As he calmly walked through his house toward the spot on the kitchen floor where police fatally shot his unarmed son, Edgar, Ovidio De Leon counted the bullet holes scarring his home.

“There on the table is the first,” De Leon said on a recent Wednesday at his Denver Harbor home, touching the indentation in a wood dining table. One by one, he pointed to the marks: on the counter, in the cabinets, two on the couple’s kitchen wall.

From her spot on the sofa, De Leon’s wife, Benita, explained that the projectiles shattered glass, a banana holder and a dark digital picture frame which once held pictures of their granddaughter. 

Three months after the shooting, Edgar De Leon’s relatives continue to live among the daily reminders of how their 46-year-old son and brother – the joker of the family, never a troublemaker, no known criminal record – died following a tense argument with two Houston Police Department officers.

Some of Edgar’s family members still question how the conflict escalated from a routine welfare check into a fatal shooting on the city’s east side in early May. 

Their uncertainty is fueled by comments from three policing experts who, at the Houston Landing’s request, reviewed video of the fatal encounter released by HPD in June. The experts questioned whether the two officers followed agency protocol related to de-escalating tense situations, entering the family’s home and providing timely medical aid.

Further complicating the situation: The body camera footage released by HPD contains three gaps totaling about 11 minutes. HPD officials have refused to comment on the reasons for the omission, only pointing to agency policy that says “core footage” must be publicly released within 30 days of police opening fire on a civilian.

Body camera footage released by the Houston Police Department shows parts of the fatal May confrontation with De Leon, a 46-year-old Denver Harbor man. But three gaps in the video leave questions about the lead-up to and aftermath of the shooting.

Edgar’s brother, Nelson DeLeon, who called the police for help and was present at the shooting, empathized with the officers who tried to subdue his belligerent brother. Body camera video shows that Edgar threatened to retrieve a gun and immediately retreated behind a kitchen counter after being tased, prompting one officer to open fire. 

“But it’s like, if something was done wrong, if something should not have been done … then I’d like to know that,” Nelson said.

No guns were found in the home, family members said. Police said Edgar was not armed, and they have not said they found a weapon at the scene.

To date, Houston police officials have given no indication that their officers, Anthony Alvarez and Michael Betancourt-Reyes, had acted inappropriately. HPD spokesperson Victor Senties said an internal affairs division investigation is ongoing, declining further comment.

In an interview in July, Doug Griffith, the president of the union representing both officers, said the officers did a “phenomenal job” given the circumstances.

“You get frustrated after dealing with someone for so long, trying to do everything you can to de-escalate,” said Griffith, who went to the scene to support officers in the aftermath of the shooting. “We’re still human beings. We still have to deal with our emotions.”

The Harris County District Attorney’s Office is reviewing the shooting for any potential criminal charges against the officers, per law enforcement protocol. Griffith said lawyers for the officers did not want to comment on the pending investigation. 

None of the policing experts interviewed by the Houston Landing suggested the shooting was clearly unjustified or on par with high-profile instances of police abuses. HPD policy and federal legal precedent states that officers are justified in using deadly force if the officer has a reasonable belief that there is an imminent threat of serious harm or death to themselves or others. 

But the body camera video and interviews with Edgar’s family highlight the impact of decisions made by police before and after an officer fires a weapon.

Ovidio De Leon sits in front of a painting of his son, Edgar, at his home July 19 in Houston’s Denver Harbor neighborhood. A Houston Police Department officer shot and killed Edgar in his parents’ home during a welfare check that escalated into a confrontation. (Marie D. De Jesús / Houston Landing)

An unexplained anger

The man seen in the May 3 video bears no resemblance to the Edgar that his family knew.

The oil field worker toiled away far from home to help provide for his wife, Yvonne Reynoso de Leon, and two children. When home, Edgar never missed his kids’ numerous dance recitals and baseball games, at times while carrying around his family’s pet chihuahua, Daisy, inside his sweatshirt.

“This man took our dog everywhere,” said his wife, somewhere between laughing and crying. “To the grocery store, to get a haircut, to the beach, to my sister-in-law’s, to his parents.”

Edgar De Leon and his wife, Yvonne Reynoso de Leon. (Photo courtesy of Yvonne Reynoso de Leon)

Reynoso de Leon called her husband a “kind soul,” and although their relationship had hit some bumps in recent years, she said they were on the mend. On the night before the shooting, as Edgar drove home to their Denver Harbor neighborhood from a shift on an oil rig, the couple spent two hours on the phone discussing their beloved Houston Astros’ loss that evening.

When Edgar arrived home at about midnight, he seemed restless, Reynoso de Leon said. He left for his parents’ house in the middle of the night.

The next morning, Edgar called his parents, who were in Mexico, and appeared at their empty house. 

“I can’t anymore,” his parents recalled him saying over the phone.

Edgar’s brother Nelson, who lived next door, let Edgar into his parents’ home before dropping off his daughter at school.

A few hours after Nelson returned, things escalated. Nelson said Edgar wanted to fight him for the first time in his life, as well as a neighbor who hadn’t lived there since childhood. Edgar then broke a neighbor’s window with his arm and jumped a fence.

The behavior perplexed family members. Relatives said he had no known history of mental illness that caused him to act aggressively, and relatives were unaware of him taking drugs outside of a prescribed anti-anxiety medication.

“He was 46, I’m 47. Never have I ever seen him that angry, that agitated,” Nelson said.

With the blessing of his parents, who were worried about Edgar harming himself, Nelson called the police.

Tensions escalate

Body camera footage released by HPD shows officers Alvarez and Betancourt-Reyes arrived at the De Leon parents’ home at about 1:45 p.m. in response to a “CIT,” the agency’s term for a call regarding a person in crisis.

Alvarez and Betancourt-Reyes — who had both received at least 40 hours of training for responding to a person in crisis, according to HPD — immediately encountered Nelson. They asked Nelson whether there were any weapons inside the house, to which Nelson replied “not that I know of.”

For the next minute, Nelson explained the events leading up to the call for service, including the neighbor’s broken window and Edgar’s attempt to fight him. Nelson told the officers that Edgar claimed to have consumed a bottle of vodka in one hour. (Autopsy and toxicology reports are pending.)

From there, the HPD footage jumps nearly eight minutes forward.

Nelson told the Houston Landing that he agreed to press charges against Edgar out of desperation, even if that meant Edgar calming down in jail for a night, during the period of time omitted from the video. Officers also emphasized during that time that they could not enter the family’s home without permission from the owners, Nelson said.

Nelson DeLeon, who called the Houston Police Department for help calming down his brother, Edgar, talks July 19 about the fatal shooting of Edgar at his parents’ home in Houston’s Denver Harbor neighborhood. (Marie D. De Jesús / Houston Landing)

When the released video resumes, tensions had risen. Betancourt-Reyes is seen on tape arguing with Edgar, who is standing near the front door, alternately challenging the officer to fight him in the house and taunting with his belief that police can’t enter the home.

“Listen to me, you’re acting like a kid right now, bro,” Betancourt-Reyes told Edgar. “He’s bickering, he’s bickerin’, he’s bickerin’ and acting like an idiot, alright. So come out here and talk to us as a man.”

Later, as Edgar raged from behind the front door, Alvarez asked: “Bro, what’s wrong with you? Bro, what’s wrong with you?”

The exchanges didn’t calm down Edgar, who retreated into his parents’ home and continued to challenge the officers. At that point, the video cuts out for about 70 seconds. 

Ian Adams, a use-of-force and police policy expert at the University of South Carolina, said it’s “fair to say that there were communication breakdowns (from) a police practice and tactics perspective at the beginning.”

“It appears that some egos started to get in the way of communication (while) dealing with an extremely belligerent and probably intoxicated man,” Adams said. He cautioned that he would not directly connect officers’ comments to the shooting.

According to a statewide guide authored by HPD — including then-assistant and current Chief Troy Finner — CIT-trained officers should practice de-escalation techniques such as “remain calm and avoid overreaction,” “give space” and “do not crowd the person.”

Edward Obayashi, a nationally recognized use-of-force expert who works for the Plumas County Sheriff’s Department in northern California, said he coaches officers to leave the scene and return later in similar cases involving hostile people suspected of misdemeanors.

“I’ve seen it happen, get to that point where both sides don’t back down and the inevitable happens,” Obayashi said.

Houston Police Chief Troy Finner speaks at a June 29 press conference in downtown Houston. (Houston Landing file photo / Marie D. De Jesús)

‘That’s a threat’

The footage picks back up with the officers entering the house, repeatedly asking Edgar “what are you doing?” as he pushes chairs between himself and the policemen. 

Within 30 seconds of officers stepping foot in the home, Edgar gestured behind himself and suggested he would retrieve a “Glock 17 and f—ing shoot you in your f—ing face.”

“OK, that’s a threat, there you go,” one of the officers said, prompting both of them to shoot their tasers.

When the tasers didn’t work, Edgar retreated into the nearby kitchen. Alvarez immediately fired several shots through a large opening between the living room, where he was standing, and the kitchen.

“I don’t want to die, come on,” Edgar said from the floor as Betancourt-Reyes, standing at the kitchen entrance, asked him where the gun was. 

For about two and a half minutes, neither officer treated Edgar’s wounds. After that delay, the footage shows Betancourt-Reyes put on gloves and tapped Edgar’s body, but the HPD-released video cuts out for nearly three minutes. It resumes with a third officer, who was not seen in any previous footage, arriving to the kitchen and treating Edgar.

Prosecutors likely would face difficulty securing a criminal conviction against Alvarez for the shooting, two of the three policing experts suggested. Another said that question would hinge on how the officer explains his perception of the danger in his report.

“The moment that individual said, ‘I’m gonna go get my Glock 17,’ and starts walking away, he signed his death warrant,” Obayashi said.

Policy followed?

But two more aspects of the video raised questions in the experts’ minds.

Adams called the officers’ reasoning for entering the home “an important part of the overall investigation” into the shooting, noting that police don’t have “blanket authority to enter homes.” Nelson and his parents said the officers never received a sign-off from the family.

“This has got civil and criminal implications,” Adams said. “From having worked on a lot of these cases, there’s often a lot of scrutiny around the decision to arrest or the decision to enter. This is an obvious decision point because it’s guided by some pretty strict rules.” 

HPD policy gives several examples of when police can enter a home without a warrant, including cases when a person is in “imminent danger” or there’s a “reasonable belief that a suspect poses a danger to the public and/or officers on the scene.”

Adams also said there are “really strong questions to be answered” about the timeliness of the medical care.

“There’s a ton of possible answers about why that might be,” Adams said. “But we don’t know, and it’s not clear from the video, but officers are expected to preserve life when possible. That’s the first principle of policing.”

HPD’s general order on use of force states that “mitigating any potential threats” is an officer’s first priority in an emergency medical situation. From there, officers “shall provide first aid to their level of training without any unreasonable delay.”

A picture of Edgar De Leon, who died after a Houston police officer shot him in May, is displayed at his parents’ home in Houston’s Denver Harbor neighborhood. (Marie D. De Jesús / Houston Landing)

‘It is indicting’

HPD and Harris County District Attorney officials said their respective investigations could take weeks or months to conclude.

In the meantime, the body camera footage withheld by HPD leaves questions about the full scope of the encounter.

Kalfani Turè, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Widener University in Pennsylvania, said the missing video footage makes it difficult to evaluate whether the officers acted in good faith. He noted the legacy of corruption and racism in policing weighs on public trust.

“You also have to grapple with history, and I think that (missing) footage, however nominal they may think it is, it is indicting,” Turè said.

Data released by HPD shows the department’s officers have killed six people and wounded three in shootings since mid-May, the most recent date with available information.

Reynoso de Leon, Edgar’s wife, pleaded for police officers to receive more training before they respond to people in crisis. Multiple HPD units are capable of responding to people in mental health crises who are displaying hostility, including CIT-trained officers like Alvarez and Betancourt-Reyes, but only 12 teams respond with a mental health clinician.

“They need professionals handling stuff like this, to prevent stuff like this from happening,” Reynoso de Leon said. “I mean, you’re taking a loved one away from somebody. They just ruined a family.”

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Eileen Grench covers public safety for the Houston Landing, where two of her primary areas of focus will be the Houston Police Department and Harris County Sheriff’s Office. She is returning to local...