One of two Arlington officers who used a Taser on a man who caught fire and died released a statement several days after the man’s family filed a lawsuit against the officers and the city of Arlington.
Officer Ebony Jefferson said he accidentally used his Taser on Gabriel Olivas when his fellow officer, Jeremias Guadarrama, fired his Taser at the man.
In July 2017, Olivas doused himself in gasoline and told his wife and son he was going to kill himself. Olivas’ son called the police to the 1600 block of Carla Avenue, and officers quickly went into the back bedroom where family members were yelling for help.
In his statement, Jefferson said he and Officer Caleb Elliot drew their Taser stun guns as they went into the house. Jefferson tried to remove family members from the room as Olivas poured more gasoline on himself.
Elliot sprayed Olivas with pepper spray, which was not effective, Jefferson said. He saw what he believed was a lighter in Olivas’ hand and “believed the suspect was about to set himself and the room on fire,” placing everyone in the room in danger.
Jefferson took his Taser out of the holster, turned it on and pointed it at Olivas. He heard Guadarrama discharge his Taser, and Olivas immediately caught fire, Jefferson said in the statement.
Jefferson said he believes that when Guadarrama discharged his Taser, Jefferson also unintentionally used his because he was startled. He added he does not know what caused Olivas to catch fire.
The lawsuit includes records from an Arlington detective’s investigation into Olivas’ death, including the detective’s notes on an interview with Jefferson. According to the notes, Jefferson told the detective he did not use his Taser on Olivas until the detective pointed out that prongs from two different Tasers were pulled from Olivas’ chest.
“Upon hearing this, (Jefferson) immediately stated that if two Tasers were discharged, then he had to of fired his Taser,” the lawsuit quotes the report as saying.
Olivas was taken to the hospital with 85 percent of his body covered in burns, according to the family’s lawsuit, which was filed in federal court last week. He died several days later.
The family said in the suit that Guadarrama and Jefferson caused Olivas’ death by using their Tasers on him. The family also blamed Arlington’s use-of-force policy for escalating the situation instead of helping Olivas.
According to the suit, Elliot, who did not fire his Taser, had yelled, “If we tase him, he is going to light on fire,” before the other two officers used their Tasers.
A Tarrant County grand jury cleared Guadarrama, Jefferson and Elliot of wrongdoing.
“Arlington Police Department Officers were confronted with a dynamic and challenging incident involving a call where a suicidal subject had poured gasoline on himself and inside the house while holding a lighter in the presence of other innocent family members and officers,” the police department said in a statement Friday. “The officers had few options to try and diffuse the situation and remove the family members to safety. The autopsy revealed the manner and origin of the fire remained undetermined. The department thoroughly reviewed this incident and the case was reviewed by a Tarrant County Grand Jury.”
Jefferson currently works at the Arlington Police Department. Guadarrama left the department in January.