Authorities in Texas are examining two videos recorded by bystanders that show sheriff’s deputies in Bexar County, Texas, shooting and killing a man.
One four-minute video has been made public by a San Antonio television station that acquired it from the man who recorded it Friday. It is shot from a distance, and it appears that Gilbert Flores has at least one hand in the air (the other cannot be seen) when he is shot.
Police have not released the other video. Bexar County District Attorney Nicholas LaHood told CNN the video is “a better view to make an assessment on what happened. It is a closer view and a better angle.”
The incident comes at a time when law enforcement officers are under scrutiny for how and when they resort to lethal force. The killings of several people by police over the past year have heightened tensions with the communities they serve, especially among minorities.
Michael Thomas said the scrutiny of officer-involved shootings is the reason he recorded the first video on his cell phone from the driver’s seat of his car.
CNN affiliate KSAT broadcast his video, which is disturbing, as it shows Flores being shot.
In it, Flores is shirtless, running in front of a home in San Antonio as the two sheriff’s deputies approach him as they investigate a domestic violence call.
“As the guy and police were going back and forth, the man acted like he was going to run back inside his house and then ran around the cars by the cop car, and the cops started pursuing closer to him,” Thomas told CNN.
The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office has said Flores had a knife and was resisting arrest when deputies approached him.
“He put his hands in the air and then he had his hands up for a few seconds and the cops shot him twice,” Thomas told CNN.
Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau said of the video: “It’s among many pieces of evidence that we are collecting to determine what happened.”
Video shot from a distance, with little audio
The video is shot from a cross street, so it’s difficult to see Flores and impossible to hear the conversation between the officers and the suspect.
Flores steps behind a sheriff’s SUV and cannot be seen at times. The only audio that was captured was that of the gunshots and Thomas’ reaction.
Though it’s clear Flores has one hand up, the other is briefly obscured by a utility pole.
The deputies had their weapons trained on Flores throughout the encounter, Thomas said.
He opened his arms and stepped toward the two deputies before taking a few steps back, Thomas said.
LaHood cautioned the public not to make judgments based on the first video.
The second one, recorded by a neighbor, is “troubling,” he said, but added, “Before we make decisions on what the next step is, we are going to take our time to receive all the evidence.”
Police say he was resisting arrest
Pamerleau said the incident occurred after authorities responded to a domestic disturbance call coming from Flores’ home Friday morning. When they arrived, they found a woman and baby, both of whom appeared to be injured.
The woman had suffered a cut on her head, and the baby also appeared hurt, the sheriff’s office said.
Authorities say Flores resisted arrest and nonlethal force — stun guns and shields — were used to try to subdue him, but those didn’t work, Pamerleau said.
“Certainly what’s in the video is a cause for concern,” Pamerleau said. “But it’s important to let the investigation go through its course so we can ensure a thorough and complete review of all that occurred.”
She said both deputies fired shots after a “lengthy confrontation.”
The sheriff’s office identified the deputies as Greg Vasquez and Robert Sanchez. CNN attempted to contact them late Monday.
Vasquez and Sanchez have been with the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office for more than 10 years, according to Pamerleau. They have been placed on administrative leave.
The Bexar County District Attorney’s Office has joined the investigation, according to KSAT.
Flores had previous run-ins with the law. He was cited for possession of marijuana in 1995, criminal trespassing and aggravated assault in 1999, and aggravated robbery in 2003.
The FBI is involved in the investigation, LaHood said Tuesday.
‘Threats to our deputies’ lives’
The station posted the entire video on its website. “Other than editing for language, the video is the entirety of what we received from Michael Thomas,” it said.
The station told the sheriff’s office about the video and sent it there, but the station did not give any warning that it would post the entire raw video Monday, James Keith, media relations officer for the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office, said.
Now, Keith says, the sheriff’s office is worried about the safety of its deputies in light of the video’s public release.
On Monday, the sheriff’s office tweeted a statement that said “broadcasting a man’s death for $100 sparked threats to our deputies’ lives. Let KSAT know what you think.”
KSAT explained in a post on its website the decision behind showing the video and the discussions station management had with Thomas.
“Before sharing the video with us, Thomas asked for payment. While most viewers share video with us at no charge, we agreed to pay Thomas a $100 licensing fee for the video. It is not uncommon for news organizations to pay for video from freelancers or citizen journalists.”
The station said it was making no judgment about the officers’ actions, but it was obligated to share “information in the public interest.”
When asked about the sheriff’s office tweet, Keith cited the case of Darren Goforth, a deputy who was shot from behind and killed while filling up his car at a gas station.
“After what happened in Harris County, we are not going to take any chances,” Keith said. “Now our deputies are coming to work in civilian clothes because of their concern for safety.”
Hours later, the sheriff’s office sent out a message with the following statement: “In regards to the deputy involved shooting, we’re asking for calm and patience. We are diligently working to complete the investigation so we can move to the next step. We want to get this right for the Flores family, our deputies and our community.”
In an opinion piece, CNN legal analyst Danny Cevallos reminds readers that several things that the video didn’t include will be crucial issues in an investigation. For one, the video doesn’t provide audio of the exchange between the police and Flores.
Any threats of violence would be important to consider, he writes.
More officer cameras
The administrative body in Bexar County, the Commissioners Court, on Tuesday approved a budget that included 185 cameras for the sheriff’s department.
Thirty-four of the units can be used to as a dashboard recorder and a body camera.
Neither deputy involved in the shooting was wearing a body camera.
San Antonio, the second-most populous city in Texas, is in Bexar County.