Friday, September 13, 2013

Texas State Trooper Not Indicted Over Helicopter Killings of Two Innocent Men

Texas Department of Public Safety, helicopter, shooting, trooper, DPS, illegal, border, securityA Texas State Trooper in a helicopter shot at a nonviolent suspect and killed two innocent men, and his actions were deemed defensible because the DPS gave him authority to do so.

On Tuesday, a grand jury decided not to indict a Texas trooper who had killed two unarmed Guatemalan immigrants after shooting them from a helicopter last year. Let me say that again, in case it didn't sink in the first time: A police officer in a helicopter shot at a nonviolent suspect and killed two innocent men, and his actions were deemed defensible because the DPS gave him authority to do so.

Before he fell under intense scrutiny, McCraw had expressed no remorse for putting people on the ground in danger while using lethal force against a nonviolent suspect. A few months before the incident, he had told interviewers, "We're really not apologetic about it. We've got an obligation to protect our men and women when we're trying to protect Texas."

But if airborne snipers are protecting Texans, who protects Texans from airborne snipers?

On October 25, 2012, a teenager driving a truck about 250 miles south of San Antonio refused to stop for Texas Parks and Wildlife rangers, who assumed the vehicle was carrying drugs and guns. They called on a DPS helicopter to end the pursuit, and Trooper Miguel Avila began shooting at the truck bed to disable it.

Unfortunately, several Guatemalan immigrants had been laying in the bed of the truck under a blanket. The officer killed two of the men and injured one more. None of the individuals in the truck had drugs or firearms.

If the idea of armed law enforcement agencies firing lethal weapons from aircraft sounds alarming, it should. Prior to the killings of the two Guatemalen men, 29-year-old Marcos Antonio Castro Estrada and 32-year-old Jose Leonardo Coj Culmar, the DPS had shot guns from choppers at least five times simply to disable vehicles that were not posing a direct threat to safety.

For several years, the Texas Department of Public Safety has been the only police force in the nation that allows officers to shoot guns from helicopters. Officers who patrol in helicopters were trained to aim for a car's tires, but in the October killings and previous similar apprehensions, bullet holes were found all over the vehicles. As it turns out, it's difficult to aim a gun from a moving aircraft.

Even after two innocent people were killed, the DPS policy on shooting from aircraft remained unaltered for several months.

In February of this year, DPS changed the policy to prevent airborne officers from shooting at cars simply to disable them. But the language of the new policy may not have prevented the October deaths, because when the park rangers reported the vehicle to DPS, they claimed that the driver and passengers likely had firearms.

The new policy reads, "A firearms discharge from an aircraft is authorized only when an officer reasonably believes that the suspect has used or is about to use deadly force by use of a deadly weapon against the air crew, ground officers or innocent third parties."

Who is giving Texas DPS officers so much more discretionary authority for patrolling and using force than other officers around the nation? The same Steve "There Were Poop Jars I Swear It" McCraw making accusations against protestors without evidence and reinstating an officer who sexually harassed women during a roadside stop.

The recent decision not to indict the trooper involved in the fatal shootings indicates that the Texas DPS' warlike strategies will continue unimpeded. And as long as we have a Texas governor who appoints Texas Public Safety commissioners who refuse to regulate McCraw's policies, we can only expect the department's actions to become more treacherous.

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