Family Questions Arlington Police Response to 911 Call - NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth

Family Questions Arlington Police Response to 911 Call

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    Family Questions Arlington Police Response To 911 Call

    It was a desperate call for help that turned into a tragedy an Arlington family is still grappling to understand nearly two years later. (Published Thursday, June 27, 2019)

    It was a desperate call for help that turned into a tragedy an Arlington family is still grappling to understand nearly two years later.

    On July 10, 2017 – the family of Gabriel Olivas called 911 after he doused himself in gasoline and threatened to light himself on fire.

    "He has the gas in one hand the lighter in the other hand," Olivas' son can be heard telling a 911 dispatcher.

    Within minutes three Arlington Police Officers arrived. According to police, Olivas was erratic and a threat to not just himself but others. Inside the home, with his wife and son looking on, two officers drew their stun guns and activated them on Olivas, who burst into flames. Police maintain that a lighter Olivas was holding could have sparked the fire.

    PHOTOS: Family Questions Arlington Police Response To 911 CallPHOTOS: Family Questions Arlington Police Response To 911 Call

    "One of the cops said, 'if we tase him, he's going to light on fire.' Not even a second later they tased him" Selina Ramirez, Olivas' common law wife said.

    Olivas was burned over 85% of his body and died four days later. In the hours after the incident, which caused a large portion of the family's home to be severely damaged, Arlington police deflected the notion the fire was sparked by a stun gun.

    "We are aware that it has electrical current," said Sgt. Vanessa Harrison. "He had something ignitable in his hand as well. So we're, at least, wanting to disclose everything that took place in the room as best we know right now."

    In August 2018, a grand jury decided the three officers should not be charged and despite repeated inquiries by NBC 5, Arlington police declined to answer questions regarding what caused Olivas to ignite.

    In April 2019, after months of back and forth, investigative materials obtained by NBC 5 through a Texas Public Information Act request shed new light on what happened. Hours of dash-camera video and audio captured the arrival of officers and the moment Olivas caught fire.

    The statements given by officers after the incident also seemed to back up the account of Selina Ramirez. In Arlington Police Officer Caleb Elliott's statement, recounting the final moments before the fire, he said in part:

    "I turned my head slightly so I could see Jefferson and Guadarrama and shouted, 'If we tase him he's going to light on fire.'"

    The family of Olivas filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday.

    "The way he died, he didn't have to die like that," Ramirez said.

    Arlington police maintain their officers acted appropriately. In a statement released Thursday, Arlington police told NBC 5:

    "Arlington Police Department Officers were confronted with a dynamic and challenging incident involving a call where a suicidal subject had poured gasoline on himself and inside the house while holding a lighting mechanism in the presence of other innocent family members and officers. The officers had few options to try and diffuse the situation and remove the family members to safety. The autopsy revealed the manner and origin of the fire remained undetermined. The department thoroughly reviewed this incident and the case was reviewed by a Tarrant County grand jury."

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