Houston, TX – A Harris County grand jury refused to indict four Houston police officers who were fired by the police department for the fatal shooting of a man suffering a mental health crisis.
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 27-year-old Nicolas 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.
Former Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said at the time that Houston Police Sergeant Benjamin Leblanc had fired two shots, Houston Police Officer Omar Tapia fired six shots, Houston Police Officer Luis Alvarado fired seven shots, and Houston Police Officer Patrick Rubio fired six shots, according to NPR.
The medical examiner’s report said the coroner had found 29 bullet wounds on Chavez, which included some “skip rounds” that hit the ground and struck the suspect as fragments.
The community reacted with outrage and then-Chief Acevedo terminated all four officers less than two months later, NPR reported.
The police chief said that the officers had fired a combined 24 shots at Chavez and that only three of them were “objectively reasonable.”
“The discharge of those 21 shots for those four members of the Houston Police Department are not objectively reasonable,” he said. “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,” Chief Acevedo said. “I cannot defend that.”
Houston Police Officers’ Union President Joe Gamaldi called the firings an “unjust and deplorable decision,” according to Houston Public Media.
“This truly was a tragedy,” Gamaldi said. “But the chief is now spreading that tragedy to four other families by unjustly firing these officers and using them as political fodder.”
The Harris County District Attorney’s Office spent four days presenting evidence before a grand jury and attempted to indict all four officers who fired their weapons at Chavez, KTRK reported.
“In officer-involved shootings, grand jurors have a range of options, from criminally negligent homicide to murder, and range of defense considerations, including self-defense and defense of a third person,” Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said. “Civil Rights Division prosecutors presented all the evidence to ensure grand jurors were fully informed prior to making a decision.”
“The primary question for a grand jury in a police shooting is, ‘did officers act reasonably?’ Grand jurors are supposed to apply the law to the facts and reach a decision on probable cause. We use this process to ensure that the community decides whether or not police should be charged in on-duty killings,” Ogg explained.
The district attorney’s office announced on Sept. 27 that the grand jury had issued a “no bill” against the former officers which meant jurors did not think there was probable cause to charge any of the officers criminally with Chavez’s death, KTRK reported.
The officers are now expected to begin arbitration to get their jobs back.