallen to the ground, KTRK reported.
Bodycam video showed that officers first shot several rounds of beanbags at Chavez, but the less-lethal munitions appeared to have no effect whatsoever on the disturbed man, NPR reported.
Then officers deployed several Tasers at the suspect, but those also did nothing to subdue him.
Finally, four officers opened fire on Chavez, KTRK reported.