Witness: Officer killed man seeking police's help

July 11, 2012 5:17:48 AM PDT
Family members of a man fatally shot by a Houston police officer Monday say what the officer says happened moments before the incident isn't completely true.

Police shootings are always investigated by homicide, internal affairs and the district attorney's office. Monday's incident left 54-year-old Rufino Lara dead, but some eyewitnesses and civil rights leaders are still questioning it.

Florida Rubio says she knew Lara, and he wasn't a troublemaker.

"She then turned around and told the police officer, 'You just killed an innocent person,'" Rubio said through interpreter Gabriella Pardo.

Rubio claims Lara was the initial victim in a 9-1-1 assault in progress call in the 7000 block of Bissonnet Monday afternoon.

Police say when the officers got out of their cruiser, one of the men began walking away. And as Officer J. McGowan approached, investigators say she saw a bulge concealed under his shirt, which he continued to hold with his left hand. HPD says when he tried to pull the object out of his waistband and turned toward the officer, she shot him.

Rubio claims the officer only spoke English to Lara.

"She said that when he raised his hands, he turned around and when he turned around, she had already taken out a gun and shot him," Rubio said through Pardo.

HPD says the officer gave repeatedly commands in both Spanish and English to get him to put his hands up.

"If you put an officer on the defensive and conceal your hands when you are being ordered and given commands to show your hands, you're automatically putting that officer in fear," HPD spokesman John Cannon said.

Police did not recover a gun but say the object Lara was concealing was a can of beer.

"The citizenry of Houston is very suspect of investigations into police shootings," said Randall Kallinen with the Greater Houston Coalition for Justice.

It's led some civil rights leaders to question the shooting.

"Yesterday I was driving around in the city of Houston and many people had their hands in their pockets. I'm glad that an officer didn't come across them, shout commands and them shoot them saying, 'Well you had your hand in a pocket and so I can shoot you,'" Kallinen said.

Police Chief Charles McClelland released a statement reading in part:

"The Houston Police Department places the highest value on the preservation of human life. Police officers have the difficult task of making split second decisions to keep themselves and others safe on a daily basis. Our condolences go out to the Lara family."

Officer McGowan works out of the South Gessner Patrol Division. She's been an officer since September 2010.

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