Officer fatally shoots man; Rangers investigating San Benito incident

A neighborhood resident points towards the area where they heard noises coming from before the shooting took place. (Maricela Rodriguez/Valley Morning Star)

SAN BENITO — The Texas Rangers are investigating a case in which a police officer fatally shot a 21-year-old San Benito man after city officials said he pointed a pistol at his mother before turning it toward the officer.

Officer Oscar Lara shot Samuel Mata in his front yard near the intersection of South Bonham and East Powers streets at about 11 p.m. Wednesday, officials stated in a press release.

City officials stated Lara arrived as Mata and his mother were “arguing about the use of a vehicle.”

“The mother was attempting to prevent Mr. Mata from driving off in her car when a physical altercation ensued,” the press release stated.

“Officer Lara attempted to de-escalate the situation when Mr. Mata brandished a revolver and pointed it at his mother and subsequently at Officer Lara. Officer Lara aimed at Mr. Mata and discharged his firearm.”

Officers administered cardio pulmonary resuscitation before Mata died as a result of his injuries, the press release states.

Neighbors’ accounts

The shooting shocked neighbors.

On Thursday, neighbor Rosie Avalos said Mata came to her door about 9 p.m., telling her “he had a problem.”

“He got on his knees and he did the sign of the cross two times,” Avalos said at her front door.

But Mata returned to his house before disclosing the nature of his problem, she said.

Police say they were called to a disturbance Wednesday night at the intersection of Bonham and Powers streets in San Benito. By Maricela Rodriguez, Valley Morning Star

At about 11 p.m., neighbor Candy Quiroz said she heard him “trashing” his house.

“We heard people inside the house trashing it, destroying the house,” Quiroz said in her front yard. “Then he threw something (made of) glass of the door. That’s when the cop got here.”

When Lara arrived, Mata was trying to drive away in a van, she said.

“He tried to leave but the police officer opened the door and the mother was trying to calm (Mata) and the police officer said, ‘I’m going to pepper-spray you.’”

Moments later, she said, she heard four gun shots.

“Within seconds, we heard three shots and then another one and he was lying on the ground,” she said.

Quiroz said she saw a pistol lying next to Mata’s body.

Neighbors said they hadn’t had trouble with Mata since he moved in the house on East Powers a few months ago.

Avalos described Mata as “a good boy.”

“I never had any problems,” she said.

Quiroz described him as “a very nice young man” who had offered her facial coverings and gloves to protect her from the coronavirus.

Background

The incident marks the police department’s second police-involved shooting since officers killed Ricardo Treviño III, 21, who was unarmed when he was repeatedly shot following a 22-mile pursuit from San Benito to El Ranchito on Dec. 7, 2018.

In September 2019, a Cameron County grand jury cleared former Police Chief Michael Galvan, former police officer David 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.

Saenz said officers fired 31 rounds.

fdelvalle@valleystar.com