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11-17-2012, 07:02 PM #1
TX - Officials: Video shows tarp hid 2 killed by DPS
By Lynn Brezosky
Updated 8:34 a.m., Saturday, November 17, 2012
BROWNSVILLE — A Department of Public Safety video of an airborne sniper shooting that left two Guatemalan immigrants dead backs up DPS statements that the immigrants were not visible to troopers, according to state lawmakers granted requests to view the footage.
State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said the clip, which he viewed in his Capitol office Thursday, contradicts reports by the Guatemalan Consulate that a covering concealing the immigrants in the back of the truck had blown off, exposing them to the trooper firing from a DPS helicopter.
“It was very clear from the video that there was a chase taking place with a pickup traveling at up to 80 miles per hour,” he said Friday, calling the quality of the footage “excellent.” “There was a tarp covering the back of the pickup and at no time during the chase did the tarp come off or expose any immigrants.”
Still, state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, who Monday viewed the video along with two other Democratic representatives, said the incident revealed a troubling policy that allows airborne sharpshooters to disable vehicles during pursuits.
“While I understand why the mistake was made, it would not probably meet the standard required for probable cause to search a house,” he said. “But they were shooting into a truck ... we have to do a better job of defining when it is acceptable and appropriate to be shooting at a moving vehicle from another moving vehicle.”
The DPS so far has denied media requests to release the video publicly, saying it's seeking a state attorney general's ruling as to whether the information is exempted from public disclosure.
The San Antonio Express-News resubmitted its request Friday.
According to Hinojosa, the video also shows there were civilian trucks and cars on the gravel road that had to dodge the Oct. 25 chase in a rural area north of La Joya, part of his senatorial district.
“You can hear communication among the officers,” he said. “You could tell they were not aware that any people were in the back of the truck; they thought it was a drug load. You could tell that they were surprised and shocked that people (started) jumping out once the pickup came to a complete stop.”
According to official reports, Texas Parks and Wildlife game wardens initiated the 14-mile pursuit and called for DPS assistance when the driver of the pickup refused to stop.
In dispatch audio from the chase, an officer is heard saying that he is going to try to take out a tire.
Two Guatemalans died after being struck by bullets. Seven Guatemalans who also were in the truck have been detained. A warrant is out for the suspected driver, a juvenile who's a Mexican citizen and was mistakenly released from custody.
Alba Caceres, the Guatemalan consul in McAllen, said the surviving Guatemalans told her the covering had blown off enough that the officers in the helicopter could see them.
The trooper, identified as Miguel Avila, is a more than 10-year veteran of the force who during the past two years completed dozens of hours of training in aircraft operations.
The shooting has brought national attention to a DPS policy that allows shooting to disable vehicles.
Civil rights groups Nov. 1 staged a protest to decry the policy as part of a trend that has led to more than a dozen deaths of non-U.S. citizens as a result of border-area law enforcement.
A Hidalgo County grand jury is investigating, and DPS Director Steven McCraw on Nov. 2 invited the Justice Department and FBI to likewise conduct probes.
Hinojosa anticipates a legislative review of DPS policies. But Sid Miller, chairman of the Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee overseeing DPS, said a review is unnecessary.
Miller said he felt the troopers acted properly, especially after DPS said the chase was nearing schools.
“There's no need for a hearing,” Miller said Friday. “In this case it was definitely warranted. We don't go around willy-nilly shooting people, but the litmus test is if you're endangering the lives of other people, we will shoot you.”
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