Six Laredo, Texas, police officers opened fire on a man who suffered from schizophrenia and was armed with a pellet gun Saturday night, blasting him with so many rounds that when the shooting was done, "he had no face," the dead man's family members say.
Jose Walter Garza's family says that the Laredo cops shot the 30-year-old mentally ill man 80 times. Police say that their investigation has not yet determined how many shots were actually fired, but the six officers have been "reassigned temporarily," the Laredo police said.
Though Garza was armed only with a pellet gun, the weapon was an authentic-looking replica of a semi-automatic handgun which Laredo Police Chief Ray Garner said appeared to be the real thing "from a distance."
Garner called the shooting "justified." Garner said that Garza appeared coherent during a five minute standoff with police shortly before 2 am on the morning of Saturday, August 30, at the Gateway Truck Stop gas station.
"He was aware we were there and dealing with police," Garner said."The commands were loud. He understood what was going on."
But Andrea Martinez, a cousin of Jose Garza, believes that there had to be a better way to deal with the situation. She said that when Garza failed to take his schizophrenia medication, his behavior could cause problems, but he was basically harmless.
"He wouldn't get aggressive, he wouldn't hurt anyone," Martinez said. "He's a good kid. Why didn't they shoot him in the leg, or the arm or something? Not like that."
Martinez said that the officers fired so many bullets into her cousin that his face was completely destroyed, causing the family to change their plans for Garza's funeral. Rather than burying him in a casket, as per the wishes of his grandmother with whom he lived, Garza must now be cremated.
Police had encountered Garza before, with Laredo police arresting him a reported 30 times for various offenses ranging from trespassing to assault. But whether any of the officers who shot Garza to death knew who he was at the time of the Saturday incident remains under investigation by the Laredo police.
Police said that the officers attempted to negotiate with Garza, trying to persuade him to drop his pellet gun for five minutes. But when he made what Garner called "an offensive gesture," then put his finger on the trigger and pointed the replica firearm at the officers, they unleashed a furious barrage of gunfire.
Surveillance camera video of the incident is below. Though it does not show the actual shooting at the Laredo, Texas, truck stop, nonetheless contains disturbing images.