Recorded on police body cam footage fatally shooting a man on his knees who “did not pose an imminent threat,” four Houston police officers were recently fired for using deadly force when it was not objectively reasonable.
On April 21, Houston police officers responded to a 911 call reporting a man walking into traffic and appearing to suffer from a mental breakdown. According to police body cam videos, Nicolas Chavez was screaming in a parking lot while brandishing a piece of metal rebar that the officers mistook for a knife.
As Chavez began running towards the officers, they shot him repeatedly with nonlethal bean bag rounds and discharged their Tasers. At one point, Chavez started moving towards Officer Nancy Leija and Harris County Deputy Art Garduno when Sgt. Benjamin Leblanc shot him twice with his service weapon.
After firing her Taser at Chavez, Officer Leija placed it on the ground to prevent other officers from tripping over the wires from the discharged weapon. Over the next ten minutes, Chavez remained in a ditch while bleeding out from his wounds and continuing to shout obscenities at the officers.
Crawling on his knees, Chavez threw the piece of rebar at the officers before grabbing the wires from the discharged Taser and pulling it closer to him. Despite the fact that the weapon was clearly empty and the officers were standing out of range, four of the officers opened fire as Chavez placed his hands on the Taser.
Chavez died of his wounds before reaching the hospital.
“You don’t get to shoot somebody 21 times, because at that time, when we discharged those 21 rounds, Mr. Chavez was at his greatest level of incapacitation,” Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said at a recent news conference. “I cannot defend that.”
On Thursday, Chief Acevedo announced the indefinite suspension of Sgt. Benjamin Leblanc and Officers Omar Tapia, Luis Alvarado, and Patrick Rubio for fatally shooting Chavez despite the fact that he was not posing an imminent threat at the time. Acevedo noted that the deployed Taser was not a threat to them, the officers were standing out of range even if the Taser had been a threat to them, and Chavez had already been shot ten minutes earlier and could not even stand.
In a statement, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said, “The video is difficult to watch without questioning why the shooting happened and wishing the encounter could have ended differently and knowing that it should have had a different outcome.
“No one should conclude that the dismissal of these officers is an indictment on HPD, of the 5,300 police officers. But when you are wrong, there are consequences. And for the good of every police officer who serves, for the good of everyone that followed the rules, that protect this city, it is important for us to call a ball a ball, and a strike, a strike.
“And police officers, when they do their job, I will stand by you. But when you fire, like in this case at the end, when there was no imminent threat, then accountability must take place in order for our city to move forward. And that’s what’s happening here today. It’s not an easy matter, and it’s difficult for all of us. But you can’t bring back Mr. Chavez, and you can’t fill the hole in this family’s life. But we can move forward, in spite of our pain, to work together, to heal our city. And that’s what we’re doing here today.”