HOUSTON -- Four Houston police officers involved in the fatal shooting of a man who had a history of mental illness and appeared to have been on his knees before he was killed have been fired, the police union announced Thursday.
Union leaders denounced the firings, saying the officers followed their training and tried to de-escalate the situation but were forced to shoot 27-year-old Nicolas Chavez in April when he pointed a stun gun at them.
“It was clear ... these officers did not want to shoot Mr. Chavez and did everything in their power not to,” said union president Joe Gamaldi.
Houston police declined to confirm the firings but said Police Chief Art Acevedo and Mayor Sylvester Turner were scheduled to hold a news conference Thursday afternoon to discuss the shooting.
Officials have not released the names of the four officers who the union says were fired.
Authorities were expected to release body camera footage from the shooting later Thursday. Police union officials said it would support their claims that the shooting was justified.
The shooting on April 21 followed a 15-minute confrontation with police. Officers were responding to a call about a possibly suicidal man who was running in and out of traffic.
Chavez’s family has said he had a history of mental illness.
Cellphone video taken by a bystander appears to show Chavez on his knees just before he was fatally shot.
Gamaldi said officers had used every non-lethal option available to them, including a stun gun and bean bag rounds, to subdue Chavez, but that he refused to surrender. Police said Chavez also had a piece of metal in his hand and had picked up a stun gun that an officer had dropped and pointed it at officers just before he was killed.
“These officers were distraught over having to take a life out there,” said Doug Griffith, the union’s first vice president.
The shooting was found to be justified by the city’s independent police oversight board, Griffith said.
A month earlier, George Floyd died in Minneapolis after an officer pressed his knee into his neck for nearly eight minutes. Floyd's death sparked protests worldwide, including in Floyd’s hometown of Houston, against racial injustice and police brutality.
The police union suggested the firings were the result of political pressure following the marches for police reform.
Activists in Houston called on Acevedo to release body camera footage from Chavez’s shooting. Chavez’s father also called for any footage related to the shooting to be released, but his widow urged that it remain under wraps, saying the bystander’s video was too explicit.
Chavez’s death was the first of six fatal shootings involving Houston police over several weeks in April and May.
His shooting is still being investigated by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office and was set to later be presented to a grand jury.
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