SAN BENITO — A federal lawsuit filed by a San Benito woman claims her unarmed 21-year-old son posed no threat to police and deputy constables when they fatally shot him nearly two years ago.
April Flores filed the six-count lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Friday, arguing the San Benito and Cameron County officers violated Ricardo Treviño III’s constitutional rights when they killed him following a pursuit on Dec. 7, 2018.
“We’re arguing the violation of his civil rights, specifically his right not to be killed or shot by the government,” attorney John Blaylock, who filed the lawsuit on Flores’ behalf, said during an interview Monday.
A nine-month Texas Rangers investigation found the officers were justified in using deadly force, arguing they shot Treviño because his use of his Nissan Sentra as a weapon posed an imminent threat.
Now, Flores’ lawsuit claims officers were responding to welfare call before pursuing Treviño’s car to El Ranchito, where they blocked him in a cul-de-sac before repeatedly shooting him while his car was stuck in a ditch.
“No officers were close to getting hit,” Blaylock, a former Cameron County assistant district attorney who reviewed officers’ body camera footage to build his case, said. “That’s clear from the video.”
“The shooting started as Treviño was trying to go through the gap between the vehicles and the shooting continued after he reversed and ended up in the ditch,” Blaylock said. “The kill shots came after he was already in the ditch with the car in park and his hands raised.”
The 26-page lawsuit argues the officers had “no probable cause or reasonable suspicion” to pursue and kill Treviño.
The lawsuit, which does not specify monetary damages, demands “exemplary and punitive damages” and a jury trial.
Flores, who declined comment Monday, filed the lawsuit against the city of San Benito, former Police Chief Michael Galvan, former officers David Rebollado and Victor Estipia, officers Jose Santos and Oscar Lara and Detective Manuel Alvarez.
The lawsuit also names Cameron County, Precinct 5 Constable Eddie Solis and deputy constables Jose Angel Villarreal and Carlos Cordova.
The city of San Benito and Cameron County have not responded to messages requesting comment while Galvan and Solis declined comment.
The lawsuit’s six counts allege San Benito police officers and Cameron County deputy constables used “excessive force,” while the city and county failed to train their officers who unlawfully seized Treviño.
The lawsuit claims the city and county “failed to properly train, supervise, screen, discipline, transfer, counsel or otherwise control officers who are known, or who should have been known, to engage in the use of excessive force and/or deadly force, including those officers repeatedly accused of such acts.”
The lawsuit argues county officials knew “Villarreal’s short temper, erratic behavior and history of multiple fatal shootings of alleged suspects but did nothing to protect Treviño from the harm he suffered.”
The lawsuit claims the city and county “failed to implement and/or enforce policies and procedures” and failed to “adequately supervise and discipline” the officers involved.
“The lawsuit argues the officers “knowingly and consciously disregarded” Treviño’s civil rights.
Engagement of pursuit
The lawsuit states Treviño was volunteering at Templo Bethesda Church in San Benito at about 3 p.m. Dec. 7, 2018.
When his cousin saw Treviño, who suffered from back pain after a tractor-trailer hit his car, take Tylenol, she called the San Benito police department, the lawsuit states.
In response, Estipia and Santos arrived to conduct a welfare check before they saw Treviño driving away from the church, the lawsuit states.
The officers, along with Lara, began pursuing Treviño who was unarmed, “had not been accused of committing a crime or doing anything illegal (and) had no criminal history.”
As the officers pursued Treviño along Expressway 77 and onto F.M. 732 and U.S 281, Rebollado and Alvarez joined the pursuit.
At about 3 p.m., Villarreal and Cordova joined the pursuit “even though they were many miles away” after Solis gave them permission without conferring with the San Benito police department.
Meanwhile, Galvan, who was off-duty, was driving his personal vehicle when he joined the pursuit before “trying to force (Treviño) off the road” and “discharging his weapon” at Treviño’s car.
After Treviño drove to Ranch Park Road in El Ranchito, he stopped at a cul-de-sac before Rebollado and Villarreal “moved their squad vehicles in order to block (Treviño’s) path,” the lawsuit states.
As Treviño “attempted to move out of the cul-de-sac through an opening between the vehicles, (Galvan) then moved his vehicle too block” Treviño, hitting his car, the lawsuit argues.
“Ricardo Treviño III then began to reverse his vehicle and the defendant police officers and deputies shot Treviño as he reversed and ended up in a ditch,” the lawsuit claims.
The lawsuit states “officers and constables continued shooting Treviño even after his vehicle came to a stop in the ditch and Treviño had placed the vehicle in park. Treviño had fully retreated from all of the (defendants) and had even raised up his hands.”
The lawsuit argues the officers and deputy constables “surrounded Treviño’s vehicle reminiscent of an old-time Western lynch mob determined to carry out an execution.”
“Defendants continued shooting Treviño even though it is clear from all video sources obtained to date that Treviño posed no threat,” the lawsuit claims.
“During the time that Treviño began to retreat,” the lawsuit argues, the officers and deputies began firing their weapons at (Treviño’s car) then at Treviño himself.”
The lawsuit states the officers and deputes fired 31 rounds, striking Treviño 12 times in the head, face and torso as he sat in his car.
The officers had “no probable cause or reasonable suspicion to believe that Treviño was attempting to commit a crime,” the lawsuit argues. “Treviño did not pose an immediate threat to the safety of defendants or others when defendants fatally shot Treviño for no lawful reason.”
Internal affairs investigation
The lawsuit points to San Benito’s internal affairs investigation conducted by two retired Austin Police Department officers to determine whether the police officers’ pursuit and use of deadly force was justified.
“The investigation found defendants Galvan, Espitia, Rebollado, Santos, Lara and Alvarez were guilty of numerous violations of SBPD policy and public safety and found that the SBPD defendants were not justified in using deadly force in the shooting death of Treviño,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit argues Treviño’s “wrongful death” has led his Flores to sustain “the loss of Treviño’s life, pain and suffering,” “mental anguish and emotional distress” and “loss of quality of life.”
Grand jury hands down no indictments
In September 2019, a Cameron County grand jury found no evidence in which to indict Galvan, Rebollado, Villarreal and Cordova after a nine-month Texas Rangers criminal investigation found them justified in using deadly force to shoot Treviño.
After the grand jury’s decision, District Attorney Luis Saenz, who serves as the county attorney whose assistant presented the case to the grand jury, 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.”