Officers too quick to fire, says mother of man killed Monday in Richland Hills
This report has been modified from the way it was originally published in the Star-Telegram and on Star-Telegram.com to correct the number of times Jose Vieira was hit by gunfire.
FORT WORTH -- The mother of a 21-year-old man fatally shot by police Monday morning said she believes that officers were "too trigger-happy" and not justified in using deadly force against her son.
Jose Vieira, a father of a 5-year-old boy who was expecting the birth of a daughter this summer, did not own a gun, did not have any type of mental illness and had not shown any signs of being suicidal, his mother, Irma Velasquez, said Tuesday.
"As far as I know, my son was excited about the birth of his little girl in August," Velasquez said. "He was looking for work. He had a life to live. He would never harm himself or anyone else for that matter."
Fort Worth police officials have said Vieira called 911 about 5 a.m. Monday, stating he was suicidal and armed with a large-caliber gun.
Responding officers spotted Vieira driving a Nissan Pathfinder on Airport Freeway and tried to pull him over. He eventually stopped on a residential street in Richland Hills, where witnesses say he refused to comply with officers' orders to get out of the vehicle and lie on the ground.
On Tuesday, police said two of the four officers opened fire after Vieira emerged partially from the vehicle then lunged back inside for what they believed was a gun. Vieira, who died from a gunshot wound to the chest, was pronounced dead at the scene. He had been struck multiple times from the gunfire of one of the officers.
Whether Vieira had a weapon was still not known Tuesday because the SUV had not been searched, said Lt. Paul Henderson, a police spokesman.
"A search warrant is expected to be executed [this] morning in order to determine if, in fact, Vieira was reaching inside for a gun or weapon," Henderson said.
Velasquez and Vieira's girlfriend, Mina Syharath, insisted that Vieira did not own a gun.
The 911 call
In a recording of Vieira's 911 call, which was released Tuesday afternoon, he first told a Richland Hills dispatcher that he did not have a weapon. But after talking to her for about 30 minutes, he said he had a .44-caliber handgun in his vehicle.
Vieira began by saying that he did not want to die, but that he "just wants to end it" and that he wanted help.
Before the call ended after about 33 minutes, the dispatcher pleaded with Vieira to pull over, but Vieira demanded that the police following him back off.
A Fort Worth dispatcher came on just before the end of the tape, saying that Vieira was being trailed by a helicopter and two patrol units.
"I'm not trying to trick you, I'm just trying to figure out what's going on because you told me you didn't have any weapons," the Richland Hills dispatcher said.
"I know and I lied," Vieira said. "I do have a gun."
Vieira told the dispatcher that he did not plan to use the gun and would hurt someone only if they tried to hurt him. Vieira told the dispatcher that he had been drinking beer since 3 in the afternoon. The dispatcher promised, at Vieira's insistence, that she would send people to help him.
"And don't lie to me," Vieira said.
"I'm not lying to you," the dispatcher replied. "I'm not going to lie to you. You called for help and that's what I'm trying to get you."
Lethal force questioned
Velasquez said she does not believe that officers should have used lethal force against her son until confirming whether he had a weapon.
She said she also doesn't understand why officers didn't use their Tasers instead.
"He never threatened them in any way. According to the 911 call, he threatened to kill himself," Velasquez said.
"That makes no sense to me. If my son's threatening suicide, they're just going to go ahead and do it for him? I think maybe they were just a little too trigger-happy and upset that he didn't pull over right away."
Syharath said she last saw Vieira about 10:30 p.m. Sunday night when he left in her Pathfinder to visit an uncle and cousin in Azle.
She said Vieira, who would have turned 22 on Tuesday, had gone there to discuss plans for a shared birthday party with his uncle, whose birthday is today.
Syharath said a friend talked to Vieira about 3:30 a.m. Monday when he said he was about to leave his uncle's home and go to his mother's Richland Hills residence.
"I don't know what happened between 3:30 and 5 a.m.," Syharath said. "She said that he was just fine."
Syharath and Velasquez said they met with investigators Tuesday.
"They said beer was involved," Velasquez said. "He did drink from time to time but not to the extreme where he would act that way."
Both said they were told little else because of the investigation.
"I just want to see justice prevail," said Velasquez, who added that the family is struggling to raise money to bury her son since he did not have life insurance.
Syharath said she began dating Vieira when she was 14 and he was 16.
"I've been with him for almost seven years," Syharath said. "He was really excited about the baby to come -- his first daughter.
"He was a great father."
Syharath said she has told their son that his father was shot by a police officer and has gone to heaven.
"I don't think he understands," she said. "He just asked me when his daddy's coming back from heaven."
DEANNA BOYD, 817-390-7655
MITCH MITCHELL, 817-390-7752