Mimesis Law
25 March 2017

Not Guilty In Shooting Of Corpus Christi SWAT Officers

December 16, 2016 (Fault Lines) – On February 19, 2015, at just before 9:00 a.m., the SWAT team from the Corpus Christi Police Department executed a no-knock search warrant at the home of Ray Rosas. Rosas fired at the officers making entry into his home, striking several, and he was arrested and indicted for multiple counts of Attempted Capital Murder[1] and for Aggravated Assault on a Public Servant.[2] On December 14, 2016, a jury in Nueces County, Texas, found Rosas was not guilty of those charges.

This case provides an example of several problems in the police community today. First, the overuse of SWAT for drug raids. Then there is the over-militarization of police. And let’s not leave out the increased misuse of no-knock raids, which put police at a much higher risk of armed resistance than the traditional style of warrant service. It was covered by Scott Greenfield at Simple Justice, who noted that:

Ray Rosas did no more than any homeowner, with no particular reason to suspect that the armed gang breaking into his home were police, by defending himself and his family.

The warrant that was being executed was not for Rosas; it was for his nephew. The police had no idea if the nephew, Santiago Garcia, was present, as they had not conducted surveillance of the house beforehand. Rosas’s home had been the site of several drive by shootings, a result of Rosas’s testimony against a local gang in the past. So the police broke a window and tossed a flash-bang into the Rosas bedroom, where defense counsel said that it hit Rosas before going off. The flash-bang is a distraction device, designed to make it hard for the occupants to see or hear what’s going on, and it worked. Rosas said that he couldn’t tell that it was police officers coming into the house, and that he thought it was a home invasion.

So Rosas did what anyone else in Texas would do under those circumstances, he got his own pistol and fired 15 rounds at the invaders. He struck three officers, Steven Brown, Steve Ruebelmann, and Andrew Jordan. Jordan was off work for a year recovering from his wounds, while Brown and Ruebelmann were able to return to work much sooner. Rosas was indicted for three counts of Attempted Capital Murder and four counts of Aggravated Assault of a Public Servant.

Then the case started to tank.

In opening arguments prosecutors pointed out that the police were in clearly marked uniforms and were yelling “police” as they entered. The defense countered with the fact that the flash-bang worked as designed and Rosas could not see or hear what was happening. Think about this for a minute. Rosas fired 15 rounds at point-blank range, and only managed five hits, and four of those were to extremities. Then it came out that the gunshot that tore through Officer Ross Murray’s pants-leg came from another police officer,[3] not Rosas. So the prosecution, halfway through the trial, asked the judge to dismiss the three Attempted Capital Murder and one of the Aggravated Assault of a Public Servant charges.

That’s not a good sign for the prosecution. And it wasn’t going to get better.

Both defense attorneys, Terry Shasie and Lisa Greenberg, repeatedly pointed out the miscues of the police, the evidence that they failed to collect, the discrepancies in their testimony, the inexplicable expectation that a resident would be able to see or hear after being hit by a flash-bang. They brought up the fact that Ruebelmann wasn’t indicted for shooting at Murray, the same crime that Rosas was indicted on.

Plus, it doesn’t help when Judge Guy Williams gave a spoliation of evidence charge to the jury, pointing out that the District Attorney had mishandled 22 items of evidence that were crucial to the case:

And the court further instructs the jury that this evidence would be unfavorable to the State of Texas who did not produce or preserve such evidence. (Emphasis added.)

This isn’t something new, the Nueces County District Attorney has a reputation for trial by ambush, by not complying with the Michael Morton Act by turning over evidence to the defense attorneys and by not providing information to the defense in other areas.[4] That’s apparently the way that DA Mike Skurka, a 29-year career prosecutor conducts business, without any apparent consequences[5] despite repeated complaints by defense attorneys.

So the jury acquitted Rosas on the remaining three charges. Afterward, the jury talked to the attorneys and the following issues came out:

  • The officers were not credible, their stories didn’t match
  • The fact that the flash-bang is designed to disorient and distract, which it did
  • That there was no video from body cams or vehicles
  • That the police did not conduct pre-raid surveillance
  • That Rosas was indicted for an assault committed by an officer
  • That the officer wasn’t also indicted
  • That the prosecutor dismissed half of the charges in the middle of the trial

From my standpoint, it’s a real no-brainer.  For the cops at PoliceOne, they are appalled. They don’t understand and are blaming everyone but themselves.

The answer mush -brained jurors….is that the officer would not have been firing his weapon if not forced too by the actions of Rojas …..sounds like they just got a cop hating jury and 3 cops getting shot was the least of their concerns ……typical …..our juries lack critical thinking because our public education systems are absolute [explicative] ……the chickens have come home to roost.

So jurors are now questioning tactics used during a warrant service?  My lord.

Man what a terrible DA sorry guys justice was not served here.  that is very scary

Note that the above comments put no responsibility on the failures of the police to gather evidence or the prosecutor in turning the evidence over—and none of them see a problem in tossing a flash-bang and then expecting the defendant to be able to see and hear. The bright spot is that a couple of commenters at PoliceOne seem to get it (although they are usually immediately attacked by the police hive-mind).

The jury’s reasoning and the argument by the defense are both sound in this case.  SWAT and the militarization of the police are what leads to outcomes such at these.  SWAT is great for hardcore criminals; their use should be more discretionary.

I can say my agency SWAT team does not do dynamic entry’s anymore on drug warrants.  This is the national standard because of crap like this.  It’s not worth getting a cop shot over dope and you should already have PC to arrest the dirt bag you’re going in after.  You shouldn’t need whatever dope he can flush to arrest the ass clown.

This sounds like another example of the kind of overly-used deployment of SWAT resources that I referenced on another thread.  . . . There are violent, high-risk, criminals for whom these type raids are appropriate.  There does need to be a lot of discretion with regards to when and when not to use these tactics.

This may be a sign of a new trend, a change in the pendulum, so to speak. When’s the last time you heard of a jury saying that the officers were not credible witnesses when there was no video? Or that they acquitted someone who shot at police officers when drugs were found in the residence? Or a criminal court judge giving a spolitation instruction to the jury?

Even more impressive is the fact that more and more police officers are starting to recognize the problem. It’s a good sign.

[1] A first-degree felony punishable by 5 to 99 years or life in prison.

[2] Also a first-degree felony.

[3] The round that went through Murray’s pants leg was fired by Ruebelmann.

[4] “[T]he State may not conduct ‘trial by ambush’ . . . .”, State v. Moff, 154 S.W.3d 599 (Tex. Crim. App. 2004), a case from Nueces County.

[5] Unless you count being defeated for re-election by a local defense attorney who has “Not Guilty” tattooed on his chest.

9 Comments on this post.

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  • TheHawk296
    16 December 2016 at 1:32 pm - Reply

    YYYYYYYYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYYYHHHHHHHHHHH !!!!!!!!!!

    Justice has been served in this case,

    Let’s hope Rosas can file a civil rights claim and win BIG BIG BIG !!!!!!

    Let’s also hope the DoJ takes a look at this case, indicts and convicts the officers involved, and they do real jail time. (Most likely this needs to be doen before January 20th)

    The Texas State Bar has always been lax on DAs and the at need to stop.

    “Tough on Crime” judges also need to look and the necessity for “no-knock warrants” which police love and are much overused. A simple question “Why can’t you just pick him up when comes outside of his house?” would suffice. (Cops response – “DUH – DUH – DAHH – DUH – DUH – DUH”)

    Congratulations to Mr Rosas and his defense team. Let’s hope this sends a message to police departments everywhere (doubtful given the PoliceOne comments)

  • Anon
    17 December 2016 at 3:16 pm - Reply

    “Mush-brained jurors”

    Based on post-trial interviews with the jurors, that’s doesn’t seem entirely unwarranted: “They questioned why police didn’t survey the house … before going in,” “were surprised officers didn’t make sure the person the warrant named was in the house before the raid,” and questioned/were bothered why “Ruebelmann wasn’t facing the same charge as Rosas.”

    The first two don’t seem particularly relevant (and there are good reasons why, generally speaking, you don’t or can’t do either); the third is just silly.

    • Greg Prickett
      17 December 2016 at 5:52 pm - Reply

      Actually, in my experience, you always do the first two. The third is just good lawyering by the defense team.

      • Anon
        17 December 2016 at 9:53 pm - Reply

        “Eyes on” or like intel is good practice. But given the not insignificant percentage of raids that come-up “dry,” it’s obviously not always followed or feasible, especially in places that use tactical for the bulk of pre-planned arrests.
        That’s also irrelevant to the point of how, even if they had eyes on, that affects whether Royas was justified.

    • Brad
      18 December 2016 at 10:58 am - Reply

      I think the lack of charging the policeman who shot the other policeman goes to intent in a relevant way. The inference is that the prosecutors thought that the popo that shot the other popo didn’t have intent (he certainly did the guilty actus). It is at least somewhat inconsistent that they were arguing that Rosas had the requisite intent.

      • Greg Prickett
        18 December 2016 at 11:30 am - Reply

        There is no way that the DA was going to charge a wounded cop for shooting back at Rosas–but it is something that the defense counsel can argue (and it worked).

  • Kimball Rhodes
    17 December 2016 at 4:31 pm - Reply

    We see here, clear & bold, a trend since police departments were invented. Inherited from the days of the Wild West. In all Police monologues, field commands, officer comments, it is: Predatory – Me first and Your rights be damned. May this case signal a cool-down of: Militarized Police vs. the People of America. Perhaps CCPD command would be more comfortable living in North Korea, so off you go, we will provide as many one-way tickets as needed.

    • Greg Prickett
      17 December 2016 at 6:10 pm - Reply

      Actually the officer safety movement and the accompanying “me first” attitude did not begin until the 1970s. The first book on police officer safety came out in the early 1980’s, shortly after the introduction of bullet resistant Kevlar vests. Before that it was a lot different. SWAT got started earlier, in the late 1960’s, but had not yet expanded to drug raids.

      Second, comparing the CCPD to North Korea is BS. The chief of CCPD at the time was the late Floyd Simpson, who was a fine man and a good police officer.

  • Rojas
    18 December 2016 at 9:04 am - Reply

    Feasibility is not contingent on the decision not to conduct the surveillance.
    That’s like saying “If we had tested the air bags we wouldn’t have had the time to make so many defective ones”.

    And the relevance may go to the point of using force greater than necessary. Few would argue the take down of Dillinger was unreasonable. Had they gone to his grandmothers house an performed a 32 dive preceded by a volley of concussion grenades without even bothering to ascertain that he was there I suspect we would have a different view of their legacy.