McALLEN — After waiting more than two years for evidence that would explain what happened when police responded to a domestic violence call that turned fatal, an attorney is charging the city of McAllen and its police department with orchestrating a cover-up to prevent the family and public from knowing what occurred that January 2017 evening.
Recently released evidence reveals “discrepancies and irregularities” in the city’s internal investigation of what transpired after police were called to a home in the 900 block of Third Street with regard to a domestic violence incident that left three dead, a federal court filing alleges.
The city’s version of events, per a police news release, is that Cruz Pinon, 30, shot his wife Santos Verenice Garcia, 42, and his 16-year-old stepdaughter, Ashley Garcia, on Jan. 28, 2017, before turning the gun on himself. Pinon also injured another step-daughter, who was 14-years-old at the time.
But the May 3 amended federal court filing by attorney Alex Martinez on behalf of Hector Garcia, the Garcia sisters’ father, alleges the surviving daughter’s gunshot wounds were not inflicted by Pinon, but rather McAllen police who “acted in an objectively unreasonable manner when … using force …” The girl, identified as L.L.G. in the amended filing because she is still a minor, had eight bullet perforations in her body, which the wrongful death lawsuit alleges were the result of McAllen police missing their intended target: Pinon.
According to the filing, Pinon fired seven rounds, five of which have been accounted for, having been recovered from his, Santos Verenice and Ashley Garcia’s bodies and from a mailbox. Because police fired 11 rounds, the eight bullet perforations in L.L.G.’s body cannot solely be attributed to Pinon, the filing argues.
“The evidence that has been produced by the City of McAllen is not complete,” Martinez said in a statement Friday, in regards to a “discovery dump” the city turned over to him last month following a federal court order.
“By analyzing what has been produced we observe inconsistencies in their position such that it leaves us wondering whether the City is telling us the entire truth as to what happened on that fateful day,” his statement continued.
Martinez is seeking to have the city produce additional documents and testimony from those who were at the scene, including ballistic tests of the rounds found at the scene and in the victims’ bodies; L.L.G.’s medical records; audio and video footage from the patrol units at the scene; and the names of the officers who responded to the incident.
The lawsuit, which was first filed in district court in January and later moved to federal court, comes after repeated attempts by Ashley Garcia and L.L.G.’s father to obtain clarity about what happened that night. Hector Garcia has addressed the city commission about this, according the filing, as well as spoken to city manager Roy Rodriguez.
In an August 2018 meeting Garcia had with Rodriguez, the city manager allegedly told Garcia, “if I find that there is no negative repercussion, I’m going to give it to you,” the filing notes, which states the city manager’s “statement displays defendants’ willingness to hide information if the information could lead to liability in a civil action.”
In a statement Friday, McAllen Assistant City Attorney Isaac Tawil said, “Evidently Mr. Garcia believes that the City of McAllen has withheld information regarding the tragic homicide/suicide that occurred near the midnight hour on January 27, 2017. We do not believe this is true.”
“In response to Mr. Garcia’s lawsuit, the City of McAllen has gone above and beyond the requirements of the rules governing the release of information concerning tragic events such as this, and has provided to Mr. Garcia and/or his attorneys all of the information we are aware of concerning the event all of which we believe exonerates the McAllen Police Department,” the city’s statement continued.
In addition to unnecessary force, the lawsuit alleges that police committed a fatal error when they failed to detain Pinon at the residence despite sufficient probable cause that he had sexually assaulted another daughter. This oversight allowed him to shoot Santos Verenice and Ashley Garcia while police were in the midst of interviewing them, the filing reads, noting that, “a properly trained police officer would have separated, detained and patted down Cruz Pinon,” and that police “acted recklessly” by failing to do so.
The victims’ father is seeking more than $1 million in damages against the city.
The case is set for a pretrial hearing Tuesday in U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez’s courtroom.