Fort Worth police are asking for witnesses to a fatal police shooting to come forward and share any information or video they may have with investigators.
In the early-morning hours of July 31, Phillip Vallejo was celebrating his 30th birthday with family and friends at the Ojos Locos Cantina.
Police said bicycle officers on routine patrol spotted two groups of people arguing near the bar at about 1:30 a.m. One of the men, identified later by police as Vallejo, was pointing a gun at another man, police said. Officers at the scene ordered him to drop the weapon, but police said he refused.
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Fort Worth police said officer M.J. Ochsendorf, a 23-year-veteran of the department, fired in defense of the other person in the argument, killing Vallejo, police said, and is now on administrative leave while the shooting is investigated.
Friends and family of Vallejo who were at the birthday celebration dispute the police department's version of what took place. Meanwhile, police are asking for anyone with information about the incident to come forward.
"Investigators have collected video evidence of the incident; however, it is of poor quality. As differing accounts regarding this shooting have surfaced, and in order to present a complete and accurate account of what has occurred, the Fort Worth Police Department is requesting that any person who may be a witness or have any information about this incident to come forward and meet with detectives investigating this case," the department said in a news release.
Detectives can be contacted by calling 817-392-4455.
Below is an unedited statement from the Fort Worth police on their process for investigating officer-involved incidents:
The Fort Worth Police Department wants its citizens to be well informed regarding the process undertaken when investigating a critical incident such as an officer involved shooting. In an effort to provide clarity and address unsubstantiated rumor which runs rampant on social media, the following is a general guideline to the process and timeline typically encountered in such investigations.
The Major Case Unit is tasked with investigating officer involved shootings in Fort Worth. This team of detectives is responsible for gathering all available evidence and presenting it to the Tarrant County District Attorney's Office for review and subsequent presentation to a grand jury. The grand jury then reviews all of the submitted evidence and renders a decision whether or not to proceed with any criminal charges against any persons or officers involved in the incident. A Major Case Unit investigation takes a substantial length of time in order to be precise while protecting the rights of both the citizens as well as the officers involved. Detectives must often wait for supporting evidence from outside agencies or laboratories that process critical evidence such as toxicology reports. The detective's job is not to render a decision about the guilt or innocence of any party but rather to present the most complete and factual account based on such evidence. Evidence can consist of, but is not limited to, witness accounts, video, ballistics, scene reconstruction, and autopsy results. Proven scientific methods such as bullet trajectory can assist in reconstructing a shooting scene. A completed investigation submitted to the District Attorney's Office can be thousands of pages in length and may include photos, maps, statements, or a countless amount of other evidentiary findings.
Concurrently, the Fort Worth Police Internal Affairs Unit investigates the officer involved shooting to assure all policies and procedures of the Fort Worth Police Department have been adhered to. This investigation can result in disciplinary action or a confirmation that the incident was within procedural guidelines. These investigations are then reviewed and may be used to assist the department in developing training based on the information gathered from the specific incident.
It is not the wish of the Fort Worth Police Department to appear anything but transparent during the investigation of any incident; however, certain facts or procedures are not readily accessible to the general public. This assures that a fair and impartial decision can be rendered by the grand jury regarding the officer involved shooting. If a decision to indict an officer involved in a shooting is rendered, the evidence submitted to the grand jury is handed back to the District Attorney's Office for prosecution. Only after a criminal case is finally settled in court can the public have access to the details contained in the investigative reports. However, should the grand jury decide not to pursue charges against an officer, the investigative report can be obtained by the public through an Open Records Request.
The Fort Worth Police Department continually strives through our daily operations to earn and maintain the public trust. In this effort, we ensure that critical incidents such as an officer involved shooting are thoroughly investigated for law and policy compliance, reviewed by the chain of command to include the Chief of Police, and submitted to the District Attorney's Office for presentation to a grand jury.