HOUSTON – Four Houston police officers have been fired in connection with the fatal officer-involved shooting of Nicolas Chavez nearly four months ago.
Chavez was shot and killed April 21. Police said they believed the 27-year-old had a “pointed object” and charged at officers. A cellphone video recorded by a witness appeared to show Chavez on his knees when he was shot by officers.
Houston police Chief Art Acevedo said Thursday that an autopsy showed that Chavez suffered a total of 29 entry or exit wounds, which included wounds from bullet fragments. He said Chavez also had methamphetamine and ethanol in his system.
Protesters and some of Chavez’s family members have said he was suffering a mental health crisis when he was shot by the officers. For months, they have called on the Houston Police Department to release the body-worn camera video. Thursday, police released that video while announcing that firing of four officers involved in the shooting.
Houston police Chief Art Acevedo said officers encountered Chavez after several 911 calls about a man darting into traffic were received.
The video, which included different angles from officers who fired shots, showed officers confronting a clearly distraught Chavez. The officers spent several minutes trying to calm Chavez down and urged him to comply with their commands. Officers later use bean-bag rounds and a Taser to try to subdue Chavez, before fire shots at him. Chavez becomes covered in blood during the encounter and is shot three times by officers. He later grabs the wires of a deployed Taser and begins to pull it toward him before the fatal 21 shots were fired.
The video below has been edited by KPRC 2 to show those parts of the encounter. The video is paused when the fatal shots were fired, but the audio of the shots can be heard. KPRC 2 has opted not to show the unedited video made public by police because of its graphic nature.
Acevedo on force
Acevedo said that while he believes most of the actions by the officers were reasonable and justified, he said he cannot defend the 21 shots that were fired at the end of the confrontation with Chavez. He said he believes Chavez no longer posed a threat to officers because he was too weak to stand.
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.
In May, Acevedo confirmed to KPRC 2 Investigates that the Feds were looking into the case in addition to the investigation being conducted by the Harris County District Attorney’s office.
Houston police Chief Art Acevedo was joined earlier this month by Chavez’s widow and family members of other people killed in those shootings who said they understood why Acevedo was reluctant to release the videos. Thursday, Acevedo thanked the community for their patience and giving the time he needed to investigate the incident.
Police union responds to firings
The Houston Police Officer’s Union held a news conference to discuss the firing, calling the decision made by Houston Police Cheif Art Acevedo “unjust and deplorable."
According to HPOU president Joe Grimaldi, Chavez’s death was tragic but the shooting was justified.
“What happened to Nicolas Chavez was a tragedy,” Grimaldi said. “(He was) a man who was clearly struggling from mental illness or a possible overdose and as a result forced our officers into a suicide-by-cop scenario.”
Grimaldi said the officers who responded to the scene did everything people across the country have been asking police to do, including doing everything they could to deescalate and retreat for 15 minutes before the shooting.
HPOU vice president, Doug Griffith — who was called to the scene following the shooting — echoed this sentiment.
According to Griffith, the officers involved were young officers and had not been on the force long. They were distraught at having to shoot a civilian, and even Acevedo agree they followed protocol and it was “obviously suicide by cop,” Griffith said.
Griffith believed Acevedo’s tune changed due to political presser that “obviously he can’t handle.”
Several committees and civilians on those committees agreed that the officers acted under the law and did not require disciplinary action, but the chief still decided to fire the officers involved, Griffith said.
“We’ve got hard-working officers out there doing their job and this just breaks the morale of this department,” Griffith said.
Acevedo is expected to respond to the HPOU’s comments during a news conference Thursday afternoon.
The HPOU confirmed police will be releasing a 5-minute bodycam video that was recorded during the shooting.