The fact that the Houston police officer who fatally shot unarmed Omar Ventura in 2011 was legally drunk at the time of the incident was never disclosed to the Grand Jury who decided not to indict him, the Houston Chronicle has learned.
The fact that he was drunk was discovered during an internal police investigation into the incident completed before the case was brought before the Grand Jury, but it was not disclosed to the Grand Jury because “courts have ruled that internal police investigations cannot be used against officers in criminal cases,” according to the AP.
Of course, police also conduct the criminal investigations of officers involved in fatal shootings, so it is unclear why this fact would have been determined during the internal investigation, which cannot be used against officers in criminal cases, and not the criminal investigation, which can.
The prosecutor, responsible for leading the criminal investigation into the officer’s actions, would have had every reason to investigate whether Coronado was drunk baed on the events leading up to the incident.
The officer, Jose Coronado Jr., was off-duty at the time of the fatal shooting, and had just left a crowded local pub called Sherlock’s. According to the Houston Chronicle, Coronado “downed six beers and a triple shot of whiskey when closing time arrived.”
He then allegedly confronted a group of men fighting, and ultimately shot two of them, one fatally. Both were unarmed.
According tot he AP, the internal police investigation concluded that Coronado had “a blood-alcohol level of 1½ times the legal limit when he walked out of the bar.”
Despite this, Coronado’s lawyer “repeatedly told reporters in 2011 that the officer was not drunk when he opened fire.” It seems likely Coronado’s lawyer also would have told the Grand Jury that Coronado was not drunk, and this would have been false.
Even if the prosecutor were for some reason unable to ascertain the officer’s blood-alcohol level in a criminal investigation, if the officer were effectively questioned about his actions leading up to the fatal shooting, certainly those actions would have cast doubt upon his judgement at the time of the shooting, unless he lied.
Witnesses told police Coronado had been drinking and that neither of the men he shot, one of whom died, had threatened the officer, according to the AP:
“Obviously, the grand jury and the internal review believed the officer’s version and discounted the other witnesses,” said Kenneth Williams, a South Texas College of Law professor who reviewed the internal report at the newspaper’s request. “But it’s certainly questionable – whether they reached the right conclusion . the fact that (the officer) was intoxicated would have called into question whether his actions were reasonable.”
Since 2005, Houston police have shot 268 people, 111 of them fatally, According to the New York Times:
The rate of shootings by police officers was higher in Houston from 2010 to 2014 than in New York or Los Angeles, and the Houston police killed more people than the Los Angeles police despite having half as many officers, according to police data.
It is unclear if any attempt will be made to convene a new Grand Jury because this information was not disclosed to the jurors.