A Houston police officer accused of killing a 71-year-old man while responding to a call in 2020 has been found not guilty.
On Tuesday, during the second day of the trial, a judge acquitted Valdez in a directed verdict. This means the case did not go to a jury and the judge made the decision on his own.
Matthew Valdez, 28, was charged with criminal negligent homicide in July 2021, for the death of Walter Cooper just days before Thanksgiving.
On that November 2020 evening, Valdez and his partner were responding to a weapons disturbance call in northeast Houston, where a woman told dispatchers two men were outside of a building with handguns, officials said.
Court records show that the HPD cruiser was going 90 mph in a 35 mph zone.
Cooper was seen on surveillance video in his black Cadillac at the stop sign on Darien Street waiting to go. An HPD cruiser passes, Cooper hesitates and then attempts to cross Ley Road but was hit by Valdez. The Cadillac slid across the street into the parking lot of a gas station. Cooper died at the scene.
On Monday, the first day of the trial, Houston police officers who served as witnesses for the prosecution were questioned at length about the classification of calls and subsequent protocols on the first day of the trial.
“Are they going to send us letters saying, ‘Hey these are the various codes and when you see them, know that the police department are operating in those sort of contexts,'” Lawrence Cooper, the victim’s son, said. “We don’t know those things.”
Both prosecutors and the defense agreed that Valdez was speeding at the time of the crash and that officers are allowed to speed when responding to a call.
On Tuesday, after Valdez’s verdict, the district attorney’s office issued a statement in which they addressed his speed.
“The police officer (Valdez) was driving 90 mph in a 35 mph zone at the time, and did not have his emergency lights or siren on, so we felt this was an important case to present to jurors,” Dane Schiller, spokesman for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office said on Tuesday. “Our hearts go out to the family of Walter Cooper.”