Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo has undergone fire from the public as well as media for not releasing body cam footage of the seven officer-involved shootings that have occurred in Houston since April 21, six of which were deadly.
In a press conference Saturday, Acevedo along with Mayor Sylvester Turner and the family members of two men who were killed by officers, Nicholas Chavez and Adrian Medearis, and the family members of 80-year-old Rosalie Cook who was stabbed on May 16 in a Walgreen's parking lot, her alleged assailant, Randy Lewis, later shot by police, each announced they did not want footage of those incidents released to the public.
When asked if family members did wish the footage to be released, Acevedo and Turner both said it then depended on the nature of the footage. Turner announced that in the name of transparency in the next month a citizen-driven task force on police reform selected by city council members and himself would convene to set up criteria of when sensitive footage can be released. When assembled, he will give the task force a 90-day turnaround time for recommendations.
Turner says his motives are not to dictate, but to listen and receive recommendations from citizens. "We all want to do better," he said. Turner also said the City Council committee on public safety and homeland security are moving forward on the issue and will start discussing it the week of June 15.
Acevedo maintains three reasons why he doesn't want to release footage of officer-involved shootings. The first being the possibility that in the event of a criminal trial, because the public had seen a snapshot of the event, it might cause a change of venue and a jury from a community not as diverse as Houston.
The graphic nature of these killings is disturbing and out of respect of the victims and their families it should not be made available to the public, he said.
And finally, because an investigation done by the HPD, FBI and the Houston District Attorney's Office might still be underway. This is true in the case of Nicholas Chavez, whose final moments were filmed from a bystander's cell phone of him being shot by several officers while on his knees April 21.
Chavez's wife Jessica, who was emotional and unable to speak at the podium, was helped by Turner and Acevedo to relay that her two young daughters had already seen media coverage of their father and that she wished the footage to not be released.
Audrick Medearis, brother of Houston gospel singer Adrian Medearis who was shot and killed after a physical dispute on May 8 with an officer who tried to arrest him after Medearis had shown signs of intoxication, had originally demanded HPD release footage of the incident. Saturday, he announced that in order to protect his family and his brothers reputation, he did not wish the footage to be released.
Regarding the incident with Medearis, Acevedo has repeatedly stated that, the conduct of Medearis was not consistent with the man people knew and that, "The way his life ended in a violent struggle with law enforcement certainly doesn't define his entire life."
Chuck Cook, the son of Rosalie Cook who was stabbed and robbed in a Walgreen's parking lot and later died, also did not want footage released, but rather wished to celebrate her legacy by supporting the police and affecting change regarding the release from prison of those with arrests, convictions, and a history of mental health issues. As reported by the Houston Chronicle, her assailant Randy Lewis, who was later shot by an officer, had a history of 60 arrests, nine felony charges, and had been released two weeks earlier from a psychiatric hospital.
Acevedo mentioned that the family of Joe Castillanos, who was not present, also requested footage not be released. Castillanos was shot on May 25 when he raised a semi-automatic handgun at officers who had repeatedly asked him to put down the weapon according to a HPD press release. HPD officers had responded to a phone call from his wife describing him as armed, highly emotional, and had just discharged his weapon.
Nikia Emmett, the person closest to Rayschard Charles, who was shot by an officer on May 14 when he pulled a Daisy Powerline 340 Air Pistol BB gun from his hoodie, has yet to visit the station to see footage, Acevedo says. Regarding Christopher Aguirre, who was shot on April 27, Acevedo says there was only helicopter footage and that HPD has been unable to get a hold of the family.
The past six deadly officer-involved shootings have been situations in which de-escalation and non-lethal methods were used before service pistols. In the six months that a cadet spends at the Houston Police Academy and the 12 to 16 weeks spent afterward in a field training officer program, Acevedo was asked if in that time cadets train to use all of these skills together in unique situations, as they happen in the field.
"Absolutely, when there are available resources, that's why we have folks to deploy less lethal methods. I think when people look at the training we've been doing in terms of de-escalation, in terms of appropriate use of force, in terms of our tactics, in terms of our demand and control in a dynamic situation, I think once the community see's it." Acevedo next announced they are about to receive the keys of a soon to be unveiled tactical village that will aid considerably in officer training.
When asked if officers were trained to shoot to disarm or shoot to kill, he said they are trained to shoot at the center of the mass, and that sometimes given the movement of a victim, a shot doesn't hit its intended mark.
Acevedo stated that there are thousands of good outcomes using minimal force that aren't highlighted in between the bad outcomes that are. He hoped to release more of these incidents to the public in an effort to build trust. Acevedo also stated that under the Obama and Trump administrations, the HPD is a learning site for crisis intervention training as well as community policing.
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