Police mistook officer's shot as hostile fire during raid, source says
Houston Chronicle, WED 07/22/98, Section: A, Page: 1
By S.K. BARDWELL, Staff A mistaken belief that a Houston police officer had been hit by hostile fire during a drug raid prompted the barrage of gunfire that killed a 22-year-old suspect, an HPD source told the Chronicle on Tuesday.
Pedro Oregon Navarro never fired the handgun found in his apartment after he was shot to death by police last week, the source said.
A shot fired by one of the officers in the raid hit a fellow officer in his bullet-resistant vest and knocked him to the floor. Officers apparently thought the shot had been fired by Oregon , prompting police to open fire on the suspect, the source said.
Police fired more than 30 shots at Oregon . Autopsy findings released Monday showed Oregon was hit by 12 shots, nine of them fired into his back and from above him.
New details of the incident were revealed Tuesday by a police source, who asked to remain unidentified.
Members of the gang task force assigned to the Southwest Patrol Division arrested a man with narcotics in his possession late Saturday, the source said.
That suspect told the officers he bought the narcotics from a man in Oregon 's apartment and offered to help them arrest the man in return for not being arrested himself.
The narcotics suspect knocked on Oregon 's door while the gang task force officers hid outside, the source said. When the door was opened, the officers, all in full HPD uniform, ran inside.
Gang task force members ran after Oregon but found the door to the bedroom he had gone into locked. Officer Lamont E. Tillery kicked the bedroom door open.
When the bedroom door opened, one of the officers shouted that Oregon had a gun. About the same time, the gun held by the officer behind Tillery went off, the bullet striking Tillery and knocking him to the floor.
The other officers, thinking Tillery had been shot by Oregon , opened fire.
Under Texas law, though, it may not matter whether Oregon fired a weapon or not, Harris County District Attorney John B. Holmes Jr. said Tuesday.
Holmes said earlier that the gang task force officers, who have been relieved of duty while the matter is investigated, probably had no legal right to enter Oregon 's home without a warrant.
As Holmes pointed out then, however, while Texas law allows a person to resist unlawful deadly force with deadly force, it does not allow a person to resist a search or arrest by a peace officer, even if the search or arrest is unlawful.
Holmes said he has received many calls and letters, "some of them pretty hateful," from outraged people who apparently did not understand that he was only quoting the law, not expressing his personal view.
"Most of the people are influenced . . . by the fact that the officers made an entry that hindsight tells us was not lawful, in my personal view, and I'm no lightweight when it comes to arrest, search and seizure," Holmes said.
But the law dealing with resistance to unlawful search or arrest was discussed at length by the legislative committee that revised the penal code in 1974, Holmes said.
The committee ultimately decided "that it was preferable to have citizens and cops fighting about the lawfulness of what they do in the courtroom rather than on the street or in the building or in the home, because the citizen is going to lose nine times out of 10," Holmes said.
"I don't know what happened out there," Holmes said. "I can imagine a scenario where they're justified. I can imagine a scenario where they're not.
"What I truly feel in my heart of hearts is these guys had no idea what they were doing," Holmes said.
"One of the things that could be acknowledged here is how smart the police chief's rule is," Holmes added, referring to Police Chief C.O. Bradford's order that all informants used by narcotics or vice officers be registered with the department.
"Narcotics investigation is a specialized kind of police work," Holmes said. "I don't want some burglary and theft detective investigating my killing, and I would prefer not to have patrol officers . . . working narcotics cases.
"That's why I suspect they developed the rule that they did with regards to working informers and that kind of stuff," Holmes said: "It's a good rule and this, I think, points out why it should be followed."
Evidence collected in the case will be presented to a grand jury, Holmes said, adding it probably will be presented to a new panel that will be seated Aug. 1.
About LULAC | Members | Programs | Issues | Events | Publications | Links | Site Map | Home | Email