HOUSTON (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department is investigating six cases over the last two years in which Houston police officers fatally shot or allegedly used excessive force against unarmed individuals, police officials said Wednesday.
One case involves the September shooting death of Brian Claunch, 45, a mentally ill one-armed, one-legged man in a wheelchair. Officers responding to a disturbance at the group home where Claunch lived said he threatened them with what turned out to be a ballpoint pen.
“I am very confident our training, policies and procedures follow or exceed the best practices in law enforcement. I am extremely proud of the 6,500-plus men and women of this organization who work hard each and every day to keep this city among the safest in the nation,” Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland said in a statement.
A Justice Department spokeswoman said she was trying to track down information about the investigation on Wednesday.
Civil rights groups applauded the investigation.
“These charges of misconduct by the Houston police department are no surprise to us,” said Dotty Griffith, ACLU of Texas public education director. “We feel the Justice Department is right to investigate why these incidents occur here with disturbing frequency.”
The other fatal shooting federal officials are investigating is the July death of 54-year-old Rufino Lara during an assault investigation. Authorities said Lara failed to follow officers’ commands in English and Spanish to stop and show his hands and that he tried to pull a concealed object from his waistband that turned out to be a can of beer. Two witnesses have said Lara had his hands in the air when he was shot.
The shootings of Claunch and Lara are still being reviewed by Houston police, said department spokesman Kese Smith.
The other cases being investigated by the Justice Department are:
— The March 2010 beating of Chad Holley during his burglary arrest. The incident was caught on surveillance video. Four officers were fired and later indicted on various misdemeanor charges. The first officer to be tried was acquitted in May.