A 59-second video recorded in Mustang Ridge sparked a Texas Rangers investigation and raised questions about what excessive force looks like. KXAN dug into why the Rangers decided to take no action against the officer involved and spoke to experts about what can be considered excessive force.
MUSTANG RIDGE, Texas (KXAN) — Matthew Ortega thought he was witnessing an officer using excessive force in late October 2022.
He was in his car with his wife by his side and his stepson in the backseat. They were heading to the barber shop, but something caught Ortega’s eye.
“I seen an officer that looked like he was yelling commands and real agitated,” Ortega said.
He told his wife to start recording. What they captured was an arrest in progress. A man was on the ground and a police officer was standing above him.
In the recording, the officer is seen using his foot to push down the man’s head. Ortega thought that was too much.
“Hey, stop stepping on his head,” Ortega is heard yelling to the officer in the recording.
WATCH BELOW: See the video Matthew Ortega captured of a police officer arresting a man
“That wasn’t right, for what that cop was doing,” Ortega told KXAN Investigator Mike Rush. “I think the cop just took it too far.”
In another recording seconds later, his wife had the camera pointed down while Ortega was heard talking to the officer and asking his name — “Solis.”
According to a Mustang Ridge police report, the officer is Hector Solis, Mustang Ridge’s acting chief of police. The report stated Solis was arresting the man on “suspicion of unauthorized use of a vehicle.”
On the phone, Chief Solis told KXAN he had no comment. He referred us to Mustang Ridge City Attorney Wesley Ritchie who said the man arrested has not complained about his arrest and the Texas Rangers investigated and took no action against Solis.
Despite multiple attempts, KXAN Investigates was not able to reach the man arrested and his lawyer didn’t return our calls. Because we couldn’t speak with him and his case is still pending, we are not naming him. But according to DPS records, the man has previously been convicted and sentenced for unauthorized use of a vehicle three times, most recently in 2010.
Ortega said he turned over the video to a criminal justice advocate who then sent it to the Texas Rangers. KXAN obtained a copy of the Texas Rangers’ report which states an investigator interviewed the arrested man.
According to the report, the man admitted he was driving a stolen vehicle and the owner of the vehicle saw him in it. He stated he stopped the vehicle and ran before the police arrived, according to the report.
The report states Chief Solis pulled up to the man outside a gas station and ordered the man to the ground at gun point.
Ortega told KXAN just before his wife started recording, “I seen the officer had his gun pointed out on him inches from his head and kicking the back of his head.”
The Texas Rangers report stated the man arrested told the investigator the chief did not assault him and even called him “one of the nicest police officers he had ever met.”
Also in the report, the investigator wrote that body and dash camera footage show the man arguing with Solis. The report also says Solis is heard yelling profanities in that video as he tells the man to keep his head down and hands to his side. The investigator wrote he did see Solis push the man’s head down using his foot, just as Ortega’s video captured, but found no evidence of assault.
KXAN Investigates requested the body and dash camera footage, but the Mustang Ridge Police Department would not release them, citing the man’s arrest for unauthorized use of a vehicle is still an active investigation.
In a statement regarding the Texas Rangers probe, the Texas Department of Public Safety told KXAN Investigates, “After conferring with the district attorney, it was concluded the incident was justified and no investigation was warranted.”
KXAN spoke with two experts about what the video showed and each had a different interpretation. Lauren Bonds is with the National Police Accountability Project and said, “You have to be very vigilant and very strict about the culture of when you should use force and when force is appropriate in all instances.”
After watching Ortega’s recording, Bonds believes the level of force Solis used was not justified.
“Even if they were mouthing off. Even if prior to that they had been resisting arrest, the fact that they weren’t resisting when the force was applied makes this a pretty clear-cut case in most situations,” Bonds said.
Kevin Lawrence had a different take. He’s with the Texas Municipal Police Association, a law enforcement union representing officers across the state. The organization did not represent Solis in this matter.
“When I first watched it, I think I have the same questions a lot of people do: ‘Why the need to use the foot to the head?'” Lawrence said.
But what Lawrence said he saw after watching it again is the officer re-directing the man’s head during a critical time.
“He’s fixing to go down and handcuff the guy, which most officers know is one of the most dangerous moments in an arrest,” Lawrence said. “I can show you dozens and dozens of cases every year where police officers are severely injured by people who are in that position right there.” He added, “When the officer goes in to handcuff them, all of a sudden, we’ve got a major dustup on our hands.”
According to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, Chief Solis worked for the Austin Police Department before Mustang Ridge PD.
Both police departments told KXAN Investigates they’ve received no public complaints against Solis.