Criminal Justice

Nicolas Chavez’s family urges U.S. Attorney General to intervene after offices who killed him were reinstated

Chavez was shot and killed by police in 2020, but an arbitrator said the city could not justify the officers’ firing.

Nicolas Chavez, 27, was gunned down by Houston police on April 21, 2020 – the first of six deadly shootings by HPD in five weeks.
Nicolas Chavez, 27, was gunned down by Houston police on April 21, 2020.

The family of Nicolas Chavez is calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene after four officers who shot and killed him were reinstated this week.

Joaquín Chavez — the father of 27-year-old Nicolas Chavez, who was shot by police 21 times and killed — said no one reached out to the family before the announcement, and he was blindsided by the officers’ reinstatement.

“They killed a child, a man, a father, a son, without any regard,” he said. “Two years later, they get their job back.”

In a press conference with the Greater Houston Justice Coalition Tuesday, Chavez said he and his family weren’t alerted of the reinstatement before Finner announced it to the media on Monday. The family also wasn’t informed of what was going on behind closed doors during the arbitration of the suspension.

When asked Monday if he had spoken with the Chavez family, Finner said he was unable to do so due to the ongoing litigation over Chavez’s death. The Chavez family has named the city, HPD and the officers who shot and killed Nicolas Chavez in a $100 million federal lawsuit.

Although Finner wasn’t involved in the decision to fire the officers, he did agree with then-Chief Art Acevedo's assessment that the men broke department rules — though Finner declined to say whether he believed the firings were justified.

“I believe that there was evidence of policy violations,” Finner said.

The family and activists are calling for Attorney General Merrick Garland to intervene with an investigation from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Johnny Mata with the Greater Houston Coalition for Justice said he had spoken with local congressional representatives about arranging a meeting between the Chavez family, community activists and the AG.

“It’s time that elected officials, appointed officials, start getting serious about cases like the Nicolas Chavez death,” he said.

Mata said he first reached out to Garland’s office about intervening after a grand jury declined to indict the four officers for Chavez’s death in September. The officers shot Chavez 21 times, claiming that he was reaching for a used stun gun they had previously fired at Chavez along with beanbag shotgun rounds.

Officers with HPD’s Northeast Patrol, including the four who were reinstated — Patrick Rubio, Omar Tapia, Luis Alvarado, and Sgt. Benjamin LeBlanc — were among those who responded to 911 calls about an armed and possibly suicidal man running through traffic near 800 Gazin St. on April 21, 2020.

When they arrived, police say they found Chavez holding a steel reinforced bar. Video shows Chavez on his knees when he was shot and killed.

Acevedo suspended the officers involved in the shooting, but Finner announced on Monday they would be reinstated after an outside arbitrator determined the city did not meet the standard of evidence to justify the firing. The officers, who appealed their firings, will receive 18 months in backpay.

In a statement to KHOU, Mayor Sylvester Turner said he was disturbed by what he saw on the video.

"It is important that before any consideration is given to placing these officers back on the street, they be retrained and fully understand the policies of this city," Turner said. "Mr. Chavez's family lost a loved one, and even though the hearing examiner has reinstated these officers, no one should be rejoicing under the circumstances."

Finner said the men would undergo additional training before going back on the street.

Local activist Jamie Torres said the shooting is proof that nothing has changed since her brother, Joe Campo Torres, was killed by Houston police officers in 1977.

“The justice system has failed another family again,” Torres said.