Witnesses in Houston are contradicting police accounts of the fatal shooting of Rufino Lara. Officer J. McGowan arrived at the scene after reportedly being called by friends of Lara who said that he was being chased by men with a knife (he does not speak English). The friends of Lara insist that when McGowen arrived she told Lara to put his hand in the air and then shot the unarmed man. A friend started to film the scene as McGown allegedly ripped open his shirt in search of a weapon until McGown seized the camera and said that she is not allowed to film police officers.
Police insist that Lara did not obey McGowan’s commands in Spanish and English to stop and kept one of his hands tucked under his shirt. When he turned around suddenly with his hand still under his shirt, McGowan shot him once, killing him, according to the officer. That should be easy to confirm since the bullet entry wounds would be different if a man has his hands up or has his hands tucked in his shirt. The sharp contrast in the accounts of witnesses and police is highly disturbing. Someone is lying.
A family friend says the officer is lying. Florida Ruvio says that she ran into Lara who told her that he was being chased by some men with a knife. She says that he asked her to call the police. She says that police only spoke in English and that Lara eventually stopped and put his hands on the wall with his back to the officers. Another witness insists that he also saw Lara with both hands on the wall. Ruvio says that Lara turned around suddenly and was shot by the officer. Ruvio says that she screamed that McGowan just killed an innocent man but the officer said that she had fired because “he had drawn out a gun.”
Putting aside the dispute over the shooting, the actions taken with regard to the camera are all too familiar. Despite repeated court rulings that citizens have the right to film officers, both police and prosecutors continue to maintain that such filming can result in arrest and prosecution. The problem is so significant that the ACLU has created an App to allow citizens to use their cellphones to record police without being detected.
Lara only has two minor misdemeanors on his record – trespassing and giving false information to a police officer.
This case is particularly severe because, if the witnesses are telling the truth, multiple officers lied to cover up the shooting. The fact that the suspect turned around quickly does not meet the standard for the use of lethal force. Even if the officer’s account is confirmed, it is still unclear why lethal force was used if she did not actually see a weapon. A grand jury will hear the evidence of the shooting as a standard procedure in Houston.