Trial begins for former HPD officer after elderly man killed in 2020 crash

Mycah Hatfield Image
Tuesday, August 9, 2022
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The prosecutor pointed out that the police code allows officers to speed as long as it doesn't endanger the lives of others.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The courtroom was full for the first day of a former Houston police officer's trial in the death of an elderly man killed in a 2020 crash.

Matthew Valdez, 28, was charged with criminal negligent homicide in July of 2021, for the death of 71-year-old Walter Cooper eight months prior.

Valdez and his partner were responding to a weapons disturbance call in northeast Houston, where a woman told dispatchers two men were outside of a building with handguns, officials said.

Court records show that the HPD cruiser was going 90 mph in a 35 mph zone.

SEE PREVIOUS STORY: Former HPD officer charged after crash that killed man days before Thanksgiving

Cooper was seen on surveillance video in his black Cadillac at the stop sign on Darien Street waiting to go.

An HPD cruiser passes, Cooper hesitates and then attempts to cross Ley Road but was hit by Valdez. The Cadillac slid across the street into the parking lot of a gas station. Cooper died at the scene.

Cooper's family believes Valdez's speed caused the crash.

"You always have to have that sense that something can happen. If I'm not just a little bit more careful that day, or if my mind was on one thing and not where it's supposed to be, you know, I could potentially harm someone's life," Dr. Brandi Cooper-Lewis, Cooper's daughter, said.

Because the 911 call that Valdez was headed to was classified as a "code 2", he did not have his lights or sirens on.

Houston police officers who served as witnesses for the prosecution were questioned at length about the classification of calls and subsequent protocols on the first day of the trial.

"Are they going to send us letters saying, 'Hey these are the various codes and when you see them, know that the police department are operating in those sort of contexts,'" Lawrence Cooper, the victim's son, said. "We don't know those things."

Both prosecutors and the defense agreed that Valdez was speeding at the time of the crash and that officers are allowed to speed when responding to a call.

The prosecutor pointed out that the police code allows officers to speed as long as it doesn't endanger the lives of others.

SEE RELATED: Vigil held for father killed in crash involving HPD officers

Valdez was suspended from HPD and later resigned.

At the time of the crash, court records show that Cooper's blood alcohol level was almost three times the legal limit, which defense attorneys have blamed the crash on.

"It still does not dismiss the fact that somebody was irresponsible on that particular day," Lawrence Cooper said. "It still doesn't negate the officer was flying 90 miles per hour in a 35 mile per hour speed zone."

In July, a grand jury no-billed HPD officer Orlando Hernandez for criminally negligent homicide. Last December, he hit Michael Wayne Jackson, who was walking on a sidewalk along Reed Road in Sunnyside. The officer was reportedly speeding, as he was on his way to help other officers after a chase.

The same grand jury also no-billed Harris County Deputy Dontre Thomas. Back in January, he was chasing a suspect when he crashed into a car, killing young mother Autrey Davis. Her 3-year-old son, Kyle, was severely injured. He was fired from the sheriff's department.

SEE ALSO: HPD officer won't face homicide charge in chase crash that killed man walking on sidewalk

Trial will continue Tuesday. Family members were told to plan to be in the courtroom all week, although it is unclear how long the trial will last.

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