Madison Ruppert, Contributor
In yet another case of witnesses completely contradicting the official story, the individuals who witnessed the killing of Rufino Lara at the hands of officers of the Houston Police Department disputed just about every single purported fact put forth by the police.
This entire case isn’t all that surprising considering that police in another urban area, New York City, identified people who exercise their right to film police as “professional agitators.”
Furthermore, this is the same department which employs the officers who arrested a woman for holding a sign warning motorists of an upcoming police speed trap.
According to the Houston Police Department, Lara was walking away and refusing to stop and recognize the commands of officer J. McGowan in both English and Spanish. McGowan was investigating an assault, and according to officials from the department, Lara kept one of his hands tucked under his shirt. When Lara turned around suddenly, allegedly with his hands still under his shirt, McGowan shot and killed him.
Now two witnesses have called just about every single aspect of the official story into question.
One witness is family friend Florida Ruvio who happened to bump into Lara while returning from a nearby liquor store in southwest Houston, according to the Houston Chronicle.
According to Ruvio, Lara said that some unknown men were pursuing him with a knife and asked him to call the police.
Two officers arrived to the scene to investigate the reported assault and when police approached Lara and told him to stop and raise his hands, “They were speaking to him in English only,” according to Ruvio.
According to Ruvio, Lara does not speak English and did not stop the first time. However, he did put both hands up against the wall and faced his back to the officers.
Ruvio further contradicts the official story by saying, “He didn’t have his hands in his pocket or his shirt,” adding that she remained with Lara throughout the entire incident.
Ruvio said that when Lara turned around the face the officers, he was shot and killed by McGowan, still with his hands in the air.
When Ruvio yelled at McGowan, saying that she had killed an innocent person, McGowan responded by claiming that “he had drawn out a gun.”
When Ruvio attempted to film what was going on with her cell phone, she said that one of the officers seized it forcibly and told her that she could not record anything.
Another witness to the event was 14-year-old Rigoberto Rubio, who was not a personal friend of Lara.
Rubio was purchasing water from a machine nearby where Lara was standing with both of his hands against the wall.
Unsurprisingly, the Houston Police Department has refused to comment on the allegations leveled against them. The department claimed that there was currently an internal affairs investigation into the shooting of Lara, thereby barring them from commenting on it.
However, Houston Police Department Chief Charles McCelland did release a statement dealing with the incident in a somewhat oblique manner.
“The Houston Police Department places the highest value on the preservation of human life. Police officers have the difficult task of making split-second decisions to keep themselves and others safe on a daily basis,” stated McCelland.
McClelland also stated that a grand jury in Harris County will also be looking over the evidence in the killing of Lara with both the Houston Police Department and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office conducting investigations as well.
“The investigation will be open and transparent, and we ask that the public withhold judgment until all the facts and evidence has been gathered and the investigation is complete,” said McClelland.
Unfortunately, based on historical precedent, I seriously doubt that this investigation will be either open or transparent. Police aren’t all that great at investigating themselves.
Ovide Duncantell, the director of the Black Heritage Society agrees.
“These officers are never ever called to justice,” Duncantell said. “We need a police review board … because somebody we paid and trusted to defend us is killing us.”
Members of the community, Lara’s family and witnesses recently gathered together at a news conference arranged by the Great Houston Coalition for Justice.
One attendee, Lara’s nephew Jose Lara, defended his uncle saying, “He wasn’t a troublemaker. This was cold-blooded murder.”
To be fair, Lara did have a criminal record. However, his record was far from damning considering he had been charged with trespassing and giving false information to a police officer, both misdemeanors.
Personally, I do not think that his record should have any bearing on the manner whatsoever. Instead, I think we should pay attention solely to the facts and the completely contradictory accounts coming from the witnesses.
While the police officers clearly have something to gain from lying about what happened before the trigger was pulled, the witnesses on the other hand, do not.
As Carlos Miller pointed out, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas has spoken out recently, specifically citing the problem of the police preventing the video from being taken.
“It’s a shame we can’t see the video the witness reportedly tried to make,” said ACLU of Texas Executive Director Terri Burke, according to Houston Press.
“Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland has asked for the public to withhold judgment about the shooting. The right of Texans to record police activity in a manner that does not interfere with police work is an important protection against abuses of power by the government,” Burke stated in a press release.
“The behavior of some members of the local police department might be less suspect if officers showed more respect for the Constitution, and, in this instance, the First Amendment,” Burke added.
Keese Smith, a spokesman for the Houston Police Department, commented on the filming of police in general, while refusing to comment directly on this case.
According to Smith, officers are repeatedly informed that “pretty much every action that they take, they should assume that they’re being videotaped. So this isn’t new.”
“Taking photographs of things that are plainly visible from public spaces is a constitutional right — and that includes police and other government officials carrying out their duties,” said Rebecca Robertson, legal director for the ACLU of Texas, in the press release.
Indeed, it is our right and we should exercise it as regularly as possible. Thankfully, there has been at least one victory as of late, such as the judge’s decision in Illinois. One might count the dropping of charges against a man in Florida for videotaping a traffic stop as well, if pressed.
Hopefully there will be some progress in this case and the officers will not only be held accountable for the killing but also their effort to prevent individuals from exercising their rights and potentially recording evidence.
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This article first appeared at End the Lie.