Houston authorities declined this week to open up their case files on Victor Reyes, a Mexican national with a long criminal record whose 2015 shooting spree killed two and wounded three before he was killed by a police officer.
The move by Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman highlights the veil of secrecy hanging over the files of foreign nationals convicted of crimes — including the so-called “worst of the worst” that immigration authorities say remain a primary focus for deportation. Reyes had been removed from the country four times. Federal authorities have also declined to release the deceased killer's full immigration history file to The Texas Tribune.
One of Reyes’ shooting victims, John Weston of Houston, recently told the Tribune that his family “never got any satisfactory answer” from government authorities about Reyes, who shot him in the face and left him seriously injured.
“It was almost like it was top-secret information,” he said.
Reyes’ shooting rampage sparked heated debate about immigration policies and the porous Texas-Mexico border.
The Tribune asked the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, which acknowledged this week it has "voluminous" files on the case, to provide information gathered during Reyes’ encounters with local law enforcement on the night the murders took place. The sheriff’s office, which originally blocked release of the records by citing an ongoing criminal investigation, has now adopted a different argument using a more obscure exemption of the Texas Public Information Act.
Since Reyes was killed by a sheriff’s deputy, he cannot be prosecuted. The exemption the sheriff cites is designed to allow police agencies to block the release of files when there hasn’t been a final conviction or deferred adjudication — something that's impossible to achieve when the perpetrator dies while committing a crime. The law enforcement agency has asked Attorney General Ken Paxton to block indefinitely any further release of the records sought by the Tribune.
Julie Golvach, the mother of one of the men police say Reyes shot and killed on Jan. 31 questioned the ongoing secrecy, saying it appeared to her that “the law enforcement agencies we pay with our tax dollars are here to 'Protect and Serve' the illegal aliens and not the rights of U.S. citizens.” She wondered aloud whether Reyes had been a "paid informant."
Golvach’s son, 25-year-old Spencer Golvach, was a mile from his apartment when Reyes, a native of Reynosa — right across the border from McAllen, Texas — shot him at a stoplight. His family still hasn't been told who owned the truck Reyes was driving that fateful night, where he might have lived or worked in this country, any information about the .380 pistol he used in the attacks or the full written history of his encounters with federal immigration authorities.
“There is not one person in law enforcement who would not want the same answers we are seeking if it was their child that was murdered,” Julie Golvach said.
Former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, now running for Congress in a contested Democratic primary, said on Tuesday that the families of Reyes’ victims should get answers once the investigation has ended. He was still sheriff when the records had been blocked, but that was at a time when a grand jury probe into the officer-involved shooting was still pending.
The grand jury met last week and decided to take no action against the sheriff’s deputy who killed Reyes during a shootout on the night of the shooting spree, meaning that the investigation has concluded. The Harris County District Attorney's office said Reyes still had his finger on the trigger of his weapon when his body was recovered.
Garcia said what happened to the Golvach family was “outrageous” and that the ongoing investigation “put a strain on all those involved.”
“Complicating this case further was an officer-involved shooting,” Garcia said. “If the investigation has ended, the Golvach family deserves the answers they seek."
Abby Livingston contributed to this report.
- Letter From Harris County Sheriff About Victor Reyes Files (1.2 MB) DOWNLOAD