HOUSTON (AP) - An off-duty Houston police officer cleared in a 2011 fatal shooting outside a bar was considered "legally intoxicated" by his department when he opened fire on two unarmed men, according to newly released internal reports that a grand jury was never given.
Officer Jose Coronado Jr. had an estimated blood-alcohol level of 1½ times the legal limit when he walked out of the bar near closing time and confronted a group of men fighting in the parking lot, according to an internal investigation by the Houston Police Department.
But the conclusions in the report, obtained by the Houston Chronicle (http://bit.ly/23GazLZ ), were never presented to the grand jury that cleared Coronado because courts have ruled that internal police investigations cannot be used against officers in criminal cases. Coronado was ultimately suspended for 30 days for using his gun while intoxicated and demonstrating a "lack of sound judgment" and other policy violations.
The explanation for that suspension wasn't divulged until years later, only after the family of one of the victims sued.
Coronado is among a number of Houston police officers whose intentional shootings have been later ruled justified. Since 2010, no Houston officer has been charged out of more than 150 police shootings that resulted in injuries or deaths.
"Obviously, the grand jury and the internal review believed the officer's version and discounted the other witnesses," said Kenneth Williams, a South Texas College of Law professor who reviewed the internal report at the newspaper's request. "But it's certainly questionable - whether they reached the right conclusion . the fact that (the officer) was intoxicated would have called into question whether his actions were reasonable."
Chad Hoffman, Coronado's attorney, did not respond to the newspaper's request for comment. He repeatedly told reporters in 2011 that the officer was not drunk when he opened fire and had done so out of his fear for his own safety, claiming that one of the men reached for his waistband.
Witnesses had told police Coronado had been drinking and that neither of the men he shot, one of whom died, had threatened the officer.
Houston police never publicly revealed that the internal investigation had concluded that Coronado was drunk. His blood-alcohol level wasn't formally tested until six hours after the shooting and after a consultation with his police union attorney. At that time he scored just below the legal limit for intoxication, according to internal records.
Another officer who was flagged down by Coronado after the shooting said he didn't think about doing a sobriety test. Internal investigators later estimated Coronado to have been legally intoxicated based on the number of drinks he was compelled to disclose.
Houston Police Union President Ray Hunt said the procedure and delay in testing Coronado was typical for all incidents involving officers suspected to be drinking in other situations involving death or injury, such as car accidents. Hunt said that by agreement, department officers use only one specific Breathalyzer machine to measure officers' blood-alcohol levels and generally those tests are conducted under orders hours later.
Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com
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