Police let suspect go 4 days before a deadly hijacking
Published 10:06 pm, Sunday, January 15, 2012
Four days before his Houston crew allegedly killed a federal informant and tried to hijack a load of pot, Eric De Luna was stopped by police as he a left a stash house, where officers found assault rifles and bulk narcotics.
He wasn't arrested that day in November, even though police confiscated $5,600 stuffed in his pocket; even though a witness said De Luna made a drug deal there; and even though he was already out on bail, charged with assault with a deadly weapon.
An affidavit signed by a member of the Pasadena Narcotics Task Force, coalition of police agencies, states that officers watched De Luna come and go from an apartment near West Belfort and Chimney Rock, and when he left, they confiscated cash he was carrying as illegal proceeds.
"We handled the guy. We had no probable cause to arrest him, and we were made aware of the fact he was involved in the shooting in Northwest Houston after the incident," Pasadena Police spokesman Vance Mitchell said.
"They are trying to spot these people, watch them and surveil them," Mitchell said of officers' actions. "Some people may be on our radar, but we don't have reason to arrest them at that point."
The stocky, 23-year-old De Luna - who was born in Mexico, but has lived here since childhood - had no outstanding warrants.
His immigration status is unclear, but he remains behind bars and charged with capital murder.
Officers learned of De Luna's link to the attack - for which he's allegedly confessed to recruiting three people - when they were later contacted by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Mitchell said.
Some 96 hours after De Luna left the stash house, he and the men he supposedly recruited were at the vortex a wildly gone-wrong shootout on Nov. 21 that left the informant dead and a sheriff's deputy injured by friendly fire.
Authorities are investigating whether the brazen daylight attack was part of a beef between the Zetas and Gulf Cartel drug empires or an insider rip-off.
Documentation reviewed by the Chronicle as well as sources interviewed offer chilling new details.
They also confirm the dead man was a government informant, a secretive role that shocked family members and left them grappling with his death.
Lawrence Chapa, a Houston-born truck driver was working with authorities as he delivered a load of drugs. The idea was to lead authorities further into the organization to make arrests.
While driving through northwest Harris County, three sport-utility vehicles swarmed him.
The 18-wheeler was cut off right under the eyes of officers who shadowed the truck as it had traveled from the Rio Grande Valley.
Based on courtroom comments by prosecutors, the following occurred:
After the truck was forced off the road, one attacker supposedly forced his way through the driver's door while at least one other came through the passenger door.
They fought with the driver and it is unclear who killed him, and how many shots were fired.
"An undercover officer observed this defendant shoot in the driver side, killing the confidential informant," a prosecutor said during a preliminary hearing for Fernando Tavera, a 19-year-old U.S. citizen.
Officers rushed the truck and hit Tavera with their vehicles.
In the confusion, complicated by officers not all knowing each other, a Houston policeman shot in the leg a Harris County deputy wearing shorts and a T-shirt.
Five people are charged with capital murder, including one who evaded arrest by hiding in the brush.
Their roles remain unclear as does the accuracy of statements.
'I emptied my clip'
During a hearing for defendant Alfredo Gomez, 29, a prosecutor read a preliminary summary in which Gomez or another person charged in the case apparently bragged: "I emptied my clip into that (expletive's) chest."
Defense lawyer Dorian Cotlar, who is representing De Luna, stressed a lot remains to be learned.
"It is way too early in this thing for me to make an informed statement," said Cotlar. "There is a huge amount that is unknown."
Cotlar said he doubts his client's links to a cartel and is challenging the government's taking his money
"Do I think that Eric De Luna is some main jefe (Spanish for boss) in the Zetas? Absolutely not."
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