Questions still remain: Family wants to know former chief’s, officers’ status

Ricardo Treviño and his mother, April Flores Courtesy: Facebook

HARLINGEN — More than 10 days later, questions continue to surround the completion of an internal investigation into six police officers involved in the shooting of a 21-year-old San Benito man last December.

As a result of the San Benito Police Department’s internal affairs investigation June 5, interim Chief Fred Bell ordered one officer suspended for five days — six months after officers repeatedly shot Ricardo Treviño III, who was unarmed.

Since then, city officials have refused to disclose whether two other officers were placed on paid administrative leave pending the findings of the Texas Rangers’ criminal investigation into the shooting.

City officials also are tightlipped about the status of former Police Chief Michael Galvan.

At the police department, his portrait no longer hangs next to portraits of Mayor Ben Gomez and those of city commissioners.

According to officers, Galvan hasn’t been seen at the police department.

Instead, he’s been spotted at the city’s Municipal Building.

Although he no longer serves as chief, he apparently continues to serve as the city’s emergency management coordinator. “We, as a family, don’t know what’s going on,” police Supervisor Art Flores, Treviño’s stepfather, said Friday. “They’re keeping things hush-hush. They’re not even telling our attorney.”

Attorney Ricardo Navarro, whom the Texas Municipal League assigned to represent the city, declined to confirm whether Bell ordered Galvan, who was one of the officers investigated under the internal affairs probe, placed on administrative leave pending the results of the Texas Rangers investigation.

“It’s not uncommon for a chief of police to place an officer pending an investigation on leave with pay status,” Navarro said Wednesday. “It’s a discretionary call.”

Alex Guajardo, Galvan’s attorney, also declined to disclose whether Galvan was placed on administrative leave, referring questions to city officials.

At City Hall, City Manager Manuel De La Rosa did not respond to an email questioning whether Galvan was placed on administrative leave. “As soon as I get all the findings, if I have to hold someone accountable, I’ll hold someone accountable,” Mayor Ben Gomez said Wednesday, adding he did not know whether Galvan was placed on administrative leave.

The internal affairs investigation focused on the actions of Galvan, who served as chief at the time of the shooting, and officers Manuel Alvarez, Victor Espitia, Oscar Lara, David Rebolledo and Jose Santos.

Questions surround the investigation’s findings into the actions of two officers.

“All we’ve wanted from the beginning is for the truth to be released,” April Flores, Treviño’s mother, said. “It questions the integrity of the department itself including our so-called leaders. There’s no trust. Even with them completing the investigation, nothing has been released. We’re still waiting. It pours salt on the wounds. I have a right to know the findings. They took my son’s life.”

Disciplinary action

City officials are apparently considering significant disciplinary action against two officers while awaiting the Texas Ranger’s criminal investigation, expected to determine whether the officers were justified in using deadly force.

Following the internal investigation’s completion June 5, the city issued a press release stating Bell is requesting the state Attorney General’s Office allow the city to keep open its investigation, which operated under a 180-day time frame, until the Texas Rangers complete their probe.

“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.

The Local Government Code’s Section 143.056(H) gives Bell more time to consider disciplinary action against the two officers.

“The department head may order an indefinite suspension based on an act classified as a felony or a Class A or B misdemeanor after the 180-day period … if the department head considers delay to be necessary to protect a criminal investigation of the person’s conduct,” the law states.

“If the department head intends to order an indefinite suspension after the 180-day period, the department head must file with the attorney general a statement describing the criminal investigation and its objectives within 180 days after the date the act complained of occurred.”

Ballistics tests

The city’s request to the Attorney General’s Office allows it to use the Texas Rangers’ evidence, such as ballistics tests, even if the state’s criminal investigation closes as a result of a grand jury’s decision not indict an officer, Navarro said.

Navarro said city officials want the Texas Rangers’ forensic examination of bullets officers fired at the scene.

The city, he said, cannot afford to conduct similar examinations.

“We think that criminal investigation has forensics information from an expert that we don’t have the capacity to generate,” Navarro said. Such information is expected to determine the identity of the officer or officers who fired the shots that killed Treviño.

“The criminal investigation will contain a lot of forensics information relevant to the shooting component,” Navarro said. “They’re holding evidence that at some point the city needs.”

Soon, the internal investigation’s findings might become public.

The investigation’s results would become public if an officer appeals disciplinary action to the Civil Service Commission for a hearing, Navarro said.

Days after the city disclosed Bell had ordered an officer suspended for five days, that officer apparently appealed his suspension to the city’s Civil Service Commission.

The investigation

In late March, city officials launched the internal affairs investigation, appointing Bell, whose background includes a career in law enforcement, to serve as interim police chief while reassigning Galvan to assistant chief.

Galvan, a 19-year department veteran who had served as chief for more than two years, was removed as police chief because his involvement in the shooting prevented him from overseeing the investigation, Navarro said before the reassignment.

Officials also hired Bruce Mills, a former Austin Police Department assistant chief, and Mary Hesalroad, a former Austin police sergeant, to lead the investigation.

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

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.

fdelvalle@valleystar.com