Nicolas Chavez was fatally shot April 21 after 21 rounds were fired at him and last week four Houston police officers were fired in connection with his death. Body camera footage showed the officers shooting Chavez, 27, while he was on the ground – similar to the Los Angeles shooting of Andres Guardado who was shot in the back by police. His shooting caused protests and the family claimed he was battling mental health issues at the time of his death which is reminiscent of similar circumstances in the shooting of Ramon Timothy Lopez.
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo released the “indefinite suspension” letters of the four officers and identified them as Benjamin LeBlanc, Luis Alvarado, Omar Tapia, and Patrick Rubio. Acevedo said all four officers have filed appeals and that he plans to fight them, reports Click2Houston. He said that by the time the officers started shooting Chavez he’d been incapacitated by tasers and bean-bag rounds. “The discharge of those 21 shots by those four members is not objectively reasonable,” he said.
The officers allege he had a “pointed object” and charged at them however, cell footage recorded by a witness appears to show Chavez on his knees when he was shot. During a news conference, Acevedo showed the video recorded by several different body cameras worn by officers at the scene of the shooting. During a press conference, Acevedo showed the 15-minute video that shows police arriving after the 911 call to find Chavez repeatedly stabbing himself with a metal object. While the police try to calm him and offer medical services (with their weapons drawn), he charges at one of them while covered in blood. He then threw the metal object in his hand and while crawling he grabbed a Taser that had been used on him leading the cops to start firing.
After reviewing the footage, Chavez’s father Joaquín called the officers’ actions excessive. “He was on his knees, already wounded. He wasn’t a threat to anybody at that point,” he said. “It was an execution.”
A total of 29 shots were fired, and according to Acevedo only three of those were justified, Wisconsin Public Radio reports. Acevedo said the officer’s actions were “inexplicable to (him) when they had plenty of opportunities to back up and continue to do what they were doing, for them to stay the line and shoot a man 21 times. I cannot defend that.”
A toxicology report found that Chavez had methamphetamine, amphetamine, and ethanol in his system when he died, CNN reported. The incident started with multiple 911 calls for an emotionally disturbed man jumping in front of cars and entering backyards.
“He had his issues. He went through a lot. I just don’t understand,” Joaquín said, CNN reports. “I don’t think I’ll ever find out why he was out on the street that night.”
The shooting was “obviously suicide by cop” and reflected the department’s failure to properly train officers, Houston Police Officer’s Union’s First Vice President Douglas Griffith said. “These officers did everything they could. They backed up, backed up, backed up until they couldn’t back up anymore,” he said.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said Chavez only posed a threat to himself and could have lived and received necessary treatment thus justifying the dismissal of the four officers.
“It was roughly a 15-minute encounter, and for almost the entire time, I cannot fault the police officers for what they did,” Turner said. “But in those final seconds, when deadly force was used, I have, as mayor of this city, asked several questions: ‘Did Mr. Chavez pose an immediate threat to any police officer or to the general public? What weapon or instrument did he have that could have posed an imminent threat to the officers or to the general public? And, if Mr. Chavez had a taser in his hand, would that have justified the use of deadly force?’ … And in this case, I have concluded there was no imminent threat to any police officer.”