Texas Trooper Won’t Be Indicted in Border Helicopter Shooting Deaths
Enough time has passed since the incident in which two men were shot dead from a helicopter that it must have seemed safe to close the investigation and take no further action.
Almost eleven months ago, I posted this Page about the shooting. At that time I said, ‘I hope the trooper who chose to shoot loses his job. There is no excuse for this.’ Now I’m not so much determined that the trooper should be punished as that those who created and maintained the policy allowing shooting from a helicopter be held responsible. I know that will never happen. At least the policy has been changed. The case is also under review at the U.S. Department of Justice. There may be an independent investigation.
A grand jury has declined to indict a Texas trooper who fired from a helicopter at a fleeing pickup near the Mexican border last year, killing two Guatemalan immigrants and sparking controversy.
The killings led the Texas Department of Public Safety to bar troopers from shooting at suspects from the sky unless their aircraft is fired upon.
The grand jury heard testimony from witnesses and considered evidence, including a video of the incident taken from the helicopter, according to Rene Guerra, the Hidalgo County district attorney.
“Once you see the video, everybody is able to judge for themselves. There’s nothing hidden in the shooting — you can observe the chase from the helicopter. It is what it is,” Guerra said.
Texas safety officials initially defended the shooting, saying the trooper followed the policy at the time, which allowed officers in helicopters, in cars or on foot to fire on vehicles during pursuits to apprehend suspects, disable vehicles or defend themselves or others.
The policy set Texas apart from other states. In California, for instance, Highway Patrol policy allows troopers to shoot at vehicles only to stop a threat, not to disable a car. CHP officers can’t shoot from a helicopter, a spokeswoman said.
According to the new Texas policy, “a firearms discharge from an aircraft is authorized only when an officer reasonably believes that the suspect has used or is about to use deadly force by use of a deadly weapon against the air crew, ground officers or innocent third parties.”
Under the new policy, “a suspect’s driving behavior including aggressive or reckless driving to evade arrest does not constitute use of a deadly weapon by the suspect.”
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