Oct 13, 2017
A federal judge has dropped Bexar County Sheriff’s Office from a lawsuit regarding the 2015 death of Gilbert Flores, a man who was holding his hands up in apparent surrender when two county deputies shot and killed him outside his parent’s house. But that doesn’t mean the entire case has been thrown out.
U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman ruled that there is still enough evidence for the two deputies, Robert Sanchez and Greg Vasquez, to see their day in court.
That’s because Pitman decided against granting the deputies “qualified immunity,” a legal shield that’s relied on in the past to protect law enforcement officials from being held liable in questionable shooting cases. Qualified immunity protects officials “unless their conduct violates a clearly established
constitutional right,” Pitman explained.
Which Pitman believes they violated at the moment of Flores’ death.
“When he was killed by the deputies, Flores was in plain sight, was not advancing towards the deputies, raised his arms in apparent surrender with the knife palmed in one hand, stood motionless, and was more than twenty feet away from both deputies,” Pitman wrote. “Ample cases show that shooting a suspect under these circumstances was a violation of clearly established law.”
This wouldn’t have been the case if they shot at Flores a few minutes earlier.
The deputies initially showed up at Flores’ parents house on Aug. 28, 2015, after receiving a frightened call from his mother, alleging Flores had violently attacked both his wife and their infant son. When they arrived, Flores tried to stab the deputies, and chased them around the yard, deflected their tasers with a metal chair. He crossed the street and then headed toward their SUV — which was running and unlocked — when he turned toward the deputies and raised both his hands in the air, in what appears to be a sign of surrender. Only then did the deputies shoot him.
In Pitman’s words: “Flores, who was stationary for several seconds and put his hands in the air while remaining otherwise motionless, was no longer resisting and had signaled surrender. Therefore, the deputies’ use of deadly force was not reasonable.”
This decision is the result of a lawsuit filed by Flores’ family in 2015, shortly after a Bexar County grand jury declined to charge either deputy for Flores’ death.
The deputies’ attorney has already announced a plan to appeal Pitman’s decision.