On April 19, 2010, off-duty Houston police officer Rafael Baez shot and killed 18-year-old Clevonta Reynolds during an altercation in Arlington. Reynolds, according to police, was a member of CSB (Certified Sliders Bitch), a local gang that often had run-ins with law enforcement. The teen had a gun in his waistband, according to news reports, and witnesses say he tried to draw it. Still, many people in the community were outraged over the incident and wanted Baez charged with the shooting.
On April 22, Chief Bowman assigned gang unit members to monitor the memorial service for Reynolds. In marked vehicles, they followed cars from the funeral procession through rush-hour Arlington traffic at a high rate of speed. The cars were driving on the shoulders, running red lights, and running other traffic off the road. The officers, even with their emergency lights on, could barely keep up.
As calls were coming into 911 about the reckless driving, the officers stopped the cars and made four arrests in front of a Gillon Drive home. Gillon Drive is a nice middle-class neighborhood with newer two-story brick homes. But this particular house was well-known to officers as a gang location. A near riot ensued as a crowd surrounded the officers. A man whom police believed was a gang member shot video of the scene, and in the video he can be heard hurling insults as the officers calmly stand their ground. Although the man deleted the video from YouTube, another citizen had already downloaded and re-uploaded it to his own YouTube page. It can be found under the title “Arlington Police Patience.”
The suspects were cuffed and transported to the Arlington jail, and the officers were ordered to pull back. Trying to head off racial tension, two African-American officers, a deputy chief and an assistant chief, both from another district, were sent in to talk to the families of the arrested men. The situation was so tense that the gang unit was ordered to organize an extraction team behind a Walmart in case things went wrong.
From that day forward, according to the officers who spoke with me, due to the neighborhood’s volatility, police administrators declared Gillon Drive a no-go zone, an area in Arlington with no police response. On the night of the original confrontation, a crowd surrounded firefighters responding to a medical emergency. When the firefighters called for emergency assistance, the police, according to the officers who spoke with me, were ordered not to respond. The same day, an Irving police officer who lived in the neighborhood was surrounded by a hostile crowd in his front yard. His wife called 911, but no help arrived. A witness to the altercation said the mob was yelling, “You killed one of our homeboys, so we’re going to kill some of yours.”
An Arlington police lieutenant phoned the Irving officer and told him that they would not send anyone to help him. Eventually, the mob backed off. For the next eight months, the witness said, the officer and his family had to put up with constant harassment from gang members.
The next week, the Irving Police Department issued a memo warning their officers not to be seen in uniform in Arlington for their own safety. Rank-and-file members of Arlington police reached out unofficially to apologize to the officer and the Irving police force, stressing that they did not choose to abandon him.
Five years later, Balson and other officers are still angry about being being told to stand down.
“We were told when the Irving officer’s wife was calling 911, saying, ‘These guys are surrounding my husband in his front yard because he got home in his uniform,’ [administrators] told us to go behind the Walmart and hide,” Balson said, “that we were not to go down there and help anybody. No officers were allowed to go down there. So we had [the fire department] and that one Irving officer left out in the cold.”
Ultimately, police released the four suspects to ease community tensions, and the gangs were given amnesty on Gillon Drive, seemingly indefinitely. The law-abiding citizenry of that neighborhood were now at the gang’s mercy. Gang members, many of whom did not even live in the area, would walk down the middle of the street blocking traffic, menacing the residents, and daring them to say anything about it. This breakdown in protection was verified by numerous people who live in the neighborhood, as well as multiple law enforcement officials. When asked about this incident, a spokesperson for Arlington police declined to comment.
“It was a bad time to live in that neighborhood,” said a longtime resident who asked to remain anonymous. “We are all friends, we all talk, our kids hung out together, went to each other’s birthday parties. We all had that same feeling, ‘What’s going on with our neighborhood? [Arlington police] is refusing to come here, but they expect us to live here, and they won’t do anything to help us.’ It was a really bad time, and if the housing market hadn’t been what it was, we would have all moved. It was six to eight months where we never saw a police officer in that neighborhood at all.”
Following the Gillon Drive incident, Chief Bowman took a lot of heat from the media and the public. Some felt that arrests should not have been made after the memorial service out of respect. Others felt that the department had undermined its authority by releasing the suspects. Letting them go demoralized many of the officers in the Arlington Police Department –– especially in the gang unit. In a meeting back at the station the night after the incident, several of the officers considered resignation. Pilcher, the gang unit supervisor, spoke up, saying that he would be back serving the community tomorrow, as he took an oath to do, and that they’d better be there too. No one resigned.
In the following weeks, the executive staff, according to the officers who spoke with me, verbally berated the gang unit members for making the arrests and unofficially branded them a rogue unit. But the executive staff did not put its anger into writing. Personnel files obtained from an open records request show no significant complaints, public or internal, against the officers. The records show numerous commendations (Pilcher alone has nearly 100) and an impressive arrest record. Even though records reveal that the Arlington Police Departement’s gang unit reduced gang crime by 35 percent over the course of three years, the gang unit now had few friends left in the administration.