Investigation clears Texas cop of wrongdoing after pointing gun at teens

Police chief says high-profile incident is "no reason" to take officer off duty

By Aaron Martinez
El Paso Times

EL PASO, Texas — An El Paso police officer who pointed his gun at children in a viral video was cleared of wrongdoing in an internal investigation, Chief Greg Allen said at a news conference Thursday.

Allen said the investigation found that allegations that officer Jose Rios wrongfully pulled out his weapon and choked a minor were unfounded.

Rios, who has been with the department for four years, has returned to regular duty at in the same area.

"The fact that he was involved in an incident that drew a lot of attention is no reason, in my opinion, and I know I'm right on that, to take that person out of those communities simply because there was an outrage at one point," Allen said.

Allen said the city would not release the internal affairs investigation report. He cited potential legal action by one of the families and the involvement of children among the reasons for withholding the report.

Elizabeth Flores, the mother of two boys who were arrested during the incident, said she strongly disagrees with results of the investigation.

"It is not fair what he did," Flores said. "I know the officer was there to do his job, but he didn't doing his job. The other officer didn't even know what he was doing either...They weren't doing there jobs. You don't just pull out a gun and a baton. You don't see that all the time. Cops usually go up and talk to you. They don't just pull out a gun."

She added, "In that moment, i don't know for what reason he thought he had to (pull out his gun)."

The incident led to the arrest of Flores' sons, Julian and Jacob Saucedo.

Flores said she has hired a lawyer and is in the process of filing a civil lawsuit against the officer.

"My son (Julian) really wanted to file the lawsuit," Flores said. "He wants his name cleared. He didn't do anything wrong. The officer is the one who acted wrong. He (the officer) needs to take responsibility for his actions."

Rios was placed on desk duty after a video of him pointing a gun at children near the Seville Recreation Center went viral.

The video, which was viewed more than 4 million times on Facebook, shows Rios with his hand on the head of a boy who is sitting on the sidewalk. He then pulled out his gun and pointed it at the children, mostly teenagers, who were yelling obscenities at him.

Flores alleges that Rios choked her son before the recording began.

"I don't know how they can say he didn't choke my son," Flores said. "He choked my son. He did it. Just because it is not on the video, it doesn't mean it didn't happen."

Allen said witnesses at the scene told investigators they never saw an officer choke anyone.

“The finding was unfounded as far as the choking of the individual,” Allen said. “Witness statements from the scene from the individuals who weren’t involved in the incident but participated as far as standing back and watching the events transpire did not find the officer at the scene choking any of the individual children at the time.”

The incident happened on July 5 as police officers responded to a report of criminal trespassing at an apartment complex at 6719 Sambrano Ave., officials said.

One of the boys recorded the incident on his cell phone. The video shows a group of boys yelling at Rios, who had his hand on the head of a boy who is sitting on the sidewalk.

Rios pulls out his handgun, points it at the boys, and yells, “Back up! Back up (expletive)!”

Rios put his gun back into its holster after a few seconds and called for backup.

Another officer then runs into the scene. Both officers pulled the boy, who was being held down by Rios, to the ground.

The investigation into the incident was conducted by the police department’s internal affairs department. The findings were presented Aug. 28 to the department’s Special Disciplinary Review Board.

The board is made up of 13 members. That includes seven civilian members, five police officers and one civilian from the department’s Human Resources Division, officials said.

Allen said extra resources were used in the investigation to “expedite” the process.

The investigation included a review of allegations that the officer wrongfully pointed his gun at the group of boys and Flores' claim that Rios choked her son.

Investigators interviewed 19 people including nine “direct” witnesses and 10 police officers including Rios, Allen said. The video posted on social media was also part of the investigation.

Additional videos that showed the altercation from different vantage points were also used in the investigation, Allen said.

The board found that Rios did not point his gun at the group of boys, but only at one of them, Allen said.

“The board findings were unanimous,” Allen said. “The actions of the officer as far as pointing the gun at an individual or group of individuals were unfounded. He did point a weapon at a specific individual that he felt at that point and time presented a deadly threat to him. At that time, that is when he drew the weapon and re-holstered as soon as he realized the threat wasn’t imminent.”

Julian Saucedo, 17, was arrested on suspicion of interfering with a police officer in connection with the incident.

Julian Saucedo is out on bond as his case is still pending in district court. Flores said Jacob Saucedo is on probation.

In the past, officers have responded to the South-Central neighborhood regarding reports of shots fired, Allen said.

Rios was familiar with the neighborhood and was responding to a report of a criminal trespassing, so he was on “high alert needless to say as far as his safety and handling the call he was dispatched to handle,” Allen said.

Police may have responded to the area before, but Flores said officers should not assume that all the kids in the neighborhood are bad.

"The officer just came and started interrogating the kids," Flores said. "I was there and they were questioning all of us. We had nothing to do with the case they were investigating or looking into or whatever. We had nothing to do with that. We did nothing wrong. My kids and the other kids there did nothing wrong. Only the police officers' actions were wrong."

According to El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles, the teens involved in the incident had previously been arrested in connection with burglaries at Ascarate Park.

Six of the seven juveniles arrested on a burglary charge were seen in the video of the police confrontation that gained national attention, Wiles said.

The juveniles allegedly broke into a park toll booth at 10:50 p.m. July 2 at Ascarate Park.

They are also suspected to have been involved in vandalism and a break-in July 6 at the park pool and a softball equipment storage shed at the park, Wiles said.

The juveniles arrested in the Ascarate Park case were two 12-year-old boys; three boys ages 13, 14 and 15; and two girls, ages 12 and 16, Wiles said.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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