Justice for Michael Pena

(Source: KCBD)

LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Lubbock County officials say a sheriff’s deputy was justified in using deadly force on Thanksgiving night last year, resulting in the death of 31-year-old Michael Anthony Pena. Monday the Lubbock County Sheriff’s Office released the body camera video of the incident nearly a week after the Lubbock County District Attorney’s office determined it would not take the case to a grand jury.

“While this video was was exceedingly tragic, the actions of the deputy that night are a textbook example of how we train our officers and what we expect of them when they’re faced with this type of situation,” Sheriff Kelly Rowe said at a news conference.

Rowe said the deputy was responding to a domestic disturbance call around 9 p.m. on November 26, 2020 in the 5500 block of CR 1260 west of Lubbock. Rowe said the female caller told LSO the subject left with belongings, including a gun.

The deputy is reported to have encountered Pena, who matched the description of the subject, on CR 7000 east of CR 1300. With the understanding he may have a weapon, the deputy asks Pena to comply with a search. The video shows Pena, who Sheriff Rowe said was found to have been under the influence of drugs and alcohol, denying the multiple requests.

“You can also see the officer made multiple attempts to try to direct the individual to place hands on the vehicle in order to obtain the pat search and try to remove any potential weapons and risks to him or any other individuals at that point, which subject continually refused right up until the end,” Sheriff Rowe said.

Pena is seen reaching for an object in his pocket and the deputy gives orders to get his hand out of his pocket. A still image released by LSO of the dash camera video shows Pena pointing a revolver at the deputy. At that point the deputy fires multiple shots at Pena. He died at UMC.

“The failure to comply with the officer’s instructions: unfortunately, this is something we are seeing more and more each and every day,” Sheriff Rowe said. “This trend is leading to a point where these situations end up becoming far worse because the situation escalates, because we cannot get compliance with the lawful orders of a peace officer. In this particular case, given where this was at, given the nature of why the officer stopped the individual, he was completely well within the law to conduct a pat search of that individual.”

The Texas Rangers investigated the shooting. Officials say those findings were given to the Lubbock County District Attorney on February 12. The DA’s office told KCBD it reviewed all evidence and made its determination on May 4 that the deputy’s use of deadly force was necessary and justified.

For the past few weeks Pena’s family has publicized a demonstration outside the courthouse for later this week to call for such video to be released. They had not seen it until Monday’s news conference.

“I’ve called the Texas Rangers,” Velma Vela, Pena’s mother, said. “I’ve called the Attorney General’s office, I’ve called the District Attorney’s office. I’ve tried to get answers and I’ve gotten nothing, zero. I get voicemails and no one ever returns my calls. So, we’ve started to try to march to get answers and it’s almost six months later. I count every day trying to get an answer for something and I haven’t gotten anything until today. They still haven’t, like I said, contacted me showing me a video. I think I should have been first.”

Sheriff Rowe said it was because the completed investigation and decision by the DA that allowed the release of the video. He said the Texas Rangers would be the ones to contact the next-of-kin.

“After seeing the first press conference that took six months to review or for them to show, I still have 101 questions,” Vela said. “What really happened to Michael that night?”

Sheriff Rowe said the deputy is no longer on paid leave, has “extensive experience” and has returned to his role in a SWAT tactical unit.

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