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The 4 Houston police officers who shot and killed Nicolas Chavez will be reinstated, HPD says

A photo of Nicolas Chavez, who was gunned down by Houston police on April 21, 2020.
Chavez family
Nicolas Chavez, 27, was gunned down by Houston police on April 21, 2020.

Updated Monday, March 14, 2022 at 3:52 p.m. CT

Four Houston police officers who were indefinitely suspended after shooting and killing Nicolas Chavez in 2020 have successfully appealed the firing and will be reinstated, according to Houston police Chief Troy Finner.

Officers Patrick Rubio, Omar Tapia, Luis Alvarado, and Sgt. Benjamin LeBlanc were fired in September of 2020 for their involvement in the shooting, in which Chavez was shot 21 times while suffering an apparent mental health crisis.

The shooting occurred on April 21, 2020 after Chavez had been hit with stun guns and beanbag shotgun rounds, during a moment which then-Chief Art Acevedo described as “his greatest level of incapacitation.”

"If that’s how little you value life, I don’t need you in this department," Acevedo said at the time, after sharing body camera footage of the incident.

Finner — who took the job after Acevedo left for Miami — said he agreed with the former chief’s assessment that the men broke department rules, but declined to answer repeated questions about whether he agreed with their firings.

“Although I was not the final decision maker when the officers were indefinitely suspended, I believe that there was evidence of policy violations,” he said.

Under city rules, officers who are indefinitely suspended by the department can appeal to an independent hearing examiner. The burden of proof is then on the city to prove with a preponderance of evidence that the officers violated rules set by the department.
The arbitrator found that the city could not prove its case, and the men will be reinstated in the coming days. Finner said the four officers would go through “reintegration training” before any decision is made to putting them back on the street.

They will receive any back pay missed during those 18 months, the chief added.

At 9 p.m. on the night of the shooting, police say they were responding to a call of a man running through traffic near 800 Gazin St., near the East Freeway frontage road. Released 911 calls from that evening indicate the man was armed and suicidal, screaming and dodging traffic. Officers from HPD’s Northeast Patrol confronted Chavez for about 14 minutes before the 27-year-old man approached with a steel reinforced bar. Police responded by firing the stun guns and beanbag rounds.

Video footage from that night appears to show Chavez on his knees at the time he was shot and killed. The officers said he was reaching for the used stun gun, which prompted the shooting.

At the time, the Houston Police Officers Union criticized the firing as an “unjust and deplorable decision.” They also characterized Chavez’s actions as a case of “suicide by cop.”

The union said Houston’s Independent Police Oversight Board reviewed the incident and cleared the officers, though the hearings are confidential. The Harris County District Attorney’s office later pursued charges against the four men but a grand jury ultimately declined to indict the officers.

All four were later sued by Chavez’s family. A federal judge threw out the suit in July, but the family refiled an amended complaint a few weeks later.

The case is currently on hold pending the appointment of a representative for the Chavez’s estate, according to court documents.
Copyright 2022 Houston Public Media News 88.7. To see more, visit Houston Public Media News 88.7.

Paul DeBenedetto
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