Did you see the horrific video of El Paso Police Officer Jose Flores shooting handcuffed prisoner Danny Saenz? The City had tried to suppress the video, requested by the El Paso Times via an Open Records Request. From the Times:
Last year, the state attorney general denied the first request by the Times to make the video public after city lawyers argued that the case was still under investigation.
With the conclusion of the criminal investigation by the Texas Rangers and El Paso Police Department, city attorneys in March argued that the video should be withheld for several other reasons, including the right to privacy of the deceased, a potential lawsuit against the city by Saenz’s family and that releasing the video could endanger the life of the officer involved in the shooting.
The District Attorney’s office presented the case to a grand jury, and the grand jury elected not to indict Officer Flores.
That’s surprising. If he wanted to, a district attorney could get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. Or maybe it’s not so surprising. Our District Attorney is famously coddling of law enforcement and elected officials.
Jim Jopling, a Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas who represented Officer Flores in front of the grand jury, helped to rationalize the officer’s actions:
“The video does not show an important event that happened earlier in the day,” Jopling said in the CLEAT statement. “When Mr. Saenz was in his holding cell at the Pebble Hills Regional Command Center, he was observed moving his cuffed hands from behind his body to the front of his body. This is called ‘fronting’ his cuffs. Mr. Saenz, who was in bare feet, put his shoes on and, when finished, moved his handcuffs back behind his body. Mr. Saenz did this with great agility and speed.
In the video, Officer Flores first reaches for his Taser. However, he decides not to deploy his Taser because he knew that Mr. Saenz — also earlier that same day — had undergone five cycles of the Taser device, without effect. He had been Tased earlier in the day after he assaulted a police officer and other people at the hospital where he was being evaluated.”
CLEAT stated that Flores drew his handgun because “Saenz could quickly front his cuffs and turn them into a deadly weapon, given his considerable strength, agility and demonstrated resistance to the Taser … At the same moment Officer Flores draws his weapon, Mr. Saenz pushes off on that curb and, with remarkable strength, sends the civilian escort flying backwards. The civilian escort’s arm then hits the trigger hand of Officer Flores, causing his weapon to discharge.”
Mr. Jopling was only trying to exonerate the officer, and not the Police Department and jail staff. If we believe Mr. Jopling’s story, then why, if Mr. Saenz was so dangerous, weren’t more effective restraining devices used? Prisoners are regularly escorted from the jail in shackles. Why, given Mr. Saenz’ superhuman strength and agility, weren’t more officers present? Why didn’t Officer Flores use his radio instead of his gun when he encountered difficulties with Mr. Saenz? There must have been dozens of law enforcement types within thirty seconds of the jail’s door.
Eventually the City will have to answer these questions, because a Wrongful Death lawsuit is bound to be filed. At the point, the City’s attorneys will try to weasel their way out of responsibility for this senseless death, unless they try to settle early, to mute the discourse. The City, however, rarely settles. They prefer to litigate, to forestall frivolous lawsuits.
The local uproar over the shooting has been underwhelming. I guess it’s not like the cop blew up City Hall and built a ballpark or was trying to destroy an historic school to build an overpass, or anything like that. On Reddit, The Front Page of the Internet, the response to video has been more vitriolic.
One user commented:
While in the military had I shot a subdued and handcuffed prisoner in my charge I would have been in a courts martial so goddamn fast and probably serving hard labor at the DB Leavenworth for the remainder of my life.
All the JAG Corp would have done was play the video. Case closed. Do Not Pass Go, straight to breaking rocks.
And for good reason because executions such as this would mean I was one seriously evil fuck not worthy of membership in Team Humanity.
But slap a badge on me and make me a unionized member of the guardians of capitalism and at worst I would have lost my job after a year on paid desk duty, free to gain employment in the same exact field in the next town over.
And people wonder why there is so much hatred for Johnny Po-Po.
Despite Mr. Jopling’s arguments, a more realistic interpretation of events would conclude that Officer Flores believed he was using his Taser. In the heat of the moment, he accidentally, or negligently, executed his prisoner. Perhaps the facts would have come out in court, where a jury could have decided the validity of Mr. Jopling’s arguments. Unfortunately, our District Attorney can’t even win an indictment with the incident on video.
Edited, 07:12, 19 June 2014There are significant questions here that should be addressed in an open court. But that requires a willingness by law enforcement to police itself. We should at least be able to ask the questions, which won’t happen, unless the District Attorney is willing to bring cases like this to trial.