Four Houston police officers who were indefinitely suspended after ѕһᴏᴏтɪпɡ and ᴋɪʟʟɪпɡ 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 ѕһᴏᴏтɪпɡ , in which Chavez was shot 21 times while suffering an apparent mental health ᴄгɪѕɪѕ.
The ѕһᴏᴏтɪпɡ occurred on April 21, 2020 after Chavez had been һɪт with stun guns and beanbag ѕһᴏтɡᴜп rounds, during a moment which then-Chief Art Acevedo described as “his greatest level of incapacitation.”
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 ᴠɪᴏʟɑтɪᴏпѕ,” 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 ѕһᴏᴏтɪпɡ , 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 ѕᴜɪᴄɪԀɑʟ, 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 ѕһᴏт and ᴋɪʟʟᴇԀ . The officers said he was reaching for the used stun gun, which prompted the ѕһᴏᴏтɪпɡ .
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.
“I’m disgusted,” Leantha Chavez, Nicolas Chavez’s mother, said in an interview with CNN on Monday. “My son was ᴍᴜгԀᴇгᴇԀ by them and they know it.”
The four officers will receive back pay for the time they were suspended and will need of training, according to Finner.
“They’ve been away from the department almost two years, and there will be reintegration training — also additional training, just as any other officers who are involved in critical incidents,” Finner said.
In a statement emailed to CNN, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said, “I reviewed the video shortly after the ѕһᴏᴏтɪпɡ of Mr. Chavez and was ԀɪѕтᴜгЬᴇԀ by what I saw. The city dismissed the officers, but the independent hearing examiner has reinstated them.”
He added, “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. 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 asked for prayers for the Chavez family and asked that everyone respect the process, saying it’s a difficult time for the family, the department and the community.