HOUSTON - After shooting Nicholas Chavez nearly two dozen times in 2020, four police officers have their jobs back. Each had been fired by then-Chief of Police, Art Acevedo, who claimed they were not justified in their lethal use of force. Turns out, he didn’t have what he needed to back it up.
"Officers in a lot of departments have Civil Service Protections," explains Houston attorney Charles Adams, a former police officer himself. "A whole array of government employees have it to prevent people from suffering political consequences for engaging in their ministerial duties."
BACKGROUND: Houston police officers fired for Nicolas Chavez shooting reinstated; will receive full back pay
The officers in this case were responding to a call about a man running in traffic. Family of Chavez claim he was having a mental health crisis. Body camera footage released from the case shows Chavez reach for a used Taser and begin pulling it toward him by the cords when police open fire.
Amid ensuing outrage, then-Chief Acevedo expressed concern that the officers could not be trusted to safely protect the community. This week Troy Finner, the new Chief of Police for Houston, says an arbitrator ruled the city failed to prove enough evidence that the shots were unjustified.
"If every police officer could be fired every time you had a new mayor, or new City Council, that would make officers hesitant to enforce the law--if it might upset an elected official," explains Adams. He says the law creates a protocol on when and how you can fire someone and a process by which a firing can be challenged through an arbitration process.
MORE DETAILS: Four HPD officers fired following deadly April 2020 shooting of Nicolas Chavez
Finner confirmed HPD would honor the arbitrators ruling to give the officers back their jobs, and back-pay.
The arbitrators decision is final. "It’s the end of the road for this termination," explains Adams. "That doesn’t mean they permanently get their jobs, and doesn’t mean there can’t be career consequence of re-assigning them to other things if the Chief thinks he hast to take steps to protect the public from these officers."
As for whether these officers can effectively serve their community going forward, Adams says the case did not garner enough publicity for the officers to become household names and thus be targets, but says the officers may struggle with, "a lot of bitterness for the officers who felt they didn’t do anything wrong and lost their job as a result.
Also, the guilt of killing someone; even if it was justified in their minds. It’s going to be difficult for the officers and it’s going to be difficult for the new chief who has to decide where to place these officers."
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As for Acevedo, the law establishes no consequences for his choice being reversed. "You could make a tort claim like defamation outside of this process," Adams says, "but there’s no personal judgment against the Chief or any administrator. The consequence for us taxpayers will be all of the back pay that all of these officers are entitled to when they didn’t work for those 16 months."
Family claims Chavez was suffering a mental health crisis when police were called. "It’s a bad situation, unfortunate situation, and what we need to take away is we need more frontline mental health care and de-escalation training practices," says Adams.