A Tarrant County grand jury has declined to indict the Grapevine police officer who fatally shot an unarmed Mexican immigrant by the side of a Euless freeway in February.
Officer Robert Clark, 33, shot Rubén García Villalpando, 31, on Feb. 20 after pursuing Garcia from the parking lot of a closed Grapevine business.
Jim Lane, an attorney who represented Clark, said the grand jury made the right decision.
“The only two things that soldiers and street cops can rely on is their instincts and their training,” Lane said. “When they don’t follow their instincts and their training, we end up going to that officer’s funeral. It’s always a tragedy when an officer takes a life. No one is ever sure what they could have done better. You have to take the facts as they are presented.”
The officer did not know García was unarmed until afterward, Lane said.
“One shove out in the middle of that traffic, and the officer could have been killed,” Lane said. “Our experts said Clark probably waited too long before using deadly force.”
On Monday, shortly after announcing the grand jury’s decision, the Tarrant County district attorney’s office released a video of the encounter.
It shows García walking slowly toward Clark, with his hands on his head. Clark repeatedly tells García to “get to the back of the car.” As García walks out of the frame of the dash-cam video, gunshots can be heard.
“It has been very frustrating to listen to people mischaracterize this incident while our department honored the request of the Tarrant County district attorney not to release the video until it could be presented to the grand jury,” Grapevine Police Chief Eddie Salame said in a email.
“The dash-cam video tells a very different story from the one the public has been hearing.”
At a news conference at his Dallas office Monday afternoon, Domingo Garcia, an attorney for Garcia’s family, said the video was edited by at least three seconds. The video makes it appear that Rubén García fell beside the officer’s car, but a witness’ video shows him lying in front of the car, Domingo Garcia said.
“Why does the dash cam video not show the actual shooting?” he asked.
Ruben Garcia’s family will sue the city of Grapevine and officer Clark in federal court, accusing them of violating the dead man’s civil rights, Domingo Garcia said.
Also, he said, he has formally requested that the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI conduct an independent investigation into the shooting.
Rubén García, a Mexican immigrant, was legally drunk, his autopsy found.
He did not understand Clark’s profanity-laced, shouted instructions, Domingo Garcia said.
“The penalty for him misinterpreting what the officer is saying is not the death penalty,” Domingo Garcia said.
Monday night, about two dozen protesters stood outside the Grapevine Police Department, calling for Clark to be fired.
“… Indict, convict send those killer cops to jail,” they shouted.
The protest was organized by the Grand Prairie-based Next Generation Action Network.
At the news conference earlier in the day, Martha Romero, Rubén García’s widow, and her brother, Fernando Romero, sobbed.
“I don’t know how I will explain to my children what the grand jury did today,” Martha Romero said.
Police officers are rarely indicted after killing civilians, and Domingo Garcia said he expected the outcome.
“It once again shows there’s a double standard of justice in America,” he said. “You rarely ever see a police officer indicted for killing a black or Mexican person.”
Fernando Romero said he was not surprised either.
“Half of my thought was disappointment because I thought there was plenty of evidence that he [Clark] did wrong, but my other thought was I knew this was going to happen,” he said. “They can do whatever they want in this system.”
Grand jury ‘astute’
The grand jury comprised two white males, three white females, one Hispanic male, one Hispanic female, three black males and two black females.
Larry Moore, chief of the DA’s office criminal division, who led prosecutors’ presentation to the grand jury, said the panel had access to all evidence in the case, which was investigated by Euless police.
Detectives talked to at least 40 witnesses, Euless police have said.
Moore said the panel’s decision was not unanimous but would not reveal the vote. At least nine grand jurors must vote in favor of an indictment before a case is sent to a trial court, according to the DA’s website.
As is the case with all officer-involved shootings, prosecutors did not recommend an outcome to the grand jury, Moore said.
“These grand jurors have taken their responsibility very seriously, and were extremely astute in the questions they asked,” Moore said in a news release. “They understood the weight of their decision and the scrutiny their decision would bear, and they were determined to have every piece connected to their satisfaction before making their judgment.”
He would not go into detail about testimony other than to say witnesses provided context that was not on the video.
Previously, Domingo Garcia had thanked the DA’s office for allowing him to speak to the grand jury and for allowing David Kunkle, a former Arlington and Dallas police chief, to testify at his request.
Garcia said he told the grand jury that Clark had applied to more than one police agency and but the Grapevine department was the only one that showed any interest.
“He is a very troubled man with a very checkered history,” Garcia said.
Police have said García led Clark on a brief chase from a Grapevine business on William D. Tate Avenue until Garcia pulled over on the shoulder of a Texas 121 service road near the Cheek Sparger Road exit. He was shot twice in the chest.
The autopsy found that he had a blood alcohol level of 0.14, nearly twice the legal limit.
Lane described it as a “felony stop” and said officers draw their weapons for such stops. When someone speeds away, the officer will assume that the suspect is armed, he said.
“These are split-second decisions, and most officers are assuming the suspects are armed,” Lane said.
Garcia lived in North Richland Hills with his wife and four children. He was born in Durango, Mexico, and had been a mechanic at Friend Equipment in Lewisville for more than 10 years, relatives said.
The shooting was criticized by the Mexican government and sparked demonstrations in Grapevine with protesters chanting “Hands up don’t shoot!” in reference to the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
Moore said that the DA’s office had been in close contact with the Mexican consulate and expected no negative feedback from the Mexican government or the community.
“We had some concerns at first when we made the decision not to release the video,” Moore said.
But he said his concerns diminished over time. Moore said that Octavio Tripp, the Mexican Consul General, followed the case closely and reviewed the video.
Monica S. Nagy, 817-390-7792
Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752
Grand jury witness list
Officer Robert Clark, Grapevine police
Eric Friend, Ruben García Villapondo’s employer
Detective Edgar Hurtado, Euless police
David Kunkle, former Arlington and Dallas police chief
Samantha Palma, passing motorist
Cmdr. Albert Rodriguez, Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, force analysis expert witness
Cpl. C.P. Sanders, Euless police
Deputy Chief Shaun Short, DFW Airport Department of Public Safety
Chief Charles Sinquemani, DFW Airport Department of Public Safety
Sgt. Alicia Fowler, DFW Airport Department of Public Safety
Sgt. Joseph Hernandez, DFW Airport Department of Public Safety
Lt. Robert Moak, DFW Airport Department of Public Safety
Lt. Eric Starnes, Euless Police
Source: Tarrant County district attorney’s office