The Department of Justice announced on Wednesday that its civil rights division is investigating allegations that Houston police officers used excessive force against unarmed suspects including the killing of an emotionally disturbed, double-amputee.
According to a law enforcement source in Texas, Justice Department investigators and attorneys are probing six cases in which officers allegedly used deadly physical force against unarmed individuals.
Houston’s Police Chief Charles McClelland, an African American, said in a statement that he is “confident the department’s policies and procedures follow or exceed the best practices in law enforcement.”
“I am very confident our training, policies and procedures follow or exceed the best practices in law enforcement. I am extremely proud of the 6,500-plus men and women of this organization who work hard each and every day to keep this city among the safest in the nation,” Chief McClelland said in a statement.
One major case being investigated is the shooting death of 45-year-old Brian Claunch, a mentally ill, double-amputee in a wheelchair, at the hands of a Houston police officer.
Police Officer Matthew Marin shot and killed the one-armed and one-legged Claunch in September 2012 inside a group home for the mentally ill when responding to a dispatcher’s call that Claunch was suspected of disorderly conduct inside the home.
The Houston PD claims that Claunch threatened Officer Marin and was waving an object at the time of the shooting. Marin reportedly told investigators he didn’t know the object in Claunch’s hand was a writing pen. The shooting death of a mentally-ill wheelchair-bound man by a police officer raised public concerns about how the police deal with the mentally ill and the police department’s policy on use of physical force.
Ray Hunt, president of the Houston Police Officers’ Union, said officer-involved shootings and cases in which officers are accused of using excessive physical force are fairly and completely investigated. Hunt said there are no cover-ups by the department.
“We are confident that the people in the Justice Department … are going to look at these cases and realize that we have done everything we have to do,” he said.