HOUSTON – The Houston Police Officer’s Union held a news conference to discuss the firing of four officers involved in the shooting of Nicolas Chavez, calling the decision made by Houston police Chief 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.
“They used every non-lethal option available ... all while giving verbal commands to Mr. Chavez to give up peacefully,” Grimaldi said. “They begged and pleaded with Mr. Chavez to give up for the entire 15 minutes and to no avail. As Mr. Chavez stated several times, he wanted the officers to shoot and kill him.”
HPOU vice president, Doug Griffith — who was called to the scene following the shooting — echoed that 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 agreed 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.
According to Griffith, the department has never had de-escalation training. He said acevedo had the money to buy batons for officers and “spend the money on how to beat somebody with a stick, yet we can’t teach de-escalation training."
“I have a problem with that,” Griffith said. “This department needs to do better. The department failed these officers ... These officers did everything they could. They backed up until they couldn’t back up anymore. They acted the way they were trained.”
Griffith said he is disappointed in the chief’s actions and for allowing the “political winds to justify what he does to these officers.”
According to Griffith, the bodycam video is expected to be released Thursday. He encouraged people to watch it because it will show the officers acting under the law.
HPOU executive director Ray Hunt said the video is about 5 minutes long and it is a “very fair video.”
“You will hear these officers pleading with (Chavez), ‘Please don’t do this. Please don’t do it,'" Hunt said. “You will also hear the sergeant, after he shoots (Chavez), use profanity because he is so upset that he had to finally do this ... This is an outrage for these four officers, but you know what, they’re just a number."
Grimaldi said he has been an officer for 15 years and before the shooting, the morale within the department is the lowest he has ever seen it.
“After this event, it will be even lower,” Grimaldi said. “If not for the integrity of every other Houston police officer on this department, that is the only reason (other officers) are showing up. It’s for their own integrity and because they actually care about the community. Because they know this chief will not back them if they make a mistake and will not protect them even when they follow policy, training and the law.”
Acevedo released the video and gave his response Thursday afternoon during a news conference.
“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.”