Arlington neighborhood meeting hopes to calm tensions after shooting

ARLINGTON -- Amber Chaco wants people to know that her neighborhood is safe.

That's why she will be front and center for a special meeting Wednesday to discuss gang activity. Tensions flared recently in Chaco's southeast Arlington neighborhood after the fatal shooting of an 18-year-old high school student by an off-duty Houston police officer two weeks ago. Mansfield Summit High School student Clavonta Reynolds was shot after he repeatedly ignored calls from the officer to drop a gun.

"I hope that we can calm fears, reassure people that everything is safe," said Chaco, who lives on Juniper Street, near where the street fight occurred that resulted in Reynold's death.

Arlington City Councilman Robert Rivera, whose District 3 includes the Chaco's neighborhood, called the meeting, at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Williams Elementary School. He and others, including Arlington police, hope to open communication and dispel some Internet rumors.

"I want to make sure there is an open communications between the residents and the city and for the residents to feel like they have a hand in what is being done," Rivera said..

Tensions mount

In the days after Reynolds' death, tensions spiked in Chaco's neighborhood, partially because of the unusual circumstances of the April 19 shooting. Police said a fight broke out among several girls at Juniper Drive and Winterberry Court that also involved people who authorities said have gang ties. Houston police officer Rafael Baez, who was in Arlington visiting relatives, came upon the fight after running down the street to get the license plate number of a vehicle that had sideswiped a car in front of the home where he was staying.

Baez warned those who were fighting that he was a police officer. Then, when he saw Reynolds pulling a gun from the waistband of his pants, Baez pulled his gun and fired. Reynolds died at a hospital, and two others were treated for nonlife-threatening injuries.

An investigation of the shooting continues. Fort Worth lawyer Lesa Pamplin, a spokeswoman for the Reynolds family, has declined to discuss the situation other than to say that once the department concludes its investigation, she and the family will review the findings.

Yet the drama in the neighborhood didn't end with Reynolds' burial in Mississippi.

It further intensified days later after four people were arrested in the 800 block of Gillon Drive -- the neighborhood where Reynolds lived -- after an April 22 memorial service for the teen, sparking accusations that police have too much presence in the area.

After the service, witnesses said that cars were zigzagging through the 800 block of Gillon Drive and that people were hanging out of the vehicle's windows. Police, in the area at the Reynolds' family's request for protection, arrested four people, three on reckless driving charges and another for not carrying identification.

But the scene deteriorated to the point that other officers had to be called in, said Tiara Richard, an Arlington police spokeswoman.

"People in that neighborhood were also concerned about the activity taking place," Richard said. "We had some police presence in the community to provide some calm. Tensions were high."

The reckless driving charges were dropped.

Richard said the department is also investigating a complaint that was filed last week against the police stemming from the arrests. Richard said a witness filed a report saying there were too many police officers at the scene.

Last week, someone posted videos of the arrests on YouTube that show some people yelling obscenities and racial slurs at the officers

"We want to know what happened and get all the information about what occurred out there," she said.

Cyberspace outreach

Rumors about the shooting, and the reckless driving arrests, have been spread like a virus by young people through text messaging and social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. One rumor had Baez standing over Reynolds and continually firing his gun into his body.

The Arlington police went to cyberspace to fight back. On the department's Facebook page, which has more than 1,600 fans, Richards wrote that, based on physical evidence, Baez was not standing over Reynolds when the shooting occurred.

Arlington police also said Baez said he "saw the 18-year-old pulling the gun out of the waistband of his pants." As a result, the officer fired his weapon, Richard wrote.

She also wants the public to know that the first officer on the scene provided medical attention to Reynolds, and that this is the first shooting of Baez's 17-year career with the Houston Police Department.

"We have made an effort to use social network sites ourselves to get the accurate, correct information out," Richard said. "We want to know what happened and get all the information about what occurred out there" because many are not using traditional sources to get their news.

Regaining control

Once the police investigation is completed, the case will be given to the Tarrant County district attorney's office and a grand jury could determine whether charges should be filed against Baez, Richard said. Houston police officials have said they will conduct their own investigation regarding Baez's actions once Arlington's is complete.

Chaco says she does not feel unsafe on her street or in her subdivision, the Villages of Fairfield, where she and her husband have lived for six years.

She said that she feels lucky to live in an area where she knows all her neighbors and that everyone helps one another.

She also said her neighborhood does not have an unusually high police presence.

"My husband works at home all day," she said. "I would have heard from him if there were any sort of harassment going on."

Rivera said gang activity is "unacceptable and requires everyone's attention."

He touted Arlington police's proactive gang enforcement unit as one of the reasons why gang-related shootings have gone from 63 in 2008, to 47 in 2009, and nine this year.

"Although highlighted by the recent shooting, [gang activity] is an issue that has been addressed for several years and will continue to be addressed until it is eliminated from Arlington," Rivera said.

ELIZABETH ZAVALA, 817-390-7418