Witness: Man killed by officer needed help

Police: Man didn't listen to commands, moved abruptly

By Ryan Korsgard - Reporter

HOUSTON - Family members and witnesses are disputing claims that a man fatally shot by a Houston police officer was a threat.

Houston police said Florida Rubio called 911 after Rafino Lara told her that he thought a man with a knife was following him on Bissonnet near Fondren at 4:20 p.m. Monday.

Police said they arrived and tried to gather everyone up, but officers said Lara would not listen to commands in English or in Spanish. 

Police said Lara, 54, hid one arm under his shirt, then made an abrupt move at the end of the sidewalk. Detectives said Officer J. McGowan, who has been with the department for two years, said she was afraid he had a gun.

Investigators said McGowan noticed a bulge concealed underneath Lara's shirt near his waistband that he was holding with his left hand. He was walking away and McGowan gave him commands, in English and Spanish, police said. With both hands on his left side, Lara turned toward McGowan and she fired one shot at him, police said.

Rubio said that was not what she saw. Through a translator, Rubio said Lara's hands were in the air when the officer fired.

"She said that when he raised his hands, he turned around," said Gabriella Pardo, who translated for Rubio. "When he turned around, she already had taken out a gun and shot him."

Police said they did not find a gun on Lara, but they found a can of beer on him.

"If you put an officer on the defensive and conceal your hands when being ordered and giving commands to show your hands, you're automatically putting that officer in fear," HPD spokesman John Cannon said.

One woman who came to the scene on Monday said Lara was her brother. She said a witness told her that police quickly got out of their car and fired without giving instructions in Spanish.

Lara left El Salvador more than 30 years ago. He lived in New York state for a while and moved to Houston in 2007. His family said he had a drinking problem and sometimes lived on the street. Relatives said he was never violent.

Lara's criminal record included two misdemeanor arrests on charges of failure to give information to a police officer and trespassing. He served days in jail on each charge in March.

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