Houston, TX — Suicide by cop — in the land of the free — is an unfortunate, and oft-used option for those in mental distress. All too often, police officers respond to incidents in which mentally ill people need help, and then kill those people, so it makes it a rather easy option. As a case out of Houston, Texas illustrates, sometimes the details of these stories that the public is told by authorities, do not match up with what actually unfolded. Now, because police were more than willing to oblige a mentally ill man's request for suicide by cop, the taxpayers of Houston are being sued for $100 million.
Last April, police officers in Houston shot and killed a 27-year-old man, Nicolas Chavez, who they claimed charged at them and was suicidal. However, a video was submitted to the Free Thought Project which painted a completely different picture at the time, and then, five months later, police admitted that as well. The four cops who dumped 21 rounds into a kneeling unarmed man have since all been fired.
Chavez's family is now suing the Houston Police Department, the City of Houston and five police officers for $100 million.
“He was mentally ill, and what he needed most was help,” said Sean Roberts, the attorney for the Chavez family. “You’ve got children without a dad, and they’re hurting.”
The lawsuit accuses five police officers of violating Chavez’s due process. It also calls out HPD’s policy on the threat of Tasers.
“This has to get fixed for the sake of all of us,” Roberts said. “The fact that they felt justified shooting a man who had already been shot three times, bean-bagged and tased, 21 more times is the question that needs to be answered in this lawsuit.”
According to the Houston Chronicle, the officers involved in the April 21 death — identified as Sgt. Benjamin LeBlanc, officers Patrick Rubio, Omar Tapia and Luis Alvarado — were fired in September for what police Chief Art Acevedo said was their decision to fire a combined 21 rounds at Chavez, who was suffering from an apparent mental break and who died following their 15-minute encounter in east Houston. Acevedo determined the fatal shots were “not objectively reasonable.”
“Quite frankly, it's inexplicable to me when they had plenty of opportunity to back up,” said Chief Acevedo, during a press conference announcing the firings and releasing body camera footage from the incident.
According to police, they responded to a call around the 800 block of Gazin Street about a man who had been reported jumping in and out of traffic and was reportedly suicidal and had a "weapon."
That weapon was later found to be a short piece of rebar. Though police claim the man threatened people, no one, including the officers who killed him received so much as a scratch. When police confronted the 27-year-old, they claimed he did not comply and threatened them.
According to the body camera footage released in September by the HPD, Chavez walked up to a constable holding the piece of rebar and one officer shot him three times. This did not kill him and when officers approached him to place him in handcuffs, Chavez yelled profanities at them and took refuge in a ditch.
“Kill me,” Chavez pleaded.
Another officer replied, “You’re bleeding out, so let me help you.”
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The officer who originally fired the taser into Chavez knew it was empty and dropped it because he didn't want fellow cops to trip over it. This left the taser wire, attached to an empty taser, connected to Chavez — a fatal mistake.
Officer Adovasio, whose body camera catches most of the interaction, appears to be the only rational cop on the scene. The entire time he is trying to de-escalate the situation, telling officers to turn off the sirens and put their guns down. Unfortunately, none of the other officers listened.
Chavez then comes out of the ditch, taser wires still stuck in his body — from a non functional, entirely spent taser — before he throws his "weapon" away. He is hit with more bean bag rounds and at this point is completely unarmed except for the wires in his body and a spent plastic taser that could not fire.
The next round of gunfire erupted as Chavez began reeling in the taser by the wire, which police admit was missing both cartridges. LeBlanc, an 11-year veteran of the agency, fired twice, while Tapio and Ruio — both with HPD for a year — each fired six times. Alvarado fired seven shots.
Though police originally claimed Chavez charged officers, the video shows he was on his knees when multiple officers opened fire. The first cop to fire claimed he had no other choice after Chavez reached for the taser.
“He never looks at it (the taser) to shoot himself. He looks directly at me,” LeBlanc said, according to Houston police records. “At that moment, I make the decision to fire my duty weapon — my pistol at him two more times to end that threat.”
The threat that was non-existent.
An internal review found that even if the taser would have been functional, all the officers were out of range when they killed him.
Though police originally claimed Chavez charged them, TFTP received exclusive cellphone footage at the time of the shooting which destroyed that narrative from the start.
The fired cops have all since appealed their termination and with the help of the union, will likely be rehired. The notoriously unscrupulous Houston Police Officers Union President Joe Gamaldi, defended the officers involved and claimed they did everything they could to preserve life.
“It was clear when viewing the video that these officers did not want to shoot Mr. Chavez and did everything in their power not to,” Gamaldi said. “It’s also clear that those officers were justified by policy, training, and the law."
These words ring hollow as they come from the man who defended the murder of the innocent couple Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas — and called for silencing those who spoke out against it.
When you watch the video below, you will see that only one officer was actually concerned with preserving life and the other four were hell bent on executing Chavez. If that is official "policy" as Gamaldi would have us believe, that policy needs to be ended, now.