San Benito probe suspends one officer

Fate of two other officers unclear in fatal shooting probe

SAN BENITO — April Flores, the mother of a 21-year-old San Benito man who was unarmed when police fatally shot him, calls an investigation’s findings into the shooting “a joke.”

Interim Police Chief Fred Bell has ordered one officer suspended for five days, according to a statement released yesterday evening by the city of San Benito.

The city released findings of an internal affairs investigation into whether police officers violated policy or procedures during the events leading to the shooting of Ricardo Treviño last December.

In the cases of two other officers, Bell is requesting the state Attorney General’s Office allow the city to keep the investigation open until the Texas Rangers complete a criminal probe into the shooting.

“This is unacceptable for the magnitude of this situation,” police Supervisor Art Flores, Treviño’s stepfather, said after the press release was issued about 6 p.m.

“For something so severe, it’s petty punishment,” said Flores, who used to work as a detective in the police department’s Internal Affairs Division.

A 24-year police department veteran, Flores said the investigation’s findings offend him.

“Ever since this began, they’ve done nothing more than slap us in the face,” he said, referring to the day officers killed his stepson.

Launched in late March, the probe that was expected to be completed yesterday looked into the actions of Assistant Police Chief Michael Galvan, who served as chief at the time of the shooting, and officers Manuel Alvarez, Victor Espitia, Oscar Lara, David Rebolledo and Jose Santos.

The press release does not disclose the name of the officer who was disciplined or list any policies or procedures that officer may have violated.

“Police Chief Bell has imposed a disciplinary suspension of five calendar days under Civil Service process against one officer and has filed that disciplinary suspension with the city’s Civil Service Commission,” the press release states.

“The affected officer has a right to pursue a Civil Service appeal if timely filed.”

According to attorney Ricardo Navarro, assigned by the Texas Municipal League to represent the city, the internal investigation’s findings could become public if an officer appeals his disciplinary action.

Apparently, Bell took no disciplinary action against other officers involved in the shooting.

“With respect to any other city of San Benito police officers directly or indirectly involved in the police actions on Dec. 7, 2018, Police Chief Bell has determined that no other appealable disciplinary suspensions will be imposed,” the press release states.

“Any other corrective action to be taken within the department will be handled as counseling and training for all personnel.”

The press release did not include any other disciplinary action against other officers involved in the shooting.

However, the investigation remains open in the cases of two other officers.

“With respect to two of the officers involved, Chief Bell has issued letters to the attorney general under the authority of Section 143.056(H), Texas Local Government Code, so as to maintain the internal affairs investigation open beyond the 180-day deadline and pending completion of the criminal investigation by the Texas Department of Public Safety — Texas Rangers,” the press release states.

Earlier this week, Navarro said the internal investigation’s findings might not become public.

“I can tell you that the contents of the IA Investigation will not generally be made public,” Navarro stated Tuesday. “They only become public if the chief decides to file a disciplinary suspension case and the affected officer appeals before the Civil Service Commission and an evidentiary hearing is held. Only under those circumstances would the contents of the IA become public.”

More questions

The investigation’s findings raise questions regarding Galvan’s status.

For two years, Galvan served as police chief.

However, in late March, city officials appointed Bell, whose background includes work in law enforcement, to serve as interim police chief after reassigning Galvan to assistant chief.

Galvan was removed as police chief because his involvement in the shooting prevented him from overseeing the investigation, Navarro said before the reassignment.

Galvan, a 19-year department veteran who served as chief for more than two years, “agreed to step down as police chief so that an interim chief may be appointed to oversee the internal affairs investigation,” a city press release has stated.

Navarro has described the internal affairs investigation as “standard procedure” following such incidents as shootings involving police officers.

In late March, city officials hired Bruce Mills, a former Austin Police Department assistant chief, and Mary Hesalroad, a former Austin police sergeant, to lead the police department’s internal affairs investigation.

While the Texas Rangers investigate whether officers were justified in using deadly force, the internal affairs probe focused on whether they violated the police department’s policies and procedures.

What happened

At about 3 p.m. Dec. 7, Treviño drove away from a San Benito church after his cousin called for an ambulance because he had taken too many Tylenol pills.

April Flores describes her son as a San Benito High School special education student “with the heart of a child.”

After graduating in 2014, he was studying mechanics at Texas State Technical College, she said.

About a half hour before the shooting, Treviño used his cell phone to record the events leading up to the shooting.

When he saw police following him, Treviño began recording the 12-minute chase down Interstate 69 and onto U.S. 281, where he led about eight law enforcement units to El Ranchito.

As police pursued Treviño’s car, Art Flores was calling dispatchers to tell them police were chasing his stepson.

The Texas Rangers are also investigating whether officers fired at Treviño’s car during the pursuit from San Benito to El Ranchito, where he led law enforcement units to a cul-de-sac off Ranch Park Road.

The Texas Rangers’ preliminary investigation found Treviño used his car as a weapon.

Treviño’s video appears to show him parking his car.

Moments later, the video shows Treviño, who was unarmed, sitting in his car amid a barrage of gunfire at about 3:30 p.m.