ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN) — A Texas Ranger stationed in Austin exercised “poor judgment” in an incident where he pulled over and pointed his gun at a driver who flipped him off in traffic according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.
During the incident, Round Rock police rushed to an intersection along Interstate 35 after a call for help from the driver who was on the phone with a 911 operator saying someone is trying to pull him over in an unmarked vehicle.
“It’s a white pickup truck and the guys wearing a suit. And he brake checked me and I went around him on the right side, gave him the finger, and he turned all these lights and sirens on”, said the motorist to the 911 dispatcher.
Moments later, before officers arrived, the man following the driver points a gun at him after they stop at the red light.
Eventually, Round Rock police show up and discovered the man who pulled the gun is Texas Ranger Michael Smith, driving an unmarked DPS pickup truck.
The driver, David Vancuran, was fuming and told officers he wanted to talk to the Ranger’s boss, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety. “I want the director of DPS down here to talk to this guy, he doesn’t deserve to be doing that. And then when I ask him who he is, all I see is a gun, said Vancuran.
Ranger Smith claims Vancuran almost crashed into his truck as traffic in front of him slowed. “He goes around me real fast, shoots me the bird, then side swipes my truck”, said Smith.
Ranger Smith tells the investigating officer that he only got out of his truck to talk to the driver, but had to pull out his gun after he feared for his safety. “I get out of the truck, I demand he get out. He puts the car in reverse. I draw my gun.”
The state issued pickup truck is not equipped with a dash camera, so it’s the Ranger’s word against the driver in this incident last February.
But KXAN has also obtained evidence Ranger Smith was not exactly telling the truth about when he pulled his pistol according to a crucial part of the 911 call in which Smith is heard screaming and banging on the car.
Driver: “He’s getting out of the car now. He’s got his gun (expletive) drawn and he has no badge. What the (expletive)”, said Vancuran
Ranger: Get out of the car!
Driver: What are you (expletive) doing?
911 Operator: You might need to get someone there, there’s a guy with a gun.
Ranger: Get out of the car.
Driver: Are you (expletive) crazy?
Ranger: Get out of the (expletive) car and do it now!
Driver: Who the (expletive) are you?
Ranger: I’m a state trooper, Texas Ranger, get out of your car!
At the scene Ranger Smith, who had been promoted trooper two months prior to the incident, also backs off his claim the motorist almost crashed into him.
Round Rock Officer: “Tell me what you want done.”
Ranger Smith: “I want him cited but there’s nothing good to cite him for. You know, he didn’t strike my vehicle. I took evasive action to miss him.”
RR Officer: “Ok.”
Ranger: “Did he cross the center line? I don’t think he did. No.”
As for the driver, who did not respond to our requests for comment, he got off without a ticket.
Round Rock Officer: “At what point did you realize that this guy was an officer?”
Driver: “When he was right next to my window with his gun in my face. And I said are you (expletive) crazy, who are you? And he said, I’m a DPS Ranger.”
KXAN asked DPS to respond to Ranger Smith’s actions based on what’s heard on the 911 tape and the body cameras worn by responding officers.
In a written statement sent via email, the agency contradicts Smith’s own version of exactly when he pulled out his gun. “While exiting the vehicle, the Ranger placed his weapon in a low, ready position, due to a perceived threat, ” said the agency in a statement emailed to KXAN.
DPS also wrote: “Our employee acted inconsistent with policy, exercised poor judgement, and conducted himself in an unprofessional and discourteous manner – all of which are unacceptable…The department has taken corrective action with this employee regarding the policy infractions.
The agency also did not respond to questions about the differing versions of when Ranger Smith drew his weapon during the stop.
The Texas Department of Public Safety’s Media and Communications Office requested KXAN post the agency’s entire incident in our story online.
The traffic stop initiated by the Ranger was lawful; however, his actions failed to reflect the high standards expected of our employees. The Texas Department of Public Safety Office of Inspector General conducted a thorough and independent review of this incident. The findings concluded our employee acted inconsistent with policy, exercised poor judgement (sic), and conducted himself in an unprofessional and discourteous manner – all of which are unacceptable and fail to meet the high standards of conduct required by the department. The department has taken corrective action with this employee regarding the policy infractions.
Additional background information:
On February 7, a Texas Ranger attempted to stop an individual who was driving aggressively, including nearly sideswiping the Ranger’s vehicle on I-35 in the Georgetown area. The Ranger was driving an unmarked police unit and attempted to make the traffic stop by activating his emergency lights, and subsequently contacted DPS Communications to request Highway Patrol assistance. The driver ultimately pulled over on the I-35 frontage road in Round Rock. While exiting the vehicle, the Ranger placed his weapon in a low, ready position, due to a perceived threat, namely believing the car was being placed in reverse. Round Rock Police Department subsequently arrived on scene, and the driver was ultimately released with no additional enforcement action taken. The Ranger immediately reported the incident to his supervisor.
We asked DPS to clear up inconsistencies in the Ranger’s statements and the agency’s own statement, to which the agency replied:
We have nothing more to add.