Video shows deputies shooting San Antonio man whose hands were raised
San Antonio officials expect to conclude their investigation this week into the fatal shooting of a Texas man who appeared to have his hands up when he was fired on by sheriff’s deputies during an encounter captured on video.
Civil rights advocates expressed outrage Tuesday over the shooting and demanded answers.
“Like other events that we’ve seen across the country involving interactions with law enforcement, this one points to a troubling trend of overzealous and abusive policing,” said Terri Burke, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. “The video doesn’t show every aspect of the interaction, but it certainly raises serious questions about whether the level of force was constitutionally permissible.”
Gilbert Flores, 41, was fatally shot Friday by deputies responding to a domestic disturbance call about 11:30 a.m. at a home in northwest San Antonio. The video, filmed from a distance by a passing driver, was posted online Monday by local television station KSAT and can be seen here.
In the video, Flores initially appears to be running, shirtless, in the front yard of a single-story home. He appears to put his hands up, then two shots can be heard and he tumbles to the ground.
Flores was flown to a hospital, where he died, according to a statement released by the sheriff’s office.
A spokeswoman for the FBI in San Antonio said they were monitoring the sheriff’s investigation.
“Experienced civil rights investigators from the FBI will thoroughly review the facts and circumstances surrounding the shooting,” Special Agent Michelle Lee said in a statement. “Our focus is to determine whether a civil rights violation took place as a result of a deputy willfully engaging in the use of excessive or unjustified force.”
The deputies involved in the shooting were identified as Greg Vasquez and Robert Sanchez, who both have been with the department for more than 10 years. They were not injured in the shooting. They have been placed on administrative leave while the sheriff and district attorney’s offices investigate, according to the statement.
KSAT said the video was recorded on a cellphone by a college student who contacted the station.
“Now that there is an ongoing investigation by both agencies, and following additional discussions within our newsroom, KSAT-12 News has decided to make the entire video available online,” newsroom managers said in their post releasing the video.
They said the video was provided by Michael Thomas, a student at the local University of the Incarnate Word, who told the station he recorded it because of recent police-involved shootings.
“I was watching. I was kind of wondering what was going on, but I couldn’t figure it out,” he told the television station. “Just the things that’s been going on in the world, like different types of shootings, cops and different things like that. So I was like, well, maybe I can catch something on my camera.”
Local officials have said they are troubled by the video.
“The encounter is extremely disturbing as it appears to show an unarmed man with his hands up being shot by a deputy,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas). “This incident is further evidence that police officers and deputies should wear body cameras. ... With regard to the specific case in San Antonio, I trust that Dist. Atty. Nico LaHood will pursue an indictment if all the evidence merits it.”
Sheriff Susan Pamerleau said last Friday that “certainly, what’s in the video is a cause for concern,” adding that the investigation must “go through its course so that we can ensure a thorough and complete review of all that occurred of the evidence and the actions of the officers.”
She said Flores had harmed an 18-month-old child and a woman, who was found inside the home with a cut on her head. When deputies tried to arrest him, using “nonlethal weapons” including a Taser and shield, he resisted, she said.
Pamerleau was out of state on sheriff’s business Tuesday.
A spokesman for the sheriff’s office, James Keith, said investigators also obtained a second video of the shooting and were reviewing it Tuesday.
“There is a second video that a neighbor got. We are treating it as evidence,” he said. Keith said the investigation likely would be completed by Friday and turned over to the district attorney.
Nicholas “Nico” LaHood, the Bexar County district attorney, said investigators were reviewing the video of the shooting filmed by a neighbor, who had a “closer and clearer view of what happened.”
“The view is more useful,” LaHood told The Times on Tuesday.
Asked whether the videos appear to show Flores had his hands up at the time of the shooting, LaHood said, “It does appear. The video is disturbing.”
LaHood noted that, by law, “The use of deadly forces is justified if the person that used the deadly force had a fear of apparent danger and that fear was imminent.”
He said his office has “portions” of the case, but, “We’re waiting for all of it to be turned in. It’s going to be quick. We won’t let this linger.”
LaHood, a Democrat, said he created a “blind, multilevel analysis on officer-involved shootings” when he took office in January. But, he said, “I ultimately make the decision. I don’t use a grand jury as cover.”
He said officials have learned from other high-profile police-involved shootings captured on video not to be reactive, to deliberate with respect for due process, but also to release information in a timely manner.
“I will make a swift decision,” he said.
Bexar sheriff’s deputies do not have body or dashboard cameras, although county officials have approved paying for them in their latest budget, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said.
Wolff called the video “shocking,” noting it appears that Flores had at least one hand raised. He said the sheriff’s office has “handled it the right way.”
He and county commissioners have asked sheriff’s officials to brief them at their next meeting on use-of-force policies.
“I think everybody’s concerned about this, the use of force. We’ve seen so many incidents around the country,” Wolff told The Times on Tuesday. “That’s why we want to review the policy see if there’s a way to strengthen it, increase training.”
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