EDINBURG — An Hidalgo County grand jury has begun to examine the deaths of two unauthorized Guatemalan immigrants shot by a state trooper who was perched in a helicopter as he sought to blow out the tires of a fleeing pickup truck in October.
A grand jury review is standard practice for all police-related shootings, said Murray Moore, Hidalgo County assistant district attorney.
The review of the case is expected to take at least two weeks so that panel members can determine whether Trooper Miguel Avila should face criminal charges for the shooting, Moore said.
Avila was the sniper aboard the Texas Department of Public Safety helicopter that responded to a chase Oct. 25 as nine Guatemalan nationals suspected of illegal immigration rode in a red pickup driven by a 14-year-old boy. In an effort to avoid being seen by police as they were moved, some of the immigrants were hiding under a tarp in the bed of the pickup.
The teenager sped off when Texas Parks and Wildlife game wardens tried to pull the vehicle over just north of La Joya, thinking it was carrying marijuana bundles.
As the chase continued, Avila was given authorization to fire his .223-caliber rifle toward the pickup to blow out its tires — a tactic that DPS had used in the past during drug chases. The Texas law enforcement agency never released the number of shots fired at the vehicle, but a Monitor photograph of the vehicle taken shortly after the shooting shows several holes near the rear, driver’s-side tire.
Since the shooting, DPS has changed its policies so that it no longer allows troopers to fire at fleeing vehicles under similar circumstances.
The teen driver is a Mexican national who has been arrested various times by authorities on human smuggling charges and has been deported after each arrest. Most recently the teen was arrested in June by Border Patrol agents and deported.
The teenager is now considered a fugitive after 449th state District Judge Jesse Contreras issued a warrant for his arrest.