Houston Police Kill Unarmed Man, Allegedly Took Witness' Cellphone When She Tried to Record

On July 9, Houston police fatally shot Rufino Lara. Police are asking media and citizens to hold onto their opinions until the investigation is completed, but in the meantime we do know that two witnesses (one of whom, a 14-year-old boy, didn't know Lara) are disputing police officers' account of the confrontation.

According to the Houston Chronicle: 

Houston Police Department officials said Rufino Lara refused officer J. McGowan's commands in Spanish and English to stop when she spotted him walking away while she was investigating an assault Monday afternoon. He kept one of his hands tucked under his shirt, police said. When he turned around suddenly with his hand still under his shirt, McGowan shot him once, killing him, police said.

Florida Ruvio, a family friend, bumped into Lara on his way back from a liquor store near the 7000 block of Bissonnet near Fondren in southwest Houston. Lara told her that some men were chasing him with a knife and asked her to call police.

When two officers arrived to investigate the assault report, they approached Lara, asking him to stop and put his hands up.

"They were speaking to him in English only," Ruvio said at a news conference

In an all-too-familiar detail, there are also reports that a cellphone with which Ruvio attempted to film the aftermath of the shooting was taken from her. Police have not released the video, if it still exists or if it show anything relevant. However, the theft of the phone provoked harsh criticism from the Texas branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Via Carlos Miller's Photography is Not a Crime, the Texas ACLU's official statement included:

"It's a shame we can't see the video the witness reportedly tried to make," ACLU of Texas Executive Director Terri Burke stated in a press release.

"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. 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."

It's early yet, but the differing accounts are problematic, especially with the accusation that the phone was taken. (The 14-year-old also says he saw Lara with his back against the wall and his hands up).

And in general, it's always particularly disturbing when the person who called for help from police is the one who ends up dead.

A few days ago, a CBS affiliate in Dallas reported that the Texas ACLU is also interested in a SmartPhone app (developed in New Jersey) that helps citizens covertly record police stops, saying it should be be nice and legal in the state, since Texas is a one party-consent state when it comes to recording. (As opposed to, say, Illinois and their two-party consent mandate, which has provoked many a Reason-covered horror story.)

“It appears to be the same basic principle that you can record a conversation in most states in which you’re participating,” explained [Dallas attorney John] Teakell.

What makes this app different from a simple camera phone is that the app disappears from the screen when activated, so that it can’t be switched off by a police officer. The recordings are then stored in an area of the phone that most officers would have trouble finding or deleting. From there, the recordings can be automatically uploaded to a secure ACLU server as a back-up.

Though it's hard to know if this app would have been any use to Rufino Lara or the woman who tried to help document the circumstances of his death, (cops can still break or grab a phone in the middle of recording and such) every little bit of tech helps when one side of has the ability to use legal deadly force. 

Reason on the war on cameras, and ReasonTV on the same, as well as camera and new media in the Kelly Thomas case

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  • Suki||

    Cops grabbing cellphone video is becoming the new dog shooting.

  • niobiumstudio||

    I would agree if they stopped shooting dogs and replaced it with cellphone snatching. But, since they still love shooting dogs, grabbing cellphone video is just...."cellhpone snatching"...not the "new dog shooting".

  • SIV||

    Did this post really go up at 8:00 PM EDT? I guess everyone is either doing something interesting or feeding trolls in the PM Links thread.

  • Suki||

    My SWAG is no.

  • Generic Stranger||

    Seems to be a slow day for Reason. Usually they have three-five articles posted after PM links by this time; so far only one.

  • Surly Chef||

    Noticed this too. I hoped this must have been due to, as Ron Paul says, freedom being popular. However, to my disappointment, Libertopia had not materialized while I was playing Skyrim. There was no Solmalia!!, there are still ROADZ!! and my cigarettes were still taxed.

  • mb||

    many of the cell apps upload the video to a server as it is filmed. I do not if the NJ ACLU app does this. If you have an app that does and allows for deleting you should choose a strong code for your cell phone - at least 8 digits

  • Suki||

    So you have to type in at least 8 digits as the cops grab you. Practice, practice, practice.

  • mb||

    No you have to type in 8 digits to unlock the phone. As the cops grab lock - you lock the phone. It really isn't bad idea anyhow considering the data that is on most phones and the possibility of losing it. A digit code takes 10,000 tries - a brut force attack would take minutes

  • ||

    Been a lot of Houston po po in the news lately unfortunately.

  • Coeus||

    This is right next door to my apartment.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Fuck the pigs.

  • Paul.||

    On July 9, Houston police fatally shot Rufino Lara. Police are asking media and citizens to hold onto their opinions until the investigation is completed

    Is it just me or are the police asking people to "hold onto their opinions" until "investigations are complete" a lot more in the last few years?

    When I was a kid, when someone got shot by police, it was usually a guy with "Born to lose" tattoos on his arm in the middle of a thrill-seeker liquor store holdup that went horribly wrong, taking hostages while screaming, "I ain't goin' back in! You won't take me alive!" Then in the followup interview with the shooting officer, he would mention something about never having even drawn his weapon in his 18 years on the force (a .38 caliber revolver), let alone shoot it.

    Witnesses on the scene would have been grateful for the brave, quick actions of the police officers, all accounts matching the events perfectly.

    Now it's an unarmed citizen gunned down in a hail of bullets whose hand briefly swept below his shoulders while turning around to face the cops who were screaming contradictory orders. Witnesses on the scene provide starkly different accounts than the officers (who don't even dispute the unarmed state of the victim)-- witnesses who have no records, run-ins with the police, and have no discernable reason to lie about the events they witnessed.

    This is concerning, ladies and gentlemen, very concerning.

  • Generic Stranger||

    You have a gift for understatement.

  • Paul.||

    Subtlety is more art than science, I always say.

    Here's some overstatement!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vcxqyp2wOzE

  • Coeus||

    Yeah, they haven't needed drop guns here for awhile. "reaching for his waistband" is like some kind of magic phrase that enchants both I.A. and juries.

  • RBS||

    So, where is dunphy to tell us how this was totally fine because the guy could have had a deadly weapon and police are not paid to take those kinds of risks because they are really just armed enforcers of the law instead of public servants. I'm sure he has some cite to his bullshit LEO "case law journal" as well, because the LEO community is known for their honest interpretations of appellate court decisions...

  • RBS||

    Or Tulpa to inform us that we have a moral obligation to always keep our hands where they can be seen and if you do not obey, and stick your hand in your pocket or shirt and wind up dead it is your own fault for not being a good citizen?

  • sloopyinca||

    So, where is dunphy

    Duh?

    Either that, or Buckaroo Banzai is about to walk back on stage for an encore because his fans in Basel, Switzerland just can't get enough of him and the band.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Stunned at the scene, Ruvio yelled to McGowan that she had killed an innocent person, and McGowan responded that "he had drawn out a gun."

    McGowan then proceeded to tear Lara's shirt open and take off his shoes, said Ruvio. No weapon was found.

    Accusing an amped up lady cop of murder on the spot? Ruvio is lucky McGowan didn't another gun drawn out.

    "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," McClelland said.

    He noted that a Harris County grand jury will also hear evidence in the shooting.

    Unfortunately, the grand jury won't see any video evidence, as the officers at the scene weren't keen on civilians gathering any.

  • Copernicus||

    Theory:

    The police have been instructed to do this shit whenever possible until "we the people" become numb to it. It's already working on me.

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