MAVERICK COUNTY, Texas – Video from multiple cameras showed Maverick County Sheriff’s deputies tackling a man during a traffic stop near Eagle Pass earlier this month as he asked them to identify themselves.
The footage, recorded Oct. 14 and posted to Facebook, shows deputies conducting the stop in front of a home in the 1000 block of Casales Road, when two deputies moved toward the man and took him to the ground.
The man, who identified himself as Ernesto Flores, also recorded video of the incident on his cell phone.
That footage shows Flores asking for the deputies' names in Spanish before one of them charged at him. A second deputy is seen on video running over to Flores as he is taken to the ground in the front yard of his home.
“He got mad. He just came at me and he took me down against the car,” said Flores, who added that one of the deputies attempted to pepper spray him during the altercation.
Flores said he came outside his home and began recording on his cell phone after being told that his sister and her boyfriend were being arrested.
After deputies handcuffed Flores' sister and her boyfriend, the driver of the vehicle they were attempting to pull over, Flores moved to the front of a MCSO patrol vehicle and began asking for the deputies' names, the footage shows.
“It was excessive. They just went straight at him,” said Norma Jimenez, a family friend with a background in law enforcement.
“Just an automatic reaction and they just took him down. And I think it was very wrong,” said Jimenez.
Flores said deputies kept him in handcuffs for a few minutes before releasing him without criminally charging him.
Pictures taken of Flores after the incident show visible injuries to his back.
“They were both on top of me. I had my arm like this,” said Flores, as he demonstrated covering his eyes with his arm.
Flores said pepper spray fired by one deputy hit him in the side of his head, but that a small amount made it into his eyes during the ensuing struggle.
Witnesses said Flores' sister and her boyfriend were also eventually released without being criminally charged and that the boyfriend was instead given a traffic citation.
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees people the right to record members of law enforcement in public, as long as they are not interfering and are standing a safe distance away from the scene. These rights have been affirmed by multiple federal appeals courts.
A Maverick County Sheriff’s official this month provided the KSAT 12 Defenders the case number associated with the use of force incident, before falsely claiming that the agency did not have to release its footage of the confrontation.
Release of body-worn camera footage in Texas is governed by the state’s occupations code.
An agency can request to withhold footage if it is part of a pending criminal investigation or if the video pertains to a case that did not result in a conviction or deferred adjudication for any of the people shown in it.
It must, however, request a ruling from the Texas Attorney General to do so.
Officials with the Maverick County Sheriff’s Office have so far not responded to requests from the Defenders for a copy of the footage or a copy of the incident report.
State law and decades of legal case precedence require Texas law enforcement agencies to release the “basic information” of criminal cases, even while they are pending.
Jimenez said MCSO officials told her two deputies were wearing body-worn cameras during the incident with Flores.
Jimenez and Flores said they were part of a group that was allowed to watch MCSO’s footage on Oct. 19, but that the recordings stopped around the time deputies approached Flores.
Jimenez and Flores both said the limited law enforcement footage does not do anything to change their opinion that what happened was excessive force on the part of both deputies.
“They went from zero to 100 in two seconds and that’s not right,” said Jimenez.
Jimenez said MCSO officials have so far defended the actions of the deputies.
Maverick County Sheriff Tom Schmerber did not respond to emails, calls and in-person attempts to contact him for this story.
Flores said he plans to file a formal complaint against the deputies.