McAllen seeks AG ruling on reports detailing suicide

Officers at the scene of the public suicide of Antonio Eloy Cruz, which occurred as authorities tried to arrest him on a charge of online solicitation of a minor in September.

The city of McAllen is asking the Texas Attorney General to determine whether it must release police reports detailing the public suicide of a man down the street from McAllen High School that occurred as authorities tried to arrest him on a charge of online solicitation of a minor.

Antonio Eloy Cruz, a 25-year-old Brownsville resident enrolled at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound Sept. 25 after he arrived at the La Vista Apartments to have sex with someone he thought was a minor, according to authorities.

As police approached Cruz, he ran back to his vehicle and tried to open its door before pulling out a handgun from a holster, firing two shots in the air and then fatally shooting himself on the right side of the head sometime after 4:07 p.m. that day, according to a press release.

That operation involved McAllen police assisting the Department of Homeland Security, Lt. Joel A. Morales said Tuesday.

Texas Public Information Act requests have revealed that authorities arrested three other men at the same location over a three-day period.

A day after Cruz’s suicide, McAllen police revealed in a news release that they had been conducting an investigation of online solicitation of a minor from Sept. 23 to 25 that resulted in the arrests of 29-year-old Ricardo Ramos, 24-year-old Daquan Powell and 26-year-old Brennan Tuff Hale on charges of online solicitation of a minor.

All of those men were arrested on the charges at the La Vista Apartments, including Hales, who was arrested at the apartment complex hours before Cruz would arrive and shoot himself.

Cruz was also not the only suspect to bring a gun with him on his way to meet a minor. Ramos was additionally charged with unlawful carrying of a weapon after authorities recovered a black Walther P22 semi-automatic handgun from his vehicle.

While it’s not known how the investigation resulted in Cruz’s arrival at the apartment complex because the city of McAllen believes it can withhold police documentation detailing the incident, probable cause affidavits in the three other arrests reveal that a team of five detectives, including officers impersonating a 15-year-old girl online, arrested the men at the location after the suspects contacted a person they thought was a minor and asked to meet and have sex.

“Said location is a real address with a vacant apartment and was predetermined specifically for this detail,” a probable cause affidavit for Ramos’ arrest states.

The same vacant apartment is mentioned in each of the probable cause affidavits.

Of the three suspects, Ramos was a McAllen resident, Powell was from Georgia and Hale was a Houston resident and “was down in the area working for a border mission military related and taking online college classes,” according to the affidavit.

 

REQUEST FOR OPINION

After Cruz’s daylight suicide during an online solicitation of a minor sting near a high school, the newspaper requested copies of the police report, law enforcement narratives and all supplemental reports detailing this specific incident.

The Monitor did not request the same documentation for Ramos, Powell and Hale.

In its response to the newspaper, the city of McAllen cites four reasons it believes the Texas Attorney General’s Office should allow it to withhold the information.

In its first argument, a city attorney cites Texas Family Code, arguing the information is confidential because of alleged or suspected abuse.

“In this instance, the City is withholding the submitted information because it consists of information involving a child victim used or developed in an investigation by the McAllen Police Department of alleged or suspected abuse or neglect,” the attorney wrote.

Morales, a police spokesman, said Tuesday that while officers did pose as minors, minors were the suspects’ intended victims.

“Our post arrest investigations will attempt to determine if there are other suspects or intended minor victims not yet identified,” Morales wrote in an email in response to questions submitted to the department about the city’s decision to seek an AG’s opinion.

In its second argument to the AG’s Office, the city attorney argues McAllen must withhold the information because it would interfere with the detection, investigation or prosecution of a crime.

“This matter remains active and pending further criminal investigation by the McAllen Police Department including pending additional information for the events surrounding the death of the specified person,” the city attorney wrote. “Releasing the submitted information may allow the requestor to ascertain the details of the pending investigation and potential prosecution, evidence obtained, reveal potential witnesses who may also be subject to possible witness tampering, harassment or retaliation.”

In response to a question asking how the department can investigate and prosecute someone who is dead, Morales explained that authorities have not determined if there are other suspects or intended minor victims not yet identified.

The city’s third and fourth arguments surround undercover officers and investigative techniques.

“The submitted information contains information, if released, would compromise the security and operation of the police department and the safety of department officers involved in undercover sex-related stings,” the city attorney wrote.

However, The Monitor obtained the identities of five officers involved in the operation from the probable cause affidavits submitted by the officers to a municipal judge to justify the arrests. The newspaper has not identified those officers.

Morales also acknowledged the operation took place near McAllen High School, but said no minor or member of the public was ever at risk.

“The McAllen High School is located at 21st and La Vista and the arrest site was three blocks away at 24th street, in an apartment complex common area, 225 feet south of La Vista Street. These investigations did not implicate any ISD student or facility,” Morales said. “Three arrests were effectuated during the school lunch hour and one was effectuated after school hours. The McAllen Police Department attempts to perform its duties always with goodwill and general public safety in mind.”

The probable cause affidavits show authorities arrested Powell at 11:40 a.m. Sept. 24; Hale at at 12:48 p.m. Sept. 25; and Ramos at 11:40 a.m. Sept. 23. Cruz arrived at the location at 4:07 p.m.

“These investigations involve suspects surfing the internet searching for minors to victimize,” Morales said. “We followed these suspects to locations they thought minor victims awaited.”

Probable cause affidavits state that an officer posing as a minor was already on scene waiting to meet the suspects while other officers were in the area conducting surveillance.

“At no time was any minor or any uninvolved person at greater public safety risk,” Morales said.

mreagan@themonitor.com

Monitor staff writers Matt Wilson and Francisco E. Jimenez contributed to this report.