Fatal Texas DPS chopper shooting will go to grand jury

Due to pending investigations, agency issues limited response

Published On: Nov 15 2012 09:40:39 PM CST   Updated On: Nov 16 2012 04:01:46 AM CST
EDINBURG, Texas -

Last month’s fatal shooting of two Guatemalan immigrants from a DPS helicopter will go before a grand jury probably after the first of the year after the Texas Rangers have finished their investigation, said Rene Guerra, Hidalgo County District Attorney.

Sources familiar with the case have said it may be the trooper involved will not be indicted, then again it’s also possible he may face charges of involuntary manslaughter or negligent homicide.

The Texas Department of Public Safety also has requested the FBI and the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice look into the incident.

Because of those pending investigations, DPS director Steve McCraw has said, “Jumping to final conclusions without knowing all the facts and circumstances is not only counterproductive, but it’s irresponsible.”

Guerra would not speculate whether the shooting Oct. 25 near La Joya was justified, but he said the officer apparently did not have a secure shot at the fleeing vehicle below.

“The buffeting of the rotors, the wind currents, the speed of the helicopter and the vehicle, there were too many variables,” Guerra said.

The district attorney who was shown the aerial video of the incident by Texas Rangers, said the immigrants were not visible because they were covered in the back of a pick-up driven by a 14-year-old suspect.

“The blanket or whatever was flapping a little, but you could not see the people,” Guerra said.

An earlier statement issued by DPS said the officer chose to stop the pickup by trying to shoot out its tires because it was “speeding recklessly” toward three schools, “posing an immediate threat to the school children and motoring public.”

The agency said it was thought at the time that the truck was transporting a drug load.

Tom Vinger, DPS spokesman, said officers are obligated to take appropriate action when the public is endangered.

“However, the department recognizes its responsibility to constantly evaluate policies, procedures and training,” Vinger said. “Such an evaluation of all policies related to this incident is on-going.”

Vinger also said shots have been fired “infrequently” from DPS helicopters during other pursuits, but there were no injuries.

He said no prior authorization is needed to open fire.

Vinger said, “Officers on the scene are the only individuals to evaluate the circumstances they confront, then determine whether force is justified, and if so, what level of force.”

For a list of recent stories Jessie Degollado has done, click here.