Off-duty Texas cop cleared in fatal shooting of teen he suspected of drug use
A grand jury declined to indict a Houston-area police officer who shot and killed a teenager while working off-duty as a security guard.
Investigators said Rey Garza, a Navasota police officer, was working a part-time security job Nov. 13 at his apartment complex when he spotted two people in a parked car who appeared to be using illegal drugs.
Garza said he identified himself as a police officer and asked the driver, 17-year-old Jonathen Santellana for identification and ordered him to step out of the vehicle.
The officer said the teen refused, so Garza opened the door of the 1996 Ford Taurus.
But a teenage girl who was with Santellana said Garza did not identify himself as a police officer as he approached with his gun drawn, and she said the teens believed they were being robbed and tried to escape.
“He was aiming at all the windows and towards both of us,” said Kalee Marsteller, who was riding in the passenger seat. “Not the tires or anything trying to stop the car — he was aiming at us.”
Santellana attempted to drive out of the parking lot in reverse, pinning Garza between the Taurus and vehicle parked beside it.
Garza opened fire multiple times, and the vehicle sped through the parking lot and struck a curb, which caused it to go briefly airborne.
The car struck a Ford F-150 in the parking lot, causing serious damage and minor injuries to the pickup’s driver.
Santellana got out of the wrecked car and collapsed, and he later died from a gunshot wound to the back.
Garza and the teenage girl suffered minor injuries in the incident.
A neighbor who videotaped the shooting said Garza was wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt and dark pants, rather than a uniform, and he said the officer demanded that he delete video or images of the incident from his cell phone.
“I was trying to get videos and pictures, and when I started videotaping, he pushed the phone down and told me that if I didn’t delete the video that he was going to confiscate my phone,” said witness Steven Yarbrough.
Yarbrough, who also lived at the apartment complex, said he had encountered Garza previously.
“He just walks around and, like, he’s kind of a bully,” Yarbrough said. “Like, he’ll walk up to people and he’ll be, like, ‘What are you doing outside? It’s after 9 o’clock,’ and, like, I’m a grown man.”
The grand jury declined to charge Garza, who has been on administrative leave since the fatal shooting.
Police will issue a statement Wednesday about his employment status with the Navasota Police Department, where he had worked for about two years prior to the shooting.
Watch this video report posted online by KTRK-TV: