Two years ago, the brutal police tasing of an elderly Texas man, reported by The Victoria Advocate, took the nation by storm as it set into motion the preexisting division of a broken country. 76-year old Pete Vasquez’s life changed instantly, transforming from a peaceful father, grandfather and husband to a vulnerable and emotional man. In less than 20 seconds, his peace turned to fear; a fear that will remain for the duration of his life.
His crime? None. As highlighted in this International Yahoo.com News video, Police camera showed Mr. Vasquez was pulled over by a young police officer for not having an inspection sticker, even though the dealer plates were clearly displayed on the vehicle he was driving. This was all part of Mr. Vasquez’s job as a mechanic.
As Mr. Vasquez attempted to show the officer the plates and explain to him that no inspection sticker was required, the officer forcibly grabbed the mere 5 foot 5 inch unarmed, non-aggressive elderly gentleman and wrestled him to the hard concrete, where he reportedly deployed his taser into the victim twice, although the victim’s account states three times in the Victoria Advocate interview linked above.
Due to erroneous behavior on the officer’s part, the local police department’s chief immediately made right the incident by personally apologizing for this young officer’s gross mistake, as reported by a local Houston, Texas media source.
“Vasquez was never charged or cited for any wrongdoing. He told Local 2 News that the chief of Victoria police actually came to his house that night to apologize.”
In spite of the apology, the need to hold the young officer accountable remained.
As parents, we are responsible for the actions of our children until they are of legal age to assume their own responsibilities. As an employer, we are ultimately responsible for the actions of our employees. As a governmental entity, we are responsible for the safety and security or those we serve and must hold accountable the actions of our sworn servants.
In the case of Pete Vasquez, the accountability for his being brutally wrestled to the ground and reportedly tased twice for doing wrong was more than simple responsibility. It took determination on the part of the victim to stand against all unwarranted police aggression, especially when the victim is known harmless.
Mr. Vasquez used everything he believed to ensure the justice he deserved was served. He wanted justice against this brutal attack so that the vulnerable, weak, elderly, mentally incapable and frail were no longer bullied into submission through aggressive measures. A judiciary task much greater than one man could accomplish. Unfortunately, his fight for justice became nothing more than a spoke in one small wheel of a much greater machine.
The process on which our nation relies to provide a fair decision is a flawed one at best. Blanket laws designed to prevent a law-enforcement officer from being punished for performing his/her duties also protect them and provide immunity even when they make a serious judgment error. This immunity prevents public servants from being held accountable. (See more here on Qualified Immunity).
Moreover, police and public servants have direct access to deep-pocketed advocacy groups, which help these individuals defend their actions, despite being wrong, and work tirelessly to obtain settlements to remain silent.
What this boils down to? A city presumably will legally “pay off” a police officer to remain silent about a case so as not to create problems for them or interfere with any future legal actions. It is a settlement for silence. What you end up with is an officer who receives settlement payments in addition to being gainfully employed without penalty in some other location, likely a neighboring city or other area, even after being terminated for a wrongful violation.
Some might call this “double dipping”, but it is a legalized bribery of sorts; a resource to which a clear majority of citizens do not have access.
Regarding the Victoria, Texas case, the “system” failed to indict the accused officer for his wrongful doing, despite finding him in violation of several city police regulations, or rules of conduct. The officer was terminated from the city, however, was in no way held accountable for his wrongful actions. They even made it clear that it wasn’t a good idea to try and go after Mr. Vasquez for “resisting arrest”, a misdemeanor.
A slap on the wrist for a lifetime of mental anguish, fear and anxiety he caused one elderly gentleman.
It is believed the Grand Jury only did what they could legally, but left the door open for possibility of monetary justice. They could have indicted the officer, but due to protection by the immunity law, had a high probability of a “not guilty” verdict and Mr. Vasquez would have ended up not only wasting what little time he may have at the end of his life, but also wasting his own money and quality of life. He would have become a victim once again to a long and drawn out process of waiting for the “system” to fail him.
This waiting might have surpassed his own life, and then the fight for justice would be cast aside in a dismissal.
For many, there was a strong sense of injustice that had taken place. At minimum, the belief this alleged hot-headed officer should lose his license served as the common thread for controversial discussion. In local restaurants, social media posts and newspaper threads, the division and hatred of individual “arm-chair quarterbacks” surfaced.
People from around the globe possessed an obvious need to spread their opinion in reference to a case they knew nothing about, spouting vitriolic opinions of the family, the elderly man and the police officer.
Even though citizens are entitled to their opinions from the safety and anonymity of their electronic devices, the fact remains that none can intelligently interject a valid opinion unless they have directly endured what happened to Pete Vasquez.
To obtain justice, Mr. Vasquez stood strong for what he believed and selflessly set out to right the wrongs done against him t in hopes to protect the next Pete Vasquez. His battle would be with The City of Victoria, TX based on his personal belief that his Civil Rights were violated.
As individual tax paying citizens, very few people possess an abundance of time in their life, much less the excess of time to fight a senseless battle. One would think when we mess up or bring harm to someone, we would immediately work to make it right for them. And yet, it is the exact opposite.
Even when an officer is in gross error, it is strongly suggested, even encouraged, that a citizen not question or resist the officer, and “sort it out” down at the station. What does sorting it out mean? It means putting a halt to whatever task or emergent activity in which one is engaged, whether it be driving your dying mom to the hospital or trying to pick up your child from school. It means stopping your freedoms to live your life, get to your job, complete your task list all to “sort it out” and prove your innocence.
It is important to seriously put thought into the entire process. Most individuals do not have the time or the funding to “fight” when they are wronged by a servant of the system. They just comply with the consequence, not because it is the right thing to do but because there is a basic level of understanding of what fighting the wrongs you endured at the hands of a protected servant truly entails.
Obtaining counsel, going through the “process”, driving to the courthouse, paying for parking, waiting, trials, pre-conferences, mediation in remote locations, long winded phone calls with attorneys so they can maximizes their own return on investment and so many other unwritten inconveniences is a sampling of what proving one’s innocence entails. For the vulnerable populations, this can be devastating to living life and to one’s health.
For Mr. Vasquez, he was doing nothing more than his daily job. His mind was focused on getting home to his wife who suffered from severe dementia. He was simply trying to make a living. During his job duties, a less than 20-second decision made in a knee-jerk reaction set into motion the devastating course of events, requiring emergency responses in order to get to the wife and contact family, all of which created a sudden halt in his and in the daily operations of other family members who were working and trying to live their own lives.
The process was set into motion like the wheels of a machine when Mr. Vasquez decided to fight for this justice. To fight The City in a court of law would bring in bigger and muddier entities. Insurance companies.
Once the insurance company, its lobbyists and legal associates get involved, the fight then becomes about the monetary value of a human life. In Mr. Vasquez’s case, what was this man’s worth as a human and a victim of police brutality?
Following countless frustrations, interactions with the media, multiple negotiations taking him from his own life and that of his dying wife and the senseless wasting of time by insurance representatives, a settlement was hesitantly reached.
Because no “lasting physical harm” was exacted onto this elderly man, the value of his life and the price tag on his torment was deemed much lower than had he been disabled from the incident, or worse, killed.
The value of the life of Mr. Vasquez was carelessly negotiated, during which time his wife died, adding to his pain and frustration over the process; a pain and frustration that no public official, no legal entity, no insurance representative and no person found to hold any value.
Mr. Pete Vasquez, a man who was forbidden from living his life as a 77-year old should be doing, or forbidden from attending to his ill and dying wife in the capacity she deserved, was forced to live his life in painful interaction due directly to the erroneous actions of one young man who was sworn to serve and protect, but protected by a blanket law. His monetary value was decided and finalized.
His goal was to move forward and put it all behind him, taking up a new hobby to refocus his energies onto to something positive. Although he is still easily brought to tears when forced to recount the past 2 years, he maintained his focus of going forward.
Months after the settlement, a follow up interview with Mr. Vasquez regarding the incident unveiled what appeared to be a strong media oppression of this man’s voice.
I sat through the interview in silence and listened to the questions asked, most of them hedged at generating a level of vulnerability and fake trust so he would feel comfortable speaking without filter. He fought thought his emotional recollection of the scarring events and tried to maintain a positive focus. He told the reporter he felt that justice was served in his case as best it could be, but that he was concerned for future interactions for himself and others like him.
The front-page article failed to reflect what this man had asked it to reflect, which was sharing that a settlement had been reached but that the system was flawed in obtaining justice when those sworn to protect and serve fail to do so. Even the trailer articles published following the story reflected the same sentiments.
Instead, the article focused on shifting energies away from the system, and in what appeared to be a carefully skewed manner, pointing the finger at a broken man who allegedly refused counseling and refused to disclose the settlement amount.
The story highlighted blame of family, who perceptually silenced Mr. Vasquez from talking of the incident or about his true feelings. It even went on to quote none of which was profound to the case, but only those hedged statements that created blame through plausible deniability.
Mr. Vasquez’s incident was not a minor incident by any definition. It was not a personal injury case. It was a civil rights matter and It indirectly launched a country into division regarding civil rights and legalities between servants of the law and innocent citizens to whom they serve.
Police departments owe the citizens, at minimum, the safety and protection for all. They are held to a higher standard and should be provided with additional training focused on conflict resolution beyond physical detainment.
A harmless elderly man stopped for a perceived traffic violation, one that proved not to be valid, who was 50 years the senior of a very young and aggressive male, barely of legal drinking age, should be provided the compassion and respect of what he as a law-abiding citizen has experienced over a lifetime; his lifetime.
A single young woman who is pulled over on a dark county road should not fear for her safety, especially if no wrong has been done. However, it is the fear of many women and other vulnerable populations such as elderly and young teen drivers that they will be stopped without reason and harmed, or worse KILLED, for their rational expression of their rights being violated.
The incident involving Pete Vasquez and the Victoria, Texas Police Department is a critical and real reflection of our society. It serves as an opportunity to enact positive change in a flawed and broken system.
Those individuals and groups with the power and funding to bring change to the system and rewrite the blanket laws like the immunity law or consequences for officers using tasers and weapons on vulnerable populations owe our country, our states, our cities and our communities the respect of standing up for the citizens. They possess the ability to bring forth changes that will protect future incidents from happening. So why do they not?
Because of the broken process.
It was highlighted in the article how insurance companies, specifically auto insurance providers, delineate the age of maturity as 25-years old for male drivers and have done so for a long time. Anyone under 25 is deemed a high risk due to their knee-jerk response probability, their aggressive behaviors, their lack of ability to be observant of danger and for this group, they pay double or even triple the insurance rate to drive. Why is it that insurance companies of police departments do not follow the same course of action when hiring those same age groups as officers? Moreover, why is it that they are not provided with additional training to help them understand and respect the entire community they are sworn to serve?
It was said that Nathaniel Robinson, the officer who tased Mr. Vasquez was 23 years old at the time of the incident.
There is a buzz among media and legislation looking to implement into our school-aged children procedures on how one should interact with police if stopped or arrested. This does nothing more than teach our children that they do not possess the right to speak, even with a calm and reasonable voice and that they are to be submissive and simply endure whatever harsh or abusive treatment that comes at them, regardless of whether they have committed any crime.
Any action, whether just or unjust, against the “king’s men” is an action against the “king himself”, and therefore punishable by death.
Is this what we as a nation want to convey to our children, that our justice system is not on their side if they are wronged?
Mr. Pete Vasquez will, now 78 years old (soon to be 79), will forever be reminded of a system that was in his case, lacking in its ability to “Protect and Serve”.