“If they’re going to get me, they’re going to kill me.”
That’s what Ricardo Treviño III told Facebook Live viewers as he sped down a southeast Texas expressway pursued by police in December.
According to press reports, about eight police and constable’s deputies tailed him, including San Benito Police Chief Michael Galvan. Treviño, 21, swiveled his smartphone to show the vehicles, their sirens blaring.
Treviño’s family said he had been helping to prepare food at a church in San Benito, a small city less than 20 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border. He began to act erratically, they said, after taking medication for a back injury. But when an ambulance was called to the church, he declined assistance, hopping into his car and attempting to flee instead. When he refused to pull over, police pursued him.
Midway through the 12-minute chase, police begin firing on his red Nissan, and at about 3:30 p.m., Treviño pulls over. He has dropped his smartphone at this point, but it continues to live-stream the encounter.
“You’re going to kill me,” he yells as officers surround his car and scream commands that are indiscernible in the video. “You’re going to kill me!”
Suddenly bullets appear in the frame, ricocheting near Treviño’s head and around his vehicle. Still in the driver’s seat, Treviño slumps into the passenger side, letting out a series of agonized groans.
Treviño’s smartphone records for at least another six minutes before it goes dark.
Closure? You don’t use that word at all. There is no closure.
April Flores mother of Ricardo Treviño
A lawyer for the San Benito Police Department did not respond to questions regarding the incident, citing the open state investigation. The Cameron County Precinct 5 Constable’s Office did not respond to The Appeal’s request for comment before publication. The Texas Rangers and the Texas Department of Public Safety, which oversees the Rangers, both declined to comment because the case remains open.
Shortly after the incident, a local newspaper reported that the Department of Public Safety said Treviño drove into a police car, but there’s no evidence of that in the Facebook footage.
The shooting drew protests from the community and outrage from Treviño’s family, which has been awaiting the results of an inquiry by the Texas Rangers for more than seven months. Galvan, the police chief, stepped down and was reassigned to assistant chief after the incident; his future status remains uncertain. Another officer was briefly suspended, but the family has received no word from the Cameron County district attorney’s office regarding the fate of the other officers involved.
As of early August, Treviño’s family is still seeking answers regarding why the officers used lethal force against a young man in need of help.
“We barely got sympathy,” April Flores, Treviño’s mother, told The Appeal in a phone interview. She said a city official suggested an internal affairs investigation by San Benito police would bring the family some degree of closure.
“Closure? You don’t use that word at all. There is no closure,” she said. “We’ve been patiently waiting because all we want is for the truth to come out.”
A former special education student, Ricardo Treviño graduated from high school in 2014 and was studying to become a mechanic at Texas State Technical College.
On March 26, the city of San Benito released the names of the officers it says were the subjects of an internal affairs investigation after Treviño’s death. Chief Galvan, along with Officers Manuel Alvarez, Victor Espitia, Oscar Lara, David Rebolledo, and Jose Santos were put on limited active duty status while the police department conducted the inquiry.
On June 5, San Benito officials announced that city police had concluded its internal investigation. Interim Police Chief Fred Bell announced one officer would be suspended for five calendar days, but did not name the officer nor divulge what policies he violated. “Any other corrective action to be taken within the department will be handled as counseling and training for all police personnel,” the city said in a statement.
“One officer—they killed my son and he gets suspended for five days with pay!” Flores said in the interview. “It’s like a slap in the face.”
John Blaylock, an attorney representing Treviño’s family, told The Appeal that the family intends to file a wrongful death lawsuit after they learn more from investigators. ”Our work on this case is now totally dependent on looking at the evidence that only the government has,” he said.
But Treviño’s family believes the police overreacted, he said. “The police here are trained to catch bad guys. But by all accounts, they were dispatched out to check on a guy who possibly took too many Tylenol. And they wrongly treated it as if they were after some sort of felon.”
Luis Saenz, the Cameron County district attorney, would only confirm to The Appeal that the Rangers’ investigation continues. He declined to say when he expected to empanel a grand jury to decide if any of the involved officers broke the law.
Reached by phone last week, Ricardo J. Navarro, the attorney representing San Benito, confirmed that state officials had not yet turned over the findings of the investigation to the DA and said that was why the family and community have received few updates on the case. “We have reason to believe [the investigation] is complete,” he told The Appeal. “It just hasn’t been presented to the grand jury, and we’re waiting for that process to be completed.”
“My client, the elected officials, and the city manager all understand the frustration that not just the public but the family, in particular, has with how long this takes,” Navarro added. “Everybody is feeling that very strongly. On the other hand, it is a police action by officers that are covered by several layers of law, and the city has an obligation to process the whole matter.”
This isn’t the first time local law enforcement was accused of using excessive force against someone in emotional distress. In 2018, Cameron County Sheriff’s Deputy Sonny Pedraza shot Luis Yiar Alvarez, a 23-year-old Cameron Park resident, after his mother called 911 and reported him as emotionally disturbed. Alvarez had a knife and disobeyed officers’ commands to drop it. A grand jury declined to indict Pedraza and he did not face charges.
The Texas Rangers, Department of Public Safety, and the San Benito Police Department did not answer questions regarding how its officers are trained to handle people in emotional distress and whether the appropriate protocol was followed in this case.
Art Flores, Treviño’s stepfather, told The Appeal that he tried to save “Rick,” as he called him, from his tragic death. Flores is a supervisor in the San Benito Police Department with 24 years on the force. He knows the officers involved in his stepson’s death personally.
This, to me, seems like a murder.
Art Flores Treviño’s stepfather
Flores said he called emergency dispatchers in a desperate attempt to intervene, as his colleagues chased Treviño. “I called several times and tried to tell them what was going on,” Flores said. “It’s very difficult to continue working at an organization that did this to my family. This, to me, seems like a murder.”
Flores said he can’t shake the feeling that the prolonged investigation is an attempted cover-up.
“I’m in law enforcement, I took an oath. But this has done something to me. It’s changed me, because of this incident,” he said. “Our goal, all along, is to get justice.”
Correction: This story has been corrected to note that Art Flores is a police supervisor rather than a captain.