Houston Police Shoot Man in Back 9 Times in Botched Drug Raid, Killing Him; No Drugs Found
On July 12, members of a Houston police anti-gang task force shot Pedro Oregon Navarro 12 times, killing him, during a warrantless drug raid on his apartment. Police said they opened fire after Oregon pointed a pistol at them. They recovered a weapon from Oregon's bedroom, which tests show was never fired. Police fired a total of 30 shots at Oregon. Members of the task force have been relieved of duty with pay while the incident is being investigated (Lisa Teachey, "HPD officers relieved of duty during raid probe," Houston Chronicle, July 15, 1998, p. 26A).
The family said police continued to fire at their father even after he had collapsed to the floor. An autopsy revealed that 9 of the 12 shots were fired at a downward trajectory. It also showed that Oregon had received a gunshot wound to the head, left shoulder and left hand, and nine wounds to the back. "All the wounds are disturbing," said attorney Paul Nugent, who is representing the Oregon family. Oregon, 23, is survived by a widow and two daughters (S.K. Bardwell, "Police shot man 12 times in raid," Houston Chronicle, July 21, 1998, p. 1A).
A mistaken belief that a fellow officer had been shot during the raid supposedly prompted the barrage of gunfire, according to a Houston Police Department spokesperson. Officer Lamont E. Tillery, 30, was shot during the raid, but ballistics tests revealed that he had been shot by a fellow officer (S.K. Bardwell, "Police mistook officer's shot as hostile fire during raid, source says," Houston Chronicle, July 22, 1998, p. 1A).
Police did not find any drugs in the apartment, and no drugs or alcohol were found in Oregon's body (Stefanie Asin, "No drugs or alcohol found in man slain by officers," Houston Chronicle, July 31, 1998, p. 33A).
Harris County (Houston) District Attorney John B. Holmes Jr. said members of the task force probably had no legal right to enter Oregon's home without a warrant. However, "that doesn't make the shooting a crime," he added, because the law does not allow anyone to resist arrest, even an illegal arrest (Rad Sallee and Jo Ann Zuñiga, "Cops may have had right to shoot," Houston Chronicle, July 17, 1998, p. 1A).
The raid was a product of information from a confidential informant. Houston police policy requires that all informants used by narcotics and vice officers be registered with the department. The source of information was not a registered informant. It was a criminal suspect arrested immediately before the raid on Oregon's home.
In an editorial, the Houston Chronicle said the incident was "questionable as best, criminal at worst" (Editorial, "Serious concerns about HPD drug raid gone bad," Houston Chronicle, July 17, 1998, p. 26A).
On July 22, Rick Dovalina, national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), met with U.S. Justice Department officials to urge them to investigate the incident. "The bottom line is they shot an innocent man in the back after an illegal entry," Dovalina said (Stefanie Asin, "LULAC's leader asks feds to probe shooting," Houston Chronicle, July 24, 1998).
The incident has also inspired protests by local activists. On July 26, protestors led by the Houston based Hispanic activist group, La Resistencia, marched to Oregon's apartment demanding justice for the slain man (Ben DeSoto, "Immigrants rights group calling for justice," Houston Chronicle, July 28, 1998, p. 13A).
On July 28, Houston Mayor Lee Brown said he is concerned about the incident but maintains faith in the police department. "I am very disturbed about the incident of going into someone's home without a search warrant and someone ultimately losing their life," he said. Brown had been the Police Chief in Houston from 1982 to 1990. He was President Clinton's "drug czar" from 1993 to 1995 (Julie Mason, "Brown disturbed by shooting, has faith in HPD," Houston Chronicle, July 29, 1998).
Houston Police Department - Media Relations, 1200 Travis, Houston, TX 77002, Tel: (713) 308-1800, Fax: (713) 308-1813.
Dan Russo - Harris County District Attorney's Office, Civil Rights Division, 201 Fanin, Houston, TX 77002, Tel (713) 755-5915, Fax: (713) 755-7077.
Attorney Paul Nugent - 909 Fanin, Suite 590, Houston, TX 77010, Tel: (713) 655-9000, Fax: (713) 655-1812.