New details in officer shooting of man at Denny's

January 3, 2012 4:49:23 PM PST
We're learning more about the controversy surrounding an officer-involved shooting outside a Houston restaurant last week. The man shot is still in the hospital tonight and faces charges of aggravated assault, but his attorney says it was the officer who was on the attack.

The Houston Police Department tells us the Internal Affairs investigation that's being conducted at police headquarters is still ongoing. In the meantime, Clemente Vela, 32, underwent a third surgery Tuesday to remove a bullet lodged in his hip.

All this as new claims are made that seem to poke holes in HPD's story that the off-duty officer shot Vela in self defense.

Last week, Houston police told us that off-duty HPD Officer Julio Lopez shot and wounded Vela outside a Denny's restaurant after Vela allegedly threatened him and his brother with a knife. First, there were conflicting accounts over what led up to the shooting, and now more questions are being raised over how the shooting itself unfolded and whether Vela was even armed.

"He thought he was going outside to get into a fist fight and ended up getting shot," said Vela's attorney, Richard Parker.

He says he is conducting his own investigation. Parker told us based on what he's been able to piece together from talking to nearly a dozen eyewitnesses, HPD's version of what transpired doesn't match up.

"Some witnesses have expressed to me that Mr. Vela had nothing in his hands, that when there were warning shots fired he turned around and raised his hands and was subsequently shot four times," said Parker.

Lopez's attorney says he's aware of the allegations and so are authorities investigating the incident. We talked to him last week on the day of the shooting.

"We went over what happened at the scene in preparation for his doing a walk through with Internal Affairs and homicide division and the DA's Office," said Lopez's attorney Chad Hoffman.

A key piece of evidence that could determine what really happened outside the Denny's last Thursday morning may already be in HPD's custody. Parker says he's been led to believe that surveillance cameras may have captured the shooting in the parking lot from two different angles. K

"Law enforcement has the upper hand here because they are the ones who decide who gets charged and who doesn't get charged and it seems that law enforcement is being a little too cozy in this investigation," said KTRK Legal Analyst Joel Androphy.

Ultimately a grand jury will decide whether Officer Lopez should face any criminal charges and which charges he should face.

Vela remains in the hospital in custody in ICU. He's been charged with aggravated assault with deadly weapon. His family is frustrated because they haven't been able to see him. Vela's attorney says the family posted bond, but is now encountering some red tape.

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