Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Houston Police Officer Sentenced to 60 Days for the Shooting Death of an Unarmed Teenager; Parents Sue

by Christopher Zoukis

     Arthur J. Carbonneau, a police officer in Houston, Texas, was convicted of criminally negligent homicide for the shooting death of an unarmed 14-year-old boy and sentenced to 60 days in jail and five years of probation.

     On November 21, 2003, Carbonneau and police Officer Ronald Olivo responded to a call from a 10-year-old boy who said he had been punched in the face by a teenager named Oscar. They arrived at the apartment where the boy believed Oscar lived and asked the three boys who were there, Eli Eloy Escobar Jr., 14, Jose Sanchez and Jose Salmeron, to step outside. The boys stated their names and said they didn't know where Oscar was.

     Olivo said the door closed behind the boys when they stepped outside as though somebody inside pushed it closed. After they determined that none of the boys was Oscar, Carbonneau, without the boys' permission, entered the apartment with his gun drawn, threatening to shoot anyone he found inside. When nobody was found inside the apartment, Carbonneau returned and Olivo told the boys to face the wall so they could be searched.

     Eli became anxious and started to leave. Carbonneau followed him, telling him to turn around and give him his hands. Carbonneau then grabbed Eli's hands to secure his upper body. Olivo grabbed Eli's legs and the two officers brought him to the ground as he struggled and screamed for his mother.

    Instead of using intermediate force, such as pepper spray, to control the boy, the officers tried to handcuff him as he struggled. Carbonneau then drew his revolver. He alleged that when he felt a blow to his hand, his weapon fired and shot Eli in the head, killing him. He said it was unintentional. One witness said that he saw an arm or leg come up just before the gun fired; other witnesses said Carbonneau pulled out his gun, pointed it at Eli's head and fired it at close range

     Eli's parents, Eli Eloy Escobar and Lydia Escobar, sued Carbonneau and the city in federal court on behalf of themselves and their son. They claimed that the city's police department failed to properly train Carbonneau, violating their dead son's Fourth Amendment rights. Carbonneau was allowed to graduate from the police academy as an officer despite failing 16 of 30 subjects as part of his mandatory Texas peace officers' test, including a stress-fire firearms test. He was never provided with any remedial training for this stress-fire course. He became an officer in December 2002, less than one year before this fatal shooting.

     The Escobars argued that inadequate training of police officers was not unusual and that the Houston Police Department was aware of the problem. Of the 38 cadets in Carbonneau's police academy group, 22 flunked the stress-fire test. Several weeks before Eli was killed, another young, unarmed teenager was accidentally shot and killed. A memo from a chief commanding officer complained about insufficient facilities for firearms training. The plaintiffs also pointed out that the city's gun expert, Albert Rodriguez, said an officer needs 3,000 repetitions with a gun to develop muscle memory, whereas a cadet in the academy draws his weapon an average of 50 times.

     The city argued that it had trained Carbonneau sufficiently, and that Eli's death was solely the result of Carbonneau's poor judgment and refusal to follow training. Carbonneau blamed Eli for causing his own injuries by resisting arrest. He said Eli kicked him in the groin and the arm as he tried to subdue the boy, and that it was one of those kicks that made the weapon fire.

     In 2005, Carbonneau was convicted of criminally negligent homicide and sentenced to 60 days in jail and five years probation. Eli's parents made claims for their son's pain and suffering at the hands of the police and his funeral expenses. They also made claims individually for loss of consortium, pecuniary loss and mental anguish related to the wrongful death of their son. As of September 29, 2007, Carbonneau was denied summary judgment and the civil case was set for trial.

See: Eli Eloy Escobar, et al. v. City of Houston, et al., United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division, Case No. 4:04-cv-01945 (May 8, 2008)


As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Eli Eloy Escobar, et al. v. City of Houston, et al.