Cops may have
had right to shoot
DA speaks about deadly home raid
Houston Chronicle, FRI 07/17/98, Section: A, Page: 1, By RAD SALLEE, JO ANN ZUNIGA, S.K. BARDWELL, Staff
Harris County District Attorney John B. Holmes Jr. said Thursday that the six Houston police officers involved in a Sunday raid in which a man was killed could have been within their rights to shoot him - even if they had no right to be in his home.
"I don't know of any authority at this point that gave them the right to be in that residence," Holmes said. "But that doesn't make the shooting a crime."
The six suspended officers, assigned to the gang task force at the Southwest patrol division, reportedly fired about 30 shots after breaking into Pedro Oregon Navarro 's apartment at 6711 Atwell at 1:30 a.m. Sunday in southwest Houston.
Relatives of Oregon , 23, who died from multiple bullet wounds, have retained attorney Paul Nugent to investigate his death.
Nugent said family members told him that even after Oregon was shot, the officers tried to bully them into saying he had been dealing drugs. He said they had denied it.
Police acknowledged that no drugs were found in the apartment.
"Pedro was a father, soccer player and landscape worker," Nugent said. "What we have here is a good kid from a good family."
Holmes said that because the law does not allow anyone to resist an arrest, even an illegal one, officers had a right to use deadly force against Oregon if he threatened them. A pistol was found at the scene, but police have not yet said if it had been fired.
"They do not have to sit still for a citizen pointing a firearm at them, even if they entered unlawfully," Holmes said.
"They were - every one of them - in uniform," he said. "There should not be any reasonable idea in your mind that you are being the victim of a kick burglary."
Investigators removed pieces of carpet to be tested to determine
whether bullets had struck the floor where Oregon 's body lay.
"If they continued to fire when there was no need, it would be murder," Holmes said.
Holmes said Texas law at one time had recognized a person's right to resist an unlawful arrest. But since the mid-1970s, the law had required that everyone submit to arrest, even in their homes.
The only exception, Holmes said, is the right to defend yourself against unreasonable force, such as being beaten.
Holmes said his investigation is continuing, along with those of the Police Department's homicide and internal affairs divisions.
Holmes said the pistol had been traced to its initial purchaser, whom he would not identify, except to say it was not Oregon .
"Further investigation has to be done," Holmes said. He said there is no reason to think it was placed at the scene by police to justify the shooting.
While the incident is being investigated, six of the nine officers present at the incident have been suspended with pay: Lamont E. Tillery, 30, David R. Barrera, 28, Pete A. Herrada, 28, David Perkins, 30, James R. Willis, 28, and Sgt. Darrell H. Strouse, 34.
A bullet fired by another officer hit Tillery in the shoulder, but his safety vest prevented serious injury.
The officers, who had no search or arrest warrant, have told investigators they raided the place after a confidential informant told them he had witnessed a drug transaction there.
A source told the Chronicle that the tipster was not registered with HPD, as is required of all police informants. Holmes said the tipster had just been arrested and was trying to "make a deal" with officers.
Holmes said that violates the policy of his office, and any such deal would not be honored by prosecutors and would not stand up in court.
Even if a reliable informant had seen drugs sold in the house, Holmes said, officers would have to get a warrant from a judge before breaking in.
Although there are some circumstances that justify warrantless entry - hot pursuit, for instance - Holmes said he knows of none that applies in this case.
"There are damn few exceptions to searching someone's private residence," he said.
"If the informant got in and was wired (with a recording device) and the officers heard someone say `I'm gonna blow you away,' then they could go in," Holmes said.
Oregon 's mother, Claudia Navarro , and his sister, Susana, identified his body Thursday at the Harris County Medical Examiner's office. It will be on view at Claire Brothers Funeral Home and buried after a Sunday service at St. Matthews Episcopal Church.
"It's been a disaster," Claudia Navarro said at the southwest apartment where the raid took place. Oregon 's blood stained the gray blanket in his bedroom.
Nugent, sweeping his hand across the small living room, said, "Does this look like the apartment of a drug dealer?"
Nugent said the family contacted his firm - Foreman, DeGeurin, Gerger & Nugent - "because they were being besieged by police."
He added, "They thought they were being treated unfairly and were being bullied."
He conceded that Oregon may have had the weapon, for self-protection.
"But there is nothing wrong in having a gun in your home. There is a legal process in America even for police officers. You don't just barge in and start shooting people," Nugent said.
Six bullet holes are readily visible in Oregon 's bedroom wall. The bullets apparently entered the next-door apartment's bedroom, which happened to be vacant.
"He had been working all week in Austin on a landscaping job and had just come in on Friday. He was planning to attend a soccer game on Sunday," Nugent said after speaking to Oregon 's co-workers at Ryan Landscaping.
Also in the apartment at the time of the raid, were Oregon 's brother, Rogelio, and a brother-in-law, Nugent said.
Mexican Consul General Manuel Perez Cardenas said he has discussed the shooting with Police Chief C.O. Bradford because the family is from Mexico. Perez said he is satisfied that the investigation will be thorough.
Perez said his government probably will send a "diplomatic note" to U.S. officials in Washington, D.C., noting the Mexican government's interest in the case.
"In this type of incident, there are two sides," Cardenas said: "The human, or family, side, and the legal - not political - legal, side."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gerald Doyle, a prosecutor in the Civil Rights section, said the Department of Justice is not investigating the matter.
"Our normal practice is to monitor the state investigation civil rights, if the state is proceeding - and they are," said Doyle. "Based upon the results of their investigation we will either proceed on our own, or rely on what the state does."
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