Four Houston police officers have been terminated for their involvement in the fatal shooting of 27-year-old Nicolas Chavez in April.
The Houston Police Department announced the firings Thursday and released body camera footage of the encounter.
Multiple officers were on the scene the night Chavez was shot to death. They fired a total of 24 shots at Chavez — only three of which were deemed “objectively reasonable,” Police Chief Art Acevedo said at a news conference.
“The discharge of those 21 shots for those four members of the Houston Police Department are not objectively reasonable,” Acevedo said. “I believe that anyone that watches this tape, that sees this, would see that they had a lot of opportunities and a lot of other options readily available to them.”
The department has said that officers were responding to a “suicide in progress call” and used a combination of lethal and nonlethal rounds to try to subdue Chavez. Police said he had a blunt metal object that was initially thought to be a knife but later found to be a piece of metal rebar.
Officers fired Tasers, several rounds of bean bags and three shots at Chavez, who went down on the ground and later picked up a dropped Taser. Then 21 more shots were fired.
“You don’t get to shoot somebody 21 times, because at that time, when we discharged those 21 rounds, Mr. Chavez was at his greatest level of incapacitation,” Acevedo said. “I cannot defend that.”
The medical examiner identified a total of 29 wounds, including entry and exit wounds, according to Acevedo. Some of these included “skip rounds,” which indicate bullets hit the ground first then entered Chavez’s body as fragments.
A full ballistics report is expected to be completed and turned over to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office at the end of the month, Acevedo said.
“Today is a difficult day for all of us, especially the Nicolas Chavez family, HPD, the four police officers and their families and our city,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who fought back tears at Thursday’s news conference.
“The video is difficult to watch without questioning why the shooting happened and wishing the encounter could have ended differently and knowing that it should have had a different outcome.”
Joe Gamaldi, head of the Houston Police Officers’ Union, called the firings an “unjust and deplorable decision,” Houston Public Media reports.
“This truly was a tragedy,” Gamaldi told the member station. “But the chief is now spreading that tragedy to four other families by unjustly firing these officers and using them as political fodder.”
According to a statement released by HPD on April 22, officers were responding to a “suicide in progress call near Lockwood Drive and the East Freeway (East Interstate Highway 10).”
“As the officers engaged the suspect, he charged at them with a pointed object in his hand,” the statement reads, adding that officers discharged nonlethal rounds at the suspect “which also had no effect.”
“The suspect continued to charge at the officers with the pointed weapon in his hand. Fearing for his life, one officer discharged his duty weapon and struck the suspect, who fell to the ground,” according to police.
The statement says that the suspect then crawled to a Taser, that had been dropped by one of the officers, picked it up and then pointed it in the officers’ direction.
“Fearing for their lives, officers discharged their duty weapons and struck the suspect,” it reads. “Houston Fire Department paramedics responded to the scene and pronounced him deceased.”