A childish scuffle turned deadly in San Antonio, TX, when a Northside Independent School District (NISD) police officer shot and killed a 14-year-old student last year (Friday, November 10, 2010, about 4:30pm).
Derek Lopez, a troubled 14-year old and 8th grade student at Bexar County Juvenile Justice School, sucker punched a classmate of his at the bus stop. Unfortunately, NISD Officer Daniel Alvarado witnessed the incident and pulled over to break-up what he thought was a fight. So, Derek Lopez took of running.
After a halfhearted attempt to catch Lopez on foot and out of breath, Officer Alvarado called dispatch saying, "I just had one run from me. I saw an assault in progress. He punched the guy several times."
His police supervisor responded by giving him specific directions: "Yeah I copy, let's not do any big search over there. Let's go with the victim and see if we can identify him that way. We can put one in the area, but let's concentrate on getting one from the victim."
"I've got the victim right here," Alvarado replied. In spite of his supervisors commands, Alvarado then ordered the "victim" into his patrol car and took off in hot pursuit of Lopez.
Derek Lopez had jumped over the fence of a nearby residence to hide in a small backyard shed. The homeowner, a retired nurse who was at home with her two daughters and 3-year old granddaughter, saw him and was understandably scared. So, she rushed to her kitchen window and screamed to a neighbor for help, who immediately seeing the patrol car speeding down the suburban street, flagged the officer down.
Alvarado immediately drew his gun "when he came up the driveway," the homeowner recalled. Then about 45 seconds after he entered the backyard, a single gunshot reverberated through the neighborhood.
When the homeowner saw the officer carrying the boy out of the shed and putting him "on the grass, on the ground," she quickly grabbed a bath towel and ran outside. As she was applying pressure to the boy's wound she asked, "Why did you shoot him?"
"He came at me," Alvarado responded.
A paramedic who lived next door ran over to help too, finding 14-year old Derek Lopez sweaty, clammy, and gasping for breath. As for the officer said the paramedic, "He looked a little dazed or distant. He needed someone to tell him what to do."
One of the homeowner's daughters who had been frightened when she first saw Lopez enter the shed, felt something different after she went outside to help. "I just remember his mouth moving a little bit," she said. "That's when I saw his braces. And that's when I realized that it was a little boy."
Stuck in the patrol car, the victim of Lopez's sucker punch called his mom on his cellphone. After rushing to the scene, she found her son with tear-filled eyes, "just staring." She said to a witness, "He shot him? Why did he shoot him? He didn't have to shoot him."
Officer Daniel Alvarado
Contradicting Officer Daniel Alvarado's claims of multiple punches thrown by Lopez, his classmate confirmed in his deposition: "He just hit me once. It wasn't a fight. It was nothing."
He also recalled Alvarado telling another officer he had "panicked" when he fired.
In Alvarado's official report he claimed: "The suspect bull rushed his way out of the shed and lunged right at me ... literally inches away ... I feared for my own safety."
But the autopsy report concluded that "There is no evidence of close range firing of the wound," and noted a lack of gunpowder on Lopez's bloodstained shirt as well.
The inconsistencies in Alvarado's story should hardly come as a surprise. After all, the officer has a history full of problems, including 16 reprimands (12 warnings and 4 suspensions) between March 2006 and November 2010 alone.
Since 2006, Alvarado's supervisors at the Northside Independent School District Police Department had reprimanded or counseled him on at least 12 occasions — six for not following orders. In other cases, Alvarado failed to show up for assignments, and his bosses appeared to suspect him of lying.
Alvarado was suspended at least four times, and his supervisors warned of impending termination four times — once even recommending it.
But Alvarado, 46, never was fired. Six months after the death of student Derek Lopez, as an investigation into the shooting continues, the 17-year veteran of the Police Department remains with the school district.
Reached by phone, Alvarado declined to discuss the shooting. NISD spokesman Pascual Gonzalez said the officer has been placed on administrative duty since the incident.
The San Antonio Police Department has ruled the case a justified shooting. The Bexar County district attorney's office still is investigating.
According to Lopez family attorney, Wallace Brylak, Alvarado's administrative reprimands "were so bad that he was suspended without pay a number of times and the police department recommended that he be terminated back in 2008." Yet, for the needless killing of an unarmed teenager, he gets an easy, full-paid job? Go figure.
Ignoring the commands of our badge-wearing Betters, obviously, is now a capital crime punishable by summary execution.
David Klinger, a former police officer who's now a professor of criminology and an expert in the use of deadly force, was surprised by Alvarado's disciplinary history.
"It sounds like they knew this guy was a problem," Klinger said. "If someone's insubordinate in a bunch of circumstances, it's logical to believe they'll be insubordinate in an important circumstance."
What Klinger ignores is that in today's America, government agents are officially above the law ("I am the law!"). The rules, and even basic human morality, only apply to we mere mundanes.
Benjamin Franklin once said that, "In free governments the rulers are the servants, and the people their superiors and sovereigns." Fast-forward a couple hundred years, and we've flipped this founding principle on its head!
How did we get here?
The tragic death of 14-year old Derek Lopez is the unfortunate result of the proliferation of gun-toting school district Stasi who enforce federally-subsidized "zero tolerance" policies and other edicts that have grown out of our "virtuous" War on Drugs. It's the "School-to-Prison" pipeline.
Those who follow the so-called "School-to-Prison" pipeline, the euphemism used to describe the growing reliance on school district police to do what educators did themselves not so long ago, suggest that a confluence of circumstances led to Friday's incident.
"You put a ton of enforcement, and what are they going to do? Enforce things," said Lisa Graybill, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, which last month hosted a seminar on use of school district police. In other words, what once brought after-school detention now invites harsher punishment. What once prompted an assistant principal to haul a kid into the office now has the medical examiner performing an autopsy on an eighth-grader.
"We're headed in the wrong direction, and as a result this kid is gone," Graybill said.
Wrong direction? We turned the wrong direction a long time ago. We've already arrived in the wrong place.