Trial continues for former UT grad student involved in armed police stand-off

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Gene Vela, a former public affairs graduate student, listens to testimonies during his trial at the Travis County Courthouse on Friday morning. Vela is facing two charges of aggravated assault on a public servant.
Photo Credit: Michael Baez | Daily Texan Staff

The trial of Gene Vela, a former public affairs graduate student on trial for two charges of aggravated assault on a public servant, continued Friday at the Travis County Courthouse. 

Vela was originally taken into custody in November 2013 after an armed altercation with several Austin police officers. Officers shot Vela after he aimed, but did not shoot, his handgun at two officers from the window of his North Campus apartment. 

During Friday’s trial, Vela’s attorney, Skip Davis, said Vela was not actually pointing his gun at any of the police officers who had responded to the welfare call to Vela’s apartment.

Austin Police Department officer Adrien Chopin fired one of the three shots that hit Vela that night. 

Chopin said Vela was not pointing a gun at him personally, but said he did believe Vela was aiming for another officer who was closer to the apartment. Davis questioned Chopin about recorded comments made after Vela was wounded.

“I believe I said, ‘He was dancing around with a gun in his hand,’ not, ‘That’s what you get for dancing around with a damn gun in your hand,’” Chopin said.

Chopin said he saw a red laser coming from Vela’s apartment and thought it was being used in conjunction with the gun to aim at the officers. Davis said Vela’s pistol was not equipped with a laser.

“The laser did not fit Gene’s pistol,” Davis said. “It fell off the gun when I asked the APD ballistics expert to affix the laser to the gun. It fell off dramatically a second time when I handed the gun back and said ‘try it again.’”

Davis said Vela, a Marine veteran, had a mental breakdown and did not know it was APD who was knocking on his door. He said the recordings of the event never included APD officers announcing themselves when they tried to contact Vela or before shooting at him.

“APD did not announce they were ‘the police, so put the gun down,’ until 30 minutes later, after they had shot Gene three times with AR-15 assault rifles, firing from concealed positions 45 yards away and in total black darkness,” Davis said. “He came out within a minute of being hailed to come outside.”

Vela faces four charges, including two charges of aggravated assault, one charge of unlawfully carrying a weapon and one charge of terroristic threat.