HOUSTON – The mother of a man shot and killed by Houston Police officers joined the push Thursday for the independent group that oversees claims of police misconduct to be disbanded and reworked.
Nicholas Chavez, 27, was shot and killed on April 21. Police said they believed Chavez 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.
While Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo last month fired four officers for their role in the shooting, the decision came after the Independent Police Oversight Board recommend the officers not be fired.
The oversight board’s decision generated outrage from activists for police reform, as well as Chavez’s family, who claimed video from police officers' body worn cameras confirms what Acevedo said was inappropriate behavior of a police officer.
“This case went before the independent review board somehow it slipped through their hands,” said Leantha Chavez, Nicholas Chavez’s mother. “My son was unarmed. He was on his knees he had already been incapacitated.”
She said she is supporting an independent task force’s recommendation that IPOB be disbanded and replaced with a model that’s more investigative in focus, with subpoena power to pull records necessary for an investigation into allegations of officer misconduct.
“It should be the Houston community and the voters to decide what is best for the Houston community,” said Johnny Mata of Greater Houston LULAC.
Mata called for Mayor Sylvester Turner to disband IPOB in the interest of public safety, while applauding the Mayor’s Task Force on Policing Reform for its 104 recommendations, including an overhaul of IPOB to include paid civilian staff and increased public awareness, among other recommendations. He urged Turner to adopt many of the changes as soon as possible.
“What we’re saying to the mayor and city council is you have a golden opportunity to make changes and rectify the past. Don’t kick the can down the road like past administrations have done,” Matta said.
While the task force’s report includes changes that can be made immediately, some recommendations would require action from the state legislature and modifications to the city’s contract with the Houston Police Officer’s Union, which was interviewed by members of the 45 member task force.
“The task force did make very good, very good recommendations on how to strengthen the IPOB,” said Rain Eatmon, community engagement coordinator, Restoring Justice.
But there is more work to do, according to Right2Justice, a group of community organizations published a which called for some of the reform measures recommended by the task force in July.
“It still not going that next step further into ensuring that there is no connection to HPOU or HPD to ensure that it is completely unbiased,” Eatmon said.
What can — and what can’t — be considered public for review is what’s at issue. Much of that has to do with state law, particularly Local Government Code 143. It includes protocols for how officers can be disciplined.
The Houston Police Officer’s Union contract with the city also has provisions in it, which can be modified during negotiations next year with the city.
On Tuesday, Turner said the recommendations will be considered.
“I’m generally in agreement with that but now it is important to sit form and map out how to do that and what the details are,” Turner stressed.