The Houston Police Department on Thursday fired four officers involved in the fatal shooting of a 27-year-old emotionally disturbed man in April and released body camera footage of the deadly confrontation, after months of scrutiny by investigators and calls for transparency from protesters.
Nicolas Chavez was shot and killed by police officers on the night of April 21. The following day the department said it was investigating the shooting and gave an account of the events that prompted the officers to pull the trigger. However, the department's story was challenged by Chavez's family and protesters, especially after cellphone footage recorded by an eyewitness emerged.
The department said in a statement on April 22 that officers had responded to reports of an apparently emotionally disturbed man jumping in front of cars and entering backyards when they approached Chavez, who charged towards them with a pointed object in his hand.
The statement said officers fired stun guns and "deployed several bean bag rounds," but the man "continued to charge" and one officer shot the man, who fell to the ground and then crawled towards a dropped stun gun and pointed it at officers who, "fearing for their lives," fired their guns at him.
Chavez Was Shot a Total of 24 Times
On Thursday, Chief Art Acevedo of the Houston Police Department announced that four of the five officers who fired a total of 24 rounds during the encounter had been fired. The fired officers have been identified as Sgt. Benjamin Leblanc and Officers Luis Alvarado, Omar Tapia and Patrick T. Rubio.
Out of the 24 shots, three shots fired by two of the officers were deemed to have been "objectively reasonable," the chief said.
Those shots were followed by 21 shots fired by four of the officers, which were not "objectively reasonable" Chief Acevedo said at a news conference where he also released the footage from the officers' body cameras. Watch the footage below:
Before the final burst of gunfire, Chavez is seen in video crawling and pulling at wires attached to a police taser. "Don't do it," an officer is heard saying, before a barrage of gunshots ring out.
Acevedo Slams Officers' 'Feared For Their Lives' Claim
Chief Acevedo said that the officers had plenty of cover and distance between them and Chavez when he reached for the taser.
"That man could have had 100 cartridges in the empty Taser, the maximum effective range is 21 feet," he said, taking a few steps from the podium. "I'm done. That's all I got to do. Back up. Do what you've been doing."
"If you're that fearful, fearful with 28 officers, of a man that's been wounded already, I don't need you as a police officer," he added. "Do you want me to bring them back so they can do it again to somebody else? I don't think so."
Houston Police Union Condemns Firings
The Houston Police Officers' Union condemned the firings on Thursday, saying the officers had acted responsibly. "They tried to communicate, they tried to de-escalate," Douglas Griffith, the first vice president of the union, said at a news conference. "The officers acted in the manner in which they were trained and by policy."
Griffith described the item in Chavez's hand as an "edged weapon" that the officers believed was a knife, and said Chavez had harmed himself with it. Joe Gamaldi, the president of the union, said that officers shot Chavez after he had pulled in the wires of a stun gun and then pointed the device at an officer.
"What happened to Nicolas Chavez was a tragedy," he said. "These officers did not want to shoot Mr. Chavez, and did everything in their power not to."