17-year-old shot to death by officer over marijuana
In 2013 a 17-year-old boy was shot dead by an off-duty officer at an apartment complex which stemmed from simple marijuana possession.
Jonathan Santellana exited his friend’s apartment and headed for his vehicle in northwest Harris County when Rey Garza, a rookie officer with the Navasota Police Department, saw what he believed was marijuana in Santellana’s hand. The two crossed paths as Garza headed to his apartment to grab his gun.
Once Santellana got into his vehicle, which also contained another 17-year-old female passenger, Garza says he saw the teen stuffing a leafy green substance into a medicine bottle.
That’s when Garza says he approached the vehicle and demanded that the teens get out.
Investigators say the off-duty cop identified himself as an officer, badge in hand, however the passenger says that all she saw was a tattooed guy in a T-shirt, gray gym shorts, and sandals banging on the driver’s side window with a gun in his hand, demanding they open the door. According to a federal lawsuit Santellana’s family filed against the City of Navasota and Garza, the teenager threw the car into reverse, thinking they were being robbed.
Garza said he opened the driver’s side door to yank the keys out of the ignition when Santellana started to reverse. Claiming he was pinned between Santellana’s car and his own, Garza began to fire.
The Taurus struck a four-door Ford F-150, after four or five shots were fired into the vehicle. Though a male driver was inside the totaled truck, he was not injured. The collision also pushed the parked truck into a separate, unoccupied two-door car.
Yet according to a crime scene reconstruction expert hired by Santellana’s family, Garza’s version of events “is not consistent with any of the factual evidence” in the case and conflicts with two eyewitnesses to the shooting, including the passenger in Santellana’s car.
Cam Cope, president of Auto Fire & Safety Consultants of Conroe, writes in a report on the shooting that Garza couldn’t have been where he said he was — pinned between cars — when he shot at Santellana. There were no powder burns or gunshot residue on Santellana’s car and the majority of the bullet casings recovered from the scene were in the middle of the parking lot.
According to Cope’s report, Garza must have kept firing at Santellana’s vehicle as he drove away from the officer — one other bullet that hit near the front driver’s side “was fired by a tall standing person and from a distance,” Cope writes. “Not only were the occupants (of Santellana’s car) in extreme danger, but so were the many other guests and residents of the surrounding area of the large apartment complex, at a busy time of the day,” Cope writes. “There is no physical evidence to support the allegation that the shooter was ever threatened, harmed or in danger of the white Malibu.”
Santellana was conscious when he was transported to North Cypress Hospital at 5:10 p.m. However, he was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital, which is only about two miles from the apartment complex.
A grand jury declined to indict Garza in 2014, however Santellana’s family is independently asking for a Harris County grand jury to reconsider criminal charges against Garza in light of the new evidence.
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