A Victoria police officer is under investigation after a 76-year-old man accused him of using excessive force during a traffic stop.
The officer, Nathanial Robinson, 23, was placed on administrative duty Friday pending the outcome of an internal investigation into whether he violated the use of force policy when he tased Victoria resident Pete Vasquez, said Chief J.J. Craig. The officer was hired after graduating from the police academy two years ago.
The incident happened Thursday after Robinson saw an expired inspection sticker on the car Vasquez was driving back to Adam’s Auto Mart, 2801 N. Laurent St., where he helps with mechanical work.
Vasquez got out of the car, which is owned by the car lot, attempting to get the manager. He pointed out to the officer the dealer tags on the back of the car, which would make it exempt from having an inspection.
Police dashboard camera video shows Robinson arresting Vasquez for the expired sticker.
When the officer first grabbed Vasquez’s arm, the older man pulled it away. Robinson then pushed Vasquez down on the hood of the police cruiser. The two fell out of the camera’s video frame, but police said the officer used the Taser on Vasquez twice while he was on the ground.
“He just acted like a pit bull, and that was it,” Vasquez said. “For a while, I thought he was going to pull his gun and shoot me.”
Vasquez was handcuffed, placed in the back of the police cruiser and taken to Citizens Medical Center, where he remained in police custody for two hours.
Craig said the police department’s dash cam footage “raises some concerns.”
He decided to open the investigation after viewing the footage and has personally apologized to Vasquez for the incident.
“Public trust is extremely important to us,” Craig said. “Sometimes that means you have to take a real hard look at some of the actions that occur within the department.”
The internal investigation also will examine the details of the arrest. Driving with an expired inspection sticker is a Class C misdemeanor, typically addressed with a citation. Because Vasquez was driving a car with dealer tags, the car was exempt, Craig confirmed. Vasquez was released from the hospital without being cited.
If the investigation finds Robinson violated the use of force policy, his possible punishment ranges from a letter of reprimand to suspension without pay or termination, Craig said.
District Attorney Stephen Tyler said he has not been contacted by police about the case or seen the video.
First, authorities must determine whether criminal wrongdoing, moral wrongdoing or a policy violation occurred.
Possible charges include official oppression, injury to elderly, aggravated assault and assault, he said.
Tyler said the incident was bad timing given the headlines dominating national news, but said Victoria isn’t Ferguson, Mo., or New York.
“You want to make sure you give the right kind of person a badge and a gun,” he said.
Larry Urich, a 62-year-old sales manager at the car lot, said watching the scuffle unfold made him sick. He said he wanted the officer fired and prosecuted for excessive use of force and causing bodily harm to an elderly person.
“I told the officer, ‘What in the hell are you doing?’ This gentleman is 76 years old,” Urich said. “The cop told me to stand back, but I didn’t shut up. I told him he was a g——– Nazi Stormtrooper.”
Urich followed behind the police car that drove Vasquez to the hospital and waited until his friend was released.
“There should have been an ambulance called for this elderly gentleman,” Urich said. “He should not have been handcuffed to go to the emergency room when he had not done anything wrong.”
Through it all, Urich said, he feels sorry for the officer.
“He’s probably a good family man, but you don’t treat people like that,” Urich said. “I don’t see how in the world anyone would think he should keep his job after that.”
A day after the incident, Vasquez said he still had body aches and expected it would be a few days before he healed.
“I feel like my rights were violated,” he said. “The police department is supposed to train their police officers to be more conscientious and use common sense. I don’t think he had any.”
Craig said he hired the officer “because he was a very good candidate,” but he also felt obliged to talk to Vasquez in person to apologize for the incident.
Vasquez said he appreciated the conversation with the chief.
“He didn’t want me to think that all policemen are like that,” Vasquez said. “I said he’s got a lot to do to prove to me that.”
Dec. 14, 2014