Criminal Justice

HPD, District Attorney Investigating Deadly Police Shooting Caught On Camera

A witness captured a 47-second clip of the man, who appeared to be shot to death by police while on his knees. But the police union said the clip is missing 14 minutes of context.

Jose Luis Magana / AP
Houston Police Department chief Art Acevedo testifies before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence, at Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019.

The Houston Police Department and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office are reviewing the shooting death of a man at the hands of police last week — a scene that was captured on video by a witness, and which has made the rounds on social media since the man’s death.

The video, which Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said provided just a small snippet of a 14-minute altercation, appears to show Nicolas Chavez, 27, on his knees before being shot to death by police near the 800 block of Gazin Street last week. The 47-second video, which is linked below, shows the man’s final moments, and contains both graphic language and content.

GRAPHIC VIDEO: Houston police shoot and kill Nicolas Chavez

While Acevedo said the short clip is missing context, he added that he was disturbed by the video, and that the department’s Special Investigations Command and Internal Affairs division were looking into the shooting, along with the Harris County District Attorney’s Civil Rights Division.

"Let me just say right off the bat: That video that shows the third and final discharge of rounds from our officer is very difficult to watch,” Acevedo said at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon.

“It raises questions, because again, it is that one moment in time, where you can't…clearly tell what the suspect’s doing, you can’t hear what the officer's doing, you cant get the entire context of whats going on,” Acevedo said. “But it, just by itself, I promise you, that we look at it, all of us up here look at that video, and it's difficult to watch, and it's something that will raise questions for us, just like any use of deadly force."

Seventy body cameras, worn by the police involved and others who later visited the scene, were all being reviewed, and a determination on whether to discipline the officers and sergeant would come in weeks, not days, Acevedo said.

Police say they responded to a call of a suicidal, armed man running into and out of traffic last week, near Gazin Street and the East Freeway frontage road at 9 p.m.

HPD’s Northeast Patrol responded to the call and found Chavez at 9:14 p.m., Acevedo said.

Over about 14 minutes, police engaged with the man, allegedly holding what they say they believed was a knife, with which police say he was allegedly stabbing himself and gesturing to the officers. Acevedo said Chavez kept approaching the group, and refused to drop what he was holding, which was eventually revealed to be a piece of a steel reinforcing bar.

Police fired two beanbag-filled shotguns and deployed three tasers, but Acevedo said Chavez continued to approach one of the sergeants, who shot him. Chavez hit the ground, wounded, but again stood up and started approaching, according to Acevedo.

Police shot Chavez two more times, before Acevedo said the man started to reel in one of the tasers by its wires, and picked it up. He was told to stop, but continued, and was then shot dead by police in a flurry of gunfire, according to Acevedo and video footage.

The HPD employees involved were Patrick Rubio, on the force for two years; Omar Tapia, Kevin Nguyen, and Luis Alvarado, on the force for one year; and Benjamin LeBlanc, a sergeant for the past year, with an additional 11 years experience.

All have been placed on administrative desk duty, Acevedo said.

Chavez’s family could not immediately be reached for comment.

A statement from Joe Gamaldi, Houston Police Officers’ Union president, said the 45-second video posted to social media “does not give the proper context or vantage point,” and described the incident as a case of “suicide by cop.”

Gamaldi also called on HPD to release the full video.

“It is clear when looking at the totality of circumstances of the entire 15 minute interaction that these officers showed tremendous restraint,” Gamaldi wrote. “They followed the law, they followed their training, and did exactly what is expected of them as Houston Police Officers.”

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