Video: Suspect shot to death by Texas cop in jail struggle
Suspect was arrested after attacking an off-duty officer and staff at a medical center, where he was taken after exhibiting bizarre behavior
By Daniel Borunda
El Paso Times
EL PASO, Texas — An El Paso police officer pulled his Taser stun gun after he drew his handgun and fatally shot a handcuffed prisoner at the Downtown Jail last year, according to security camera footage released Monday by the city of El Paso.
The video of the March 8, 2013, shooting death of bodybuilder Daniel Saenz was released after the Texas Attorney General's Office ordered the city to comply with an open-records request made by the El Paso Times in February. The video was requested after a in the shooting.
Jim Jopling, a lawyer with the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT) representing Flores, said in a statement that the group believes the grand jury cleared Flores because of "the totality of the circumstances, which include the long sequence of events that came before the shooting itself."
NOTE: Shooting occurs around 18:30 and 33:00 in the video.
Saenz, 37, had been arrested that day on assault charges after allegedly attacking an off-duty police officer and staff at Del Sol Medical Center, where he had been taken after he was found exhibiting bizarre behavior at an Alberstons supermarket on Yarbrough Drive.
The jail video released Monday starts with Saenz shirtless, handcuffed behind his back and sliding sitting on the floor as he is dragged by Flores and an unnamed prisoner transport guard.
Police officials had said that Saenz was being taken from the jail to a hospital. Jail staff had refused to accept Saenz because when he was being walked into the jail he "struck his own head into the doorway causing himself injury," according to a previously released Custodial Death Report. In the video, there appears to be blood on Saenz's face.
Once Saenz is dragged outside, the officer and guard appear to talk to him as he sits on the sidewalk outside the jail's back entrance.
The scene was filmed by cameras at different angles. There is no one else seen outside.
In the video, Saenz begins to struggle with the officers after they stand him up. Saenz falls to the ground but keeps trying to get up with the two men on top of him.
Saenz kicks, tries turning around and twists, grabbing at Flores who is behind him.
Saenz, according to CLEAT, was also trying to slam his head on the ground and the guard was trying to stop him.
In the video, the guard is attempting to hold Saenz by the shoulders when Flores gets up. At first, Flores appears to reach for the Taser in his left holster.
When Saenz pushes off the guard, Flores draws his Glock semi-automatic handgun from his right holster. The guard moves away and Flores fires a single gunshot.
Flores then holsters his gun, pulls his yellow Taser and gets atop of Saenz, who is face down, bleeding from a shoulder and continues to kick for a few seconds until he stops moving as blood spreads on the ground.
Saenz is eventually turned over. Flores begins CPR before the arrival of paramedics and an ambulance that takes Saenz to a hospital.
Saenz died at the hospital. An autopsy found that the bullet traveled from Saenz's shoulder and into his chest.
"The video does not show an important event that happened earlier in the day," Jopling said in the CLEAT statement. "When Mr. Saenz was in his holding cell at the Pebble Hills Regional Command Center, he was observed moving his cuffed hands from behind his body to the front of his body. This is called 'fronting' his cuffs. Mr. Saenz, who was in bare feet, put his shoes on and, when finished, moved his handcuffs back behind his body. Mr. Saenz did this with great agility and speed.
"In the video, Officer Flores first reaches for his Taser. However, he decides not to deploy his Taser because he knew that Mr. Saenz -- also earlier that same day -- had undergone five cycles of the Taser device, without effect. He had been Tased earlier in the day after he assaulted a police officer and other people at the hospital where he was being evaluated."
CLEAT stated that Flores drew his handgun because "Saenz could quickly front his cuffs and turn them into a deadly weapon, given his considerable strength, agility and demonstrated resistance to the Taser ... At the same moment Officer Flores draws his weapon, Mr. Saenz pushes off on that curb and, with remarkable strength, sends the civilian escort flying backwards. The civilian escort's arm then hits the trigger hand of Officer Flores, causing his weapon to discharge."
Saenz was a competitive bodybuilder and trainer known at gyms across El Paso. An autopsy report said he was 5 feet, 8 inches tall and weighed 217 pounds. The autopsy did not find cocaine, PCP or other hard drugs in his system but reported that Saenz tested positive dimethylamylamine, or DMAA, a substance found in both workout supplements and bath salts -- synthetic stimulants that can cause paranoia, panic attacks and impaired perception of reality.
The struggle and shooting occurred in less than two minutes. The video also contains hours of scenes following the shooting, taken from different angles.
Last year, the state attorney general denied the first request by the Times to make the video public after city lawyers argued that the case was still under investigation.
With the conclusion of the criminal investigation by the Texas Rangers and El Paso Police Department, city attorneys in March argued that the video should be withheld for several other reasons, including the right to privacy of the deceased, a potential lawsuit against the city by Saenz's family and that releasing the video could endanger the life of the officer involved in the shooting.
The attorney general's office in a letter said that the city's reasons had been rejected.
It explained that the right to privacy is personal and lapses upon death.
"Upon review of your arguments, we find the department has failed to demonstrate release of the responsive recordings would endanger the life or physical safety of a peace officer," the attorney general's office stated in a letter to Assistant City Attorney Daniel Ortiz.
In March, Police Chief Greg Allen said there was an administrative investigation into Flores's actions. The result of the internal investigation and Flores's current status in the police department were not immediately available Monday evening.
Flores was the El Paso police officer who received national attention in January 2013 after buying a pair of boots and a package of socks for a homeless man outside the Lowe's Home Improvement store at 12100 Montana.
The story was broadcast across the country after it was initially reported by Channel 14-KFOX.
Copyright 2014 the El Paso Times
McClatchy-Tribune News Service