HOUSTON – Houston police Chief Art Acevedo released the body camera video and responded to accusations made by union leaders after the firing of four officers involved in the shooting death of Nicolas Chavez.
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.
During a news conference, Acevedo showed the video recorded by several different body cameras worn by officers at the scene of the shooting. The nearly 15-minute video started with 911 calls and ended with Chavez getting shot. It was redacted for time, so the parts where nothing was happening were cut out, Acevedo said.
The rest of the video shows instances of lethal and non-lethal force as well as graphic language from five different angles, Acevedo said.
“Nothing is redacted in terms of the use of force,” Acevedo said. He said the last discharge, where a total of 21 shots were fired, is difficult to watch, but it is important to see.
In the video, the officers arrived at the scene to find Chavez repeatedly stabbing himself with a metal object.
Police can be heard telling Chavez to calm down and saying that they are there to help him. At some point, Chavez, covered in blood, charged at one of the officers and the first shots were fired.
The officers spent the next several minutes trying to convince Chavez to let them help him until he threw the metal object in his hand and grabbed a Taser that had been used on him. That was when officers opened fire.
Chavez was taken to a hospital where he later died.
According to Acevedo, the incident was very dynamic and in terms of what the officers did, for the most part, the officers acted in a manner consistent with their training. He said the officers were trying to deescalate the situation and get Chavez to comply with their commands.
A total of 24 shots were fired, and according to Acevedo only three of those were justified. Acevedo said the final 21 shots were unnecessary because, at the time they were fired, Chavez was weak after being shot, shocked with a Taser and hit with bean-bag rounds multiple times.
In an earlier news conference Thursday, the Houston Police Officer’s Union called the firings “unjust and deplorable," saying the officers acted well within the law.
HPOU president Joe 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.
Vice president Doug Griffith -- who was called to the scene following the shooting -- echoed that sentiment.
According to Griffith, the officers involved were young and had not been on the force long. They were distraught at having to shoot a civilian, and even Acevedo agreed they followed protocol and it was “obviously suicide by cop," but his stance changed due to political presser that “obviously he can’t handle," Griffith said.
While Acevedo said he agrees that for the majority of the time the officers followed protocol, he said it was not objectively reasonable to use the amount of force they did when Chavez clearly did not even have the capacity to get up.
“Since the minute I got to this department, on day one of academy training ... I go and meet with the cadets,” Acevedo said. “I make my expectation very clear, and when the union is telling their members, ‘You don’t have to listen to what the chief is saying,' that’s a disservice.”
Acevedo said the officer’s actions were “inexplicable to (him) when they had plenty of opportunity 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.”
“To anybody who wants to defend that, don’t come to this department, because as long as I am the police chief here ... we will not allow people to use deadly force unless it’s objectively reasonable,” Acevedo said.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner agreed with Acevedo saying it is difficult to watch the video without questioning why the shooting happened.
“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."
Turner said Chavez only posed a threat to himself and could have lived and gotten the treatment he needed, so the dismissal of the four officers was warranted.
The mayor said he recognizes the effort and work the officers of the Houston Police Department put in and that they are putting their lives on the line every day to help keep the city safe.
“Since I have been mayor, some have died in the line of duty, (or) have been permanently injured,” Turner said, fighting back tears. “Since I have been mayor, we have supported them, provided the equipment that they needed and funded this department, even in the midst of criticism."
“The disciplinary action being taken today does not lessen the support or the respect or the admiration of each and every one of our police officers," a tearful Turner continued. “But the action being taken today does say, in our city, we hold everyone accountable.”
Acevedo said all four of the officers have filed appeals, but he plans to fight them.