Man says he was shot at needlessly; charges against him dropped

09:08 PM CDT on Friday, September 14, 2007

By TANYA EISERER / The Dallas Morning News

Two Dallas police officers are under criminal investigation for making "inconsistent statements" about an incident where one officer shot at a man who was accused of trying to run him down with his pickup.
Stanley McDaniel

Prosecutors, at the request of the Dallas Police Department, on Thursday dropped an aggravated assault charge against Gerardo Lopez, 27, the man who the officers said tried to strike one of them down after he had been driving recklessly in northwest Dallas in late August.
"The fact that we released the suspect makes a pretty bold statement," said Sgt. Gary Kirkpatrick, commander of a squad that investigates officer-involved shootings. "We felt uncomfortable with all the statements that had been made."
Several eyewitnesses said during interviews that Mr. Lopez did not try to run over Officer Andrew Cortes, and that the officer repeatedly fired without provocation.
Officers Cortes and Officer Stanley McDaniel have been placed on restricted duty while authorities investigate what, if any, laws or policies were broken.
Officer Cortes, a six-year veteran, did not return a call seeking comment. Officer McDaniel, who joined the department in 1989, declined to comment, saying, "I would love to comment, but by it being under investigation I can't really get into that."
Mr. Lopez could not be reached for comment.

Busy area

About 1 a.m. on Aug. 27, the two officers were working off duty security in their uniforms at a tavern in the 2900 block of Lombardy Lane. It's a busy area, with many homeless people hanging out near a convenience store and a bustling taco stand.
The two officers told investigators that they saw Mr. Lopez's 1994 Chevrolet Silverado driving recklessly in the tavern parking lot and then drive away. A few minutes later, Officer Cortes said Mr. Lopez returned to the area and drove into a parking lot across the street.
Officer Cortes told investigators that Mr. Lopez "was revving the engine and driving the suspect vehicle directly at him while he [Officer Cortes] was standing on a curb," the police report said.
The officer, being in "imminent fear of his life" fired an "unknown number" of shots at Mr. Lopez's truck, the report said. The truck then fled.
The officers told investigators that they flagged down a tow truck and asked those inside to get a license plate for the fleeing truck, but they did not mention a second barrage of shots that investigators later determined Officer Cortes had fired at the fleeing Silverado.
Investigators knew immediately they had a problem because of ballistic evidence found at the scene and because of statements from the tow truck driver.
But eyewitness accounts also raise questions about whether the officers lied about Mr. Lopez trying to run down the officer.
Keith Davis, who works in the parking lot of the taco stand, told WFAA-TV (Channel 8) that Mr. Lopez had been "spinning" his tires and it had angered the officers. He said Mr. Lopez then backed up to the Dumpsters trash bins by the nearby convenience store and that Officer Cortes told the other policeman, "Let's go get him. Let's go get him."
He said Officer Cortes ran down to the curb, pulled out his weapon and then opened fire at Mr. Lopez as he pulled out of the crowded convenience store parking lot.
"He just pulled out normal to the street and he just started firing on him. Boom. Boom. Boom," Mr. Davis said. He said the truck then turned the corner and the officers chased after it on foot. "Then you heard three more shots," Mr. Davis said.
Barney Cox, the tow truck driver, said he heard two sets of shots and then saw the police officers. He said the officers asked him if he could follow and get the truck's license plate.
He followed for only a short distance before the Silverado swerved at him. "I caught his bumper and I spun him out" in an apartment complex parking lot, Mr. Cox said.
Mr. Cox said he blocked the truck with his tow truck to prevent Mr. Lopez from leaving. He then got out of the tow truck and took the keys from the ignition of Mr. Lopez's truck. He said he saw numerous beer cans in the Silverado's cab.

Lot worker queried

Mr. Davis said that after the shooting, an officer approached him and asked if he had seen the man "charge at the officer with the truck."
He said he told the officer that the man hadn't tried to run over Officer Cortes. He said at that point, the officer was no longer interested in anything else he had to say.
Lt. Craig Miller, commander of the homicide unit, said police are vigorously trying to find out what happened that night and are seeking to find any eyewitnesses.
"We are looking into inconsistencies in this investigation," Lt. Miller said. "Our evidence is leading us to the conclusion that things may not be as they appear."
If criminal investigators determine that the officers lied to get Mr. Lopez falsely charged with aggravated assault, they could face charges of tampering with a government document or even federal civil-rights violations. They could also lose their jobs.
According to police records, Officer Cortes has been repeatedly accused of excessive force and mistreating people, but internal investigators determined that none of the allegations could be proven. In 2006, he was found to have violated the department's off-duty employment policy. He has about 12 commendations.
Officer McDaniel has a lengthy and troubled disciplinary history, including several suspensions. Earlier this month, he was arrested in East Texas on a drunken driving charge.
Officer McDaniel, who also has about 30 commendations, attributed his problems to being a hard worker who arrests a lot of criminals.
"If you're doing police work, you're going to have a record," he said.

Byron Harris of WFAA-TV contributed to this report.