SAN ANGELO, TX — On May 13, two suspects accused of conducting three robberies that day fled the last place they robbed, the Smoker’s Outlet, 1902 N. Chadbourne St., and holed themselves up in a residence on 20th Street around the corner. What transpired over the next 5 hours was a dramatic escalation of police power in an economically depressed neighborhood. For 5 hours the San Angelo Police Department had the house surrounded with long guns drawn. About an hour after the standoff began, SAPD brought in their SWAT team and heavy armor.
“Why all this for just… I only grabbed the beer and left the store without paying for it,” said one of the Arreola brothers from the jail days later.
As the standoff persisted, neighbors were evacuated from their homes. Right next door, one neighbor texted us through social media, “Yes, they said they didn’t want the smoke to get into the house from the bombs they set.” As police expanded the perimeter around the house, one police warned that gas was about to be used.
From a far away vantage point, it appeared the police were launching objects into the house. Outside, small fires could be seen. Smoke was present and visible in videos posted by citizens on social media. Evidence outside the perimeter pointed to the fact that gas was being deployed.
According to Assistant Police Chief Tracy Fincher, the brothers inside originally contacted police via 9-1-1. The call was patched through to the SAPD on-scene negotiator. At that time, the brothers’ ratcheted up the rhetoric, at one time claiming to have a handgun at the ready. The brothers also threatened to throw fiery objects at police that Fincher described as poorly crafted Molotov cocktails.
At one point, a SWAT member had to approach the house with a fire extinguisher to put out a fire that ignited from the objects the brothers were tossing outside the house, releasing a large plume of smoke that was seen from 100 yards away or more.
The SAPD attempted to re-establish voice contact with the brothers inside by tossing a phone through a window. The brothers tossed the phone back out the window. Communication was hard to re-establish.
The end of the standoff happened as police originally described. Watching through the windows, police witnessed the brothers fighting. At one point a brother sprayed something into the face of the other brother. During the intra-family squabble, SWAT moved into the house without incident and arrested both brothers and rescued an 18-year-old female who was not deemed connected to the incident.
All the while, police claimed, chemical munitions were not used.
During the following days, we went back to the house to find evidence and judge for ourselves if CS gas, commonly referred to as tear gas, was used. We found a discharged container of saline solution, presumably used to clean the residue from tear gas from skin. The saline solution from the container we found could have been used to wash the face of the brother who suffered from an unknown chemical being sprayed into his face by the other brother during their fist-i-cuffs. No expended CS gas cartridges were found at the scene, though.
CS gas leaves a powdery residue everywhere that would render habitation of the house impossible. We discovered a couple of days later on our visit that the residents never had to leave their home.
The most visible evidence that chemicals were not used was that the SWAT team, when filmed breeching the residence, were not wearing chemical protective gear, or masks.
After the standoff ended, the brothers arrested were identified as 32-year-old Jorge Arreola and 21-year-old Abelardo Arreola. Both men have been charged with two counts of Aggravated Robbery and one count of Robbery.
An 18-year-old female who was inside the residence during the standoff was not injured. A family member, 31-year-old Cindy Martinez, was arrested for Interference with Public Duties and Public Intoxication.
No one was injured during the 5-hour standoff other than minor injuries suffered by the brothers where police said they were seen fighting each other.
Suspicions that the San Angelo Police Department were covering up the use of gas were raised not only by the bystanders who witnessed the event, but also by the way the public information officer approached the subject. After we raised the issue during our realtime reporting, SAPD was not forthcoming to us and excluded our reporter from any further press availability concerning the event. No other news outlet reasonably raised the issue during the subsequent press briefing we were not invited to attend.
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