Phillip Garcia Jr. was only celebrating a Houston Rockets win with some drinks and grub at a restaurant called Bombshells in southeast Houston — but he didn't make it home after an off-duty cop shot him to death in the parking lot.
That's according to the civil rights lawsuit his parents, Sonia Garcia and Phillip Garcia Sr., are filing against the City of Houston and the officer who killed their son, asking for an unspecified amount of damages. Their attorney, Randall Kallinen, who has tackled various officer-involved-shooting lawsuits and jail-death lawsuits before, claims the officer used unnecessary lethal force and could not have been in fear of his life.
According to the lawsuit, the problems began when a group of men recognized and confronted one of Garcia's friends at the restaurant — Kallinen says the dispute involved one of their wives. Once it started to get heated, two off-duty Houston police officers working a security job kicked both groups out of the restaurant, and the argument only grew more out of hand in the parking lot, Kallinen said. When it appeared the fight might get physical, Garcia retrieved a gun from the car in order to deter any attackers, Kallinen said.
But when a passer-by saw him, the person ran in and told Officer Wesley Blevins that a person in the parking lot had a gun. That's when Blevins rushed out and drew his own gun, the lawsuit states. According to HPD's own account of the incident on its officer-involved shootings database, Blevins only shot Garcia when he ignored verbal commands and pointed the pistol at the officer. Yet according to Kallinen, two eyewitnesses said during his investigation that Blevins never gave any commands, and, within a matter of seconds, shot Garcia four times while Garcia had his hands in the air, the pistol pointed at the sky.
A city spokesperson did not return a request for comment.
"The tough part about this case is that he had a gun in his hand, but a whole bunch of people have guns in Texas," Kallinen said. "A gun by itself does not justify deadly force."
The officer did not face discipline and was no-billed by a grand jury, according to the lawsuit.
As we reported in a feature last year, grand juries have not indicted a police officer in a police shooting in more than a decade. As of November 2013, the Houston Chronicle counted 288 consecutive officer-involved shootings in which officers were cleared by grand juries. And according to Kallinen's data on nearly 400 HPD officer-involved shootings, roughly a quarter involved unarmed people.
Kallinen said he hopes new Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg will advocate for reform of officer-involved shooting investigations and police accountability. He advocated for third-party investigations of officer-involved shootings, as opposed to having HPD's Homicide Division investigate.
"[The public] loses confidence in the police force, and it's no wonder that people are dissatisfied and disheartened when it comes to the investigations, when there are hundreds in a row no-billed by a grand jury," Kallinen said.
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