HARRIS COUNTY, Texas – A Harris County grand jury declined to indict the Houston police officers fired for their roles in the shooting death of a man who had been experiencing a mental health crisis.
Nicolas Chavez, 27, was killed by police in northeast Houston in April 2020, during a confrontation that was captured on bodycam video and in part on a bystander’s cellphone.
Following an internal affairs investigation, four of the officers who fired their weapons at Chavez during the encounter were fired -- Officers Luis Alvarado, Omar Tapia, Patrick Rubio and Sgt. Benjamin LeBlanc.
“In officer-involved shootings, grand jurors have a range of options, from criminally negligent homicide to murder, and range of defense considerations, including self-defense and defense of a third person,” Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said in a statement. “Civil Rights Division prosecutors presented all the evidence to ensure grand jurors were fully informed prior to making a decision,” Ogg said. “Our heart goes out to the Chavez family over the loss of their loved one. We respect the grand jury’s decision.”
Ogg added that prosecutors are prohibited from discussing evidence, including testimony that may have been presented for consideration.
“The primary question for a grand jury in a police shooting is, ‘did officers act reasonably?’” Ogg said. “Grand jurors are supposed to apply the law to the facts and reach a decision on probable cause. We use this process to ensure that the community decides whether or not police should be charged in on-duty killings.”
On April 21, 2020, the officers were dispatched to a location in the 800 block of Gazin Street in response to multiple reports a man was running around, yelling, “throwing himself in front of cars,” and “having a mental breakdown.” One caller reported the man had some sort of “metal tube” and added that he seemed “a little crazy.”
Footage of the incident shows the officers attempting to calm down a distraught Chavez. The officers can be heard telling Chavez, “Hey buddy, hey bud, we’re here to help you, man” and “No one is shooting, just calm down” and “we’re here to help you.”
During the encounter, Chavez is seen flailing his arms and screaming. Officers fired bean bag rounds from shotguns at Chavez and deployed stun guns, which had little effect.
An officer said Chavez had a knife in his hands. Investigators later determined it was a piece of metal Chavez had been using to cut himself.
Footage shows Sgt. LeBlanc shoot Chavez twice as he moved quickly toward the officer. Meanwhile, another officer deployed his Taser. As Chavez was crawling on the ground and stabbing himself with the metal object, an officer deployed additional bean bag rounds.
An officer is heard saying “He’s got that knife in his hand’s guys.”
Chavez is seen throwing the metal object at officers before grabbing the wires of a Taser that was lying on the ground and pulling the device toward him. Four officers then discharged their duty weapons at Chavez, striking him multiple times.
Twenty-four total shots were fired during the 15-minute encounter, former Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said during a Sept. 2020 news briefing.
During the 2020 briefing, 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.”
In September 2020, the Houston Police Officer’s Union said Acevedo’s decision to fire the four officers was “unjust and deplorable.”
HPOU president Joe Grimaldi said that though Chavez’s death was tragic, 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.”
In May 2021, a civil suit was filed against the Houston Police Department, the City of Houston and five of the officers involved in the shooting -- Luis Alvarado, Benjamin LeBlanc, Kevin Nguyen, Omar Tapia, and Patrick Rubio -- on behalf of Chavez’s family.