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Texas Grand Jury No-Bills Police Officer Who Fatally Shot Handcuffed Prisoner

by Matt Clarke

On February 18, 2014, a Texas state grand jury declined to indict El Paso police officer Jose Flores, 40, who fatally shot Daniel Rodrigo Saenz, 37, a handcuffed man in his custody, on March 8, 2013. That cleared the way for Flores, who had been on leave since the shooting, to return to work.

Saenz was a competitive bodybuilder and fitness trainer who formerly held the title of Mr. El Paso. The final events of his life began around 9:00 a.m. when the manager of an Albertsons supermarket called police to report a man who was "advising that he was feeling paranoid and began crying and asking for hugs." Police and paramedics responded.

Saenz admitted having used cocaine two days earlier, and then began twitching uncontrollably. A paramedic convinced Saenz to report to Del Sol Medical Center so his extremely high blood pressure could be treated.

After arriving at Del Sol, Saenz punched an elderly patient in the shoulder. A police officer arrived to check on him and was attacked by Saenz. The officer used his Taser on Saenz, cycling it five times with little effect. Police managed to take him into custody and handcuff him behind his back, but Saenz "continued to display aggressive behavior" after he was taken to the Pebble Hills Regional Command Center and the Downtown jail.

At the jail, Saenz intentionally smashed his own head on a doorway, causing a bleeding laceration. Jail officials then refused to admit Saenz because of the injury. Instead, Flores and a jail guard escorted Saenz from the jail to take him to a hospital for treatment.

Outside the jail, Saenz again began struggling and trying to pass his handcuffs to the front of his body, something he had done previously. Flores started to draw his Taser, then switched to his handgun and drew it. Saenz threw the guard into Flores, causing the handgun to discharge. The bullet travelled through Saenz's shoulder and hit his heart, killing him.

Flores said he drew the handgun because he remembered that the Taser had been ineffective against Saenz previously. He maintained that he only intended to coerce Saenz into compliance through a display of force. He claimed he was afraid that, if Saenz could bring the handcuffs to his front, he would be able to injure Flores or the guard. He declared that the shooting was accidentally caused by the impact of the guard's arm on his trigger finger. All of the struggle and shooting was captured by multiple video cameras.

An autopsy failed to find cocaine, PCP or other hard drugs in Saenz's blood, but it did find bath salts. This finding, combined with the video evidence, convinced the grand jury not to indict Flores. This incident emphasizes the need for additional police training and for better protocols for handling citizens with mental health issues.

Ironically, Flores received quite a bit of media attention when, a month before the shooting, he used his own funds to purchase boots for an 83-year-old homeless man who had no shoes.