Graduate student hosted Senate of College Councils Executive Board meeting before police standoff

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Photo Credit: Sam Ortega | Daily Texan Staff

Hours before graduate public affairs student Gene Vela, a member of the Senate of College Councils’ Leadership Team, was involved in an armed standoff with police officers, the Senate’s Executive Board convened at his house for a scheduled meeting.

Though multiple board members referred The Daily Texan to the Senate’s faculty sponsor, Dean of Students Soncia Reagins-Lilly, for comment, Reagins-Lilly denied any knowledge of the meeting in a statement. Reagins-Lilly was unavailable for an interview.

“We are unaware of any Senate of College Councils organizational or business activity scheduled on the evening in question,” Reagins-Lilly said in a statement. “Our priority in this matter remains the safety and well-being of our students.”

Senate President Andrew Clark said Senate board meetings are regularly scheduled events and are occasionally held off campus, as the board meeting was on Nov. 10. 

“We meet every Sunday at 7 p.m., whether it be Leadership Team or the Executive Board of Senate,” Clark said. “We meet every single Sunday, and sometimes we do meet off campus, but I don’t know how often.”

Clark said Reagins-Lilly would provide information and said despite the board meeting at Vela’s house, the standoff is not a Senate issue.

“Gene was a member of Senate and obviously was a contributor to the organization, but beyond that, this is something that’s kind of transcended the scope of Senate,” Clark said. “So that’s why it’s Dean Lilly’s responsibility. In any student conduct related matters, or legal things, it’s Dean Lilly’s role to take on.”

On Nov. 10, Austin Police Department officers arrived at Vela’s North Campus apartment, close to St. David’s Medical Center, after Vela called a friend and hung up abruptly. Police said the unidentified friend was concerned enough to call 911. 

When the police arrived, Vela aimed a handgun at them through his window, according to police department Assistant Chief Raul Munguia. After officers fired bullets into the corner of the window, Vela retreated, at which point police heard what they believed to be Vela loading and discharging more firearms.

Vela returned to his apartment window and pointed his laser-equipped handgun directly at the officers’ chests, and officers Leo Cardenas and Adrien Chopin fired, Munguia said. Vela was hit in the left torso and fell back. 

Clark said he was not aware Vela, who is a Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq in 2002, kept weapons in his apartment. 

“Gene is a veteran, we all knew that,” Clark said. “All I know is what’s been reported in the papers. I had no idea that he had weapons or any sort of anything else.”

Clark denied any further knowledge of what might have caused Vela to aim a handgun at officers that night. 

“I had no idea about any of the stuff that went on after the fact,” Clark said. “All I know is what’s been reported in the papers.”

In the days since the standoff, multiple members of the board have denied comment completely or referred to Clark and Reagins-Lilly for comment. 

Student Government President Horacio Villarreal said he was surprised at the seeming lack of transparency, but said he felt certain circumstances require private handling.

“This does somewhat surprise me,” Villarreal said. “In dealing with the Senate Executive Board this year, they’ve been incredibly transparent — but I trust them, they’re good people and I trust they’re making the right decision.”

Vela, who is being held in the Travis County Jail, has been charged with aggravated assault against a public servant. Currently, his bond remains set at $100,000.

Clarification: Soncia Reagins-Lilly, dean of students, was contacted for an interview but released a statement instead.