SAN BENITO — After more than a year, the city has released an investigation’s findings into the fatal police shooting of a 21-year-old unarmed man in 2018.
Last week, the city released its internal affairs investigation report in response to The Valley Morning Star’s request filed under the Texas Public Information Act.
The report states evidence indicated former Chief Michael Galvan, officers David Rebolledo, Victor Espitia, Jose Santos, Oscar Lara and Detective Manuel Alvarez acted improperly during a 22-mile pursuit that led to the fatal shooting of Ricardo Treviño, 21, of San Benito, on Dec. 7, 2018.
Interim Police Chief Fred Bell stated he reprimanded several officers, whose names he didn’t disclose.
“Based on the IA report, I initiated a Civil Service disciplinary process against several individual officers involved in this incident,” Bell stated. “I followed the Civil Service law as well as the requirements of the labor agreement.”
“The outcome of the IA process resulted in issuance of a disciplinary suspension, several reprimands and a couple of resignations,” he stated.
“I reviewed the department policies in place at the time of the incident and determined them to be up to date with current law enforcement practices. I initiated steps to remind and re-confirm with law enforcement personnel that it was their duty and responsibility to be aware of the policies and to adhere to them.”
When Galvan was reached by telephone by the Valley Morning Star, communication dropped.
Santos, Lara and Alvarez did not respond to emailed messages requesting comment on the investigation’s findings.
Bell stated Rebolledo and Espitia “no longer work for the city of San Benito Police Department and I do not have their contact information.”
In March, 2019, 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.
“Mr. Mills and Ms. Hesalroad were hired by the city in order to have a law enforcement investigator with no prior ties to the San Benito Police Department to conduct the administrative investigation,” Bell stated, adding the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement licenses the retired officers “with extensive internal affairs experience.”
April Flores, Treviño’s mother, said the investigation’s report documents extensive violations.
“It shows all the policies that they broke,” she said. “My son never had a criminal record. He was a good kid.”
The investigation’s report states evidence indicated Galvan violated policy when he fired at Treviño’s car, used “aggressive driving tactics” and allowed the “desire to stop Mr. Treviño outweigh his obligation to protect innocent motorists and others.”
“As seen on video, once Chief Galvan became physically involved in the pursuit, his aggressive driving tactics caused Mr. Treviño to react in ways that contributed to the danger to other motorists,” the report states.
“An example is when Chief Galvan attempted to box-in Mr. Treviño near Calle Paloma, causing him to swerve and brake hard to maintain control of the Nissan,” the report states. “A white pickup turning right onto FM 732 from Calle Paloma pulled over onto the grass to avoid Chief Galvan and the Nissan.”
“Another example is Chief Galvan’s decision to catch up to the Nissan after the maneuver near Calle Paloma/FM 732 and pass the vehicle as the pursuit traveled through an active school zone,” the report states.
“An unintended consequence of his action here was when Mr. Treviño turned right onto Catalina Road in an apparent attempt to avoid another boxing-in attempt by Chief Galvan,” the report states. “While in this area, Mr. Treviño drove behind the middle school, through the yards of residences on two different sides and eventually went back through the active school zone in front of the school.”
“A preponderance of the evidence indicates Chief Galvan violated pursuit policy,” the report states. “A finding of improper conduct is recommended for his allegation.”
Bell reprimanded Galvan for discharging the firearm at Treviño’s car in an attempt to stop the vehicle during the pursuit, Alex Guajardo, an attorney who represented Galvan, said in an earlier interview.
In October 2019, Bell reassigned Galvan to a lieutenant’s rank — the rank he held before he took the chief’s job about four years ago.
At the time, Guajardo said city officials did not indicate whether Galvan’s reprimand led to his reassignment.
The report stated Espitia allegedly “acted improperly when he fired his weapon at Mr. Treviño.”
“A preponderance of the evidence indicates officer Espitia had the option of moving out of the path of the Nissan at the point he said he felt it was ‘coming straight at me,’” the report states. “He fired once and then continued to stand in the area where he felt unsafe while he tried to clear his weapon from a jammed round. He remained in that position as the Nissan rolled back and several officers began firing at it again.”
“One of the deciding factors in deciding how reasonable officer Espitia’s use of deadly force was the cross-fire situation he was in when he fired,” the report states. “He said officer Rebolledo was behind the vehicle but all he saw was the car coming at him. Two other officers present on scene said they did not fire for fear of hitting other officers.”
“A preponderance of the evidence indicates officer Espitia acted improperly when he fired his weapon at Mr. Treviño,” the report states. “A finding of improper conduct is recommended for this allegation.”
The report also stated Espitia allegedly “failed to disengage from the pursuit … when an order to do so was transmitted over police radio.”
“A preponderance of the evidence indicates officer Espitia acted inappropriately when he failed to disengage from the pursuit,” the report states. “A finding of improper conduct is recommended for this allegation.”
Bell ordered Espitia suspended for five days.
The report stated evidence also indicated Rebolledo improperly used deadly force and improperly engaged in the pursuit from San Benito to El Ranchito.
“Allowing the pursuit to continue based on his inference that Mr. Treviño was ‘under the influence of a narcotic’ and might ‘hurt someone driving around in his intoxicated state’ was not based on fact — nor did officer Rebolledo make any attempt to get additional information that might have influenced the decisions he subsequently made during the 22-mile-long pursuit,” the report states.
“In the final 24 seconds of the pursuit, officer Rebolledo made the decision to run behind the Nissan to get to the passenger side because too many officers were on the driver’s side,” the report states. “As he passed behind the Nissan, the taillights came on indicating the vehicle was about to move into reverse. Officer Rebolledo believed he was in danger from the vehicle and began firing his weapon.”
“A preponderance of the evidence indicates officer Rebolledo’s participation in the pursuit on Dec. 7, 2018, was improper as was his use of deadly force,” the report states. “A finding of improper conduct is recommended for this allegation.”
The report also stated Rebolledo allegedly “failed to disengage” from the pursuit.
“The reasons officer Rebolledo (failed) to disengage from the pursuit when ordered to do so include feeling like the Nissan would no longer pose a threat to motorists since it was no longer on Highway 281, not wanting to leave the deputy constable in front of him alone with suspect and believing Ranch Park Road might end in a dead end.”
“Chief Galvan did not rescind his order to disengage,” the report states. “A finding of improper conduct is recommended for this allegation.”
The report stated Santos allegedly “improperly engaged” in the pursuit.
“A preponderance of the evidence indicates officer Santos violated policy by failing to properly balance the need to apprehend Mr. Treviño with the risks to the public,” the report states. “A finding of improper conduct is recommended for this allegation.”
The report also stated Santos allegedly “failed to disengage” from the pursuit.
“A preponderance of the evidence indicates officer Santos violated policy by disregarding the order to terminate the pursuit,” the report states. “A finding of improper conduct is recommended for this allegation.”
The report stated Lara allegedly “improperly engaged” in the pursuit.
“A preponderance of the evidence indicates officer Lara violated policy by failing to properly balance the need to apprehend Mr. Treviño with the risks to the public despite expressing concerns about the way Mr. Treviño was driving while around Riverside Middle School,” the report states. “A finding of improper conduct is recommended for this allegation.”
The report stated Alvarez allegedly “improperly engaged” in the pursuit.
“Detective Alvarez said to this day there’s an unwritten rule that if an officer needs help — and this includes getting involved in a pursuit — he has the right to leave his desk and join the pursuit,” the report states. “He acknowledges he was not asked to join the pursuit by any supervisor. He believes the same unwritten rule exists today.”
“A preponderance of the evidence indicates Detective Alvarez acted improperly when he involved himself in the pursuit,” the report states. “A finding of improper conduct is recommended for this allegation.”
Grand jury decision
In September 2019, a Cameron County grand jury cleared Galvan, Rebolledo and two Cameron County Precinct 5 deputy constables after a Texas Rangers criminal investigation found them justified in using deadly force to shoot Treviño.
After the grand jury’s decision, District Attorney Luis Saenz said Treviño used his Nissan Sentra to threaten the officers’ lives.
“He puts his car in forward and collides with Chief Galvan’s car, I mean forceful and he’s like trying to push it back, his tires are spinning and spinning. He can’t,” Saenz told reporters after the grand jury’s decision. “Then he puts it in reverse and goes all the way back and that’s where there are officers behind and that’s when the shooting breaks out.”
Art Flores, Treviño’s stepfather who serves as a police department supervisor, has said his stepson’s car showed only a dent.
Meanwhile, a photograph of the shooting scene shows Treviño’s red Sentra in a ditch.
Moments later, video shows Treviño sitting in his car amid a barrage of gunfire at about 3:30 p.m.
Saenz said officers fired 31 rounds.