Over the course of 24 hours this past weekend, Houston-area police officers shot three men in three separate incidents, killing two of them and sending one on a Lifeflight helicopter in critical condition. All of the men were unarmed. And in all cases, officers took out their guns when their Tasers didn't appear to have any effect on the men.
In the first case, on Saturday evening, Houston Police Department spokesman John Cannon said that the officer felt he had “no choice” but to shoot.
Cannon said the officer, identified as K. Levi, had noticed a man trying to pull a street sign from the ground at the corner of the Eastex Freeway and Collingsworth in northeast Houston. The officer had been trained in crisis intervention, and could immediately tell that this was a situation in which that training would come into play, Cannon said. Just by looking at him, in fact, the officer thought he was probably on drugs.
“He could tell that the male was very agitated,” Cannon said. “He could see that the veins were bulging from his neck. He was yelling vulgarities. He appeared to be on some type of very strong narcotic; the officer said possibly PCP. So he was very careful with him as he's approaching him.”
Levi told the man to calm down. Instead, the man started coming toward him. So Levi tased him in the chest. That didn't do anything. So Levi began backpedaling into traffic, Cannon said, and the man still wasn't calming down. So Levi tased him again, and again, to no effect, and the man continued charging toward him with clenched fists, about three or four feet away. That's when Levi took out his gun and shot and killed Peter Gaines.
Family and friends told KHOU Saturday night that Gaines was celebrating his 37th birthday that weekend. "He was not violent. He was a sweet guy," one friend, Timeko Barber, told reporters. "He was not a violent person at all, and that's what is bringing tears to my eyes."
That same night, about four hours later, an off-duty Harris County Sheriff's Office deputy working a security job pulled into a Walgreens parking lot just in time to witness what looked like a carjacking. Someone had picked up a hitchhiker a while back, but when the hitchhiker started talking “incoherently,” the driver told investigators, he decided to drop him off at the Walgreens. The man tried to rob him and steal his car — but then the officer intervened.
According to the sheriff's office, the hitchhiker attacked the officer, wrestled him to the ground and began beating him. The officer, a 25-year veteran, tased the man to no effect, and the man only snatched the Taser away and continued punching him. That's when the officer decided to take out his gun and shoot and kill the man, identified as Marco Loud.
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The third incident, on Sunday, came after what was supposed to be a basic traffic stop.
HCSO spokesman Thomas Gilliland said the officer was running seat belt checks and registration at the time he pulled over the man. He asked him to get out of the vehicle, but as the officer was standing between the open door and the car, the man started driving, Gillibrand said, and the officer was stuck with half his body in the car. Fearing he would get dragged into an intersection, he tased the driver. When that didn't work, he shot the driver. He lost control of the car and drove across the median, where the officer fell out of the car. A Lifeflight took the man to Memorial Hermann Medical Center in critical condition.
“It just shows you the dangerous times that we live in," Gilliland said, "that there are people who are willing to hurt peace officers doing their job. It's a traffic initiative. It wasn't a warrant run.”
Last week, the Houston Press looked at HPD's 30 officer-involved shootings in 2015, each summarized in a few sentences on HPD's online database. Forty out of 47 people shot at in those incidents were either Hispanic or black, as were all three men shot this weekend.