In an about-face, Grapevine police said Thursday that they will not release dash-cam video in the case of an officer who fatally shot a Mexican national Feb. 20.
The video was expected to be released to the public by the end of the week. The family of the slain man believes that it shows the officer’s actions were wrong when he shot the unarmed Ruben García Villalpando, 31, twice in the chest.
Police said the Tarrant County district attorney’s office told them Thursday afternoon not to release the video.
García was shot on the Texas 121 service road in Euless by officer Robert Clark after a brief car chase.
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Police have said that García got out of his vehicle and walked toward Clark even though the officer repeatedly told him to stop.
“They do not want us to release that video due to the fact that it’s evidence in a criminal investigation,” said Sgt. Robert Eberling, a Grapevine police spokesman.
The district attorney’s office could not be reached for comment. Eberling said the chief prosecuting attorney said in a statement: “Due process requires that evidence not be released to the public while an investigation is ongoing; therefore, the Criminal District Attorney’s Office requests that in this case, as in all cases, no evidence be released to the public while the investigation is pending.”
Because the shooting happened in Euless, that city’s Police Department is handling the criminal investigation and will turn its findings over to the district attorney’s office. Grapevine police are handling the administrative aspect.
As part of standard protocol, a Tarrant County grand jury will review the case.
The shooting has drawn much criticism from the community and even the Mexican government. More than 200 people showed up at City Hall on Tuesday evening in protest, carrying signs that read, “Are you going to kill me?” and “Justice 4 Ruben.”
Grapevine City Manager Bruno Rumbelow could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.
Euless police Lt. Eric Starnes said he agrees with the district attorney’s statement.
“You have poisoned the entire jury pool when this stuff starts getting released. If all this gets released, where you need impartial fact-finders, they have been poisoned by this and all the media hype,” Starnes said.
He said that the Euless Police Department’s share of the investigation will be complete early next week and that key reports, including the cause of death from the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office, are pending.
Also, information submitted to Integrated Forensic Laboratories in Bedford will help develop an estimate of how close the two men were at the time of the shooting. Part of that report has to be completed by the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth.
Euless police have interviewed 24 witnesses and have two more scheduled soon.
García’s brother-in-law Fernando Romero, who saw the video, was surprised when the Star-Telegram told him that the dash-cam footage would not be released.
Grapevine police previously said they would release it to the media by the end of the week.
In a letter released Thursday, Grapevine police wrote:
“Members of the media have also been diligent in reporting some of the possible explanations for Mr. Villalpando’s actions on the night of February 20th, including a previous high-speed chase and a prior arrest for DWI, and a fear that he would be deported. Officer Clark had no way of knowing Mr. Villalpando’s nationality at the time the traffic stop was initiated and it may not have been evident on a highway in the late evening.”
But Domingo García of Dallas, the family’s attorney, said the Grapevine Police Department is finding “excuses to hide the truth.”
“Misinformation and failure to release the tape show the clear intent to hide the real truth from the public. If a regular citizen had shot a unarmed person, that person would be arrested and be in jail pending a grand jury determination. Why is Mr. Clark not being treated the same way?”
Monica S. Nagy, 817-390-7792