A judge said he will rule by Monday on whether he will order the city of Mission to turn over its case file in the fatal June 20, 2019, shooting of Cpl. Jose Luis Espericueta to the parents of the man who killed the officer.
The family of Juan Carlos Chapa Jr., who was also killed, filed a petition on Oct. 5 against the city of Mission and Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez in an effort to compel the parties to turn over information they sought through the Texas Public Information Act.
That information includes the toxicology report, the ballistics report, hospital/doctor/nurses notes and reports, ambulance report/notes, investigative reports, recordings made by the public, photos and other recordings made by Mission police, as well as recordings from security cameras at the Mission Bell RV Park/Resort where the shooting took place.
The family did receive the autopsy report, which their attorney, Horacio Peña, said during a Friday hearing showed that the majority of the bullets that hit Chapa, hit him in the back.
The family needs closure and there’s a tremendous amount of speculation that Espericueta didn’t die at Chapa’s hands, the attorney said.
Peña also said that he has reviewed countless videos of Mission Police Chief Robert Dominguez telling the media that Chapa shot at his mother’s car, which she says isn’t true.
On that day, Dominguez previously said Chapa’s mother called police to report that her son fired a handgun at her car.
Espericueta responded to the scene and Dominguez said when the officer made contact, Chapa immediately fled and shot the officer.
Since then, Peña said rumors have circulated about the deaths, which have left Chapa’s parents with more questions than answers. The Chapas are seeking the information to ease their suffering from the death of their son and feel the city of Mission believes his death is unimportant and that they are tortured because they don’t know what really happened, the attorney said.
“These particular people are broken. They are a broken family,” Peña said.
The attorney also said he believes the city’s political leadership has used the death of Espericueta to their own political benefit, which he said is disturbing. He also noted that not one councilmember from Mission ever reached out to the Chapa’s to offer their condolences.
“JC Chapa was as much a human being as officer Espericueta,” he said.
Peña said only the city of Mission has the narrative of what happened that day and it is withholding the evidence from the public.
In withholding the information, the city of Mission cites three exemptions to the Texas Public Information Act, including that the information details the detection, investigation or prosecution of a crime; because the information is highly intimate or embarrassing; and because it includes a private citizens vehicle title or registration and dates of birth.
The Texas Attorney General has since issued an opinion siding with the city of Mission.
Peña told state District Judge Fernando Mancias that the exemption regarding the investigation, detection or prosecution of a crime is bogus because you can’t prosecute a spirit.
“He’s dead. He died,” he said.
The Texas Rangers did present a case to a Hidalgo County grand jury on whether the use of force was legal and the grand jury issued a no-bill.
As for whether the information is highly embarrassing, Peña said nothing that is in the evidence is highly embarrassing.
Regarding the vehicle title or registration and dates of birth, the attorney says all the city of Mission has to do is redact that information.
Heather Scott, an attorney retained by the city of Mission, told the judge that Peña is filing his open records request with the wrong governmental agency.
She said the Texas Rangers were the investigating agency, which means they have control of the case file, not the city of Mission.
Peña, however, said a civil attorney with the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office told him they turned all the evidence back over to the city of Mission after the no-bill, which prompted the attorney to drop the suit against the DA’s office.
Rodriguez, the DA, has been dismissed from the litigation.
Scott, however, said while she wasn’t privy to that conversation, she believes the DA’s Office would have turned the evidence back over to the Texas Rangers, not the city of Mission.
Scott also said the correct venue for the Chapas would be a federal civil rights lawsuit, which Peña said is a possibility.
She asked the judge to stick with the AG’s opinion, citing the agency as an expert on interpreting the Texas Public Information Act.
Mancias, the judge, said he will take everything under consideration and issue a ruling by Monday.