Texas Lawmaker Threatens to Shoot Colleague After Reporting Protesters to ICENew York Times
May 30, 2017
A Texas state representative, referring to protesters at the State Capitol on Monday, said he reported "several illegal immigrants" to federal immigration authorities and then threatened to shoot a fellow lawmaker who objected.
The chaotic scene erupted around 11 a.m. on the last day of a particularly bitter legislative session in Austin, when demonstrators in the gallery of the House Chamber began chanting in opposition to a new law that bans so-called sanctuary cities. On the House floor, Representative Matt Rinaldi, a Republican, then turned to several Democratic lawmakers and told them he had reported the people to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
One of the Democrats, Representative César J. Blanco, said that Mr. Rinaldi told him and others, "We are going to have them deported," and then used an obscenity.
"We were in shock," Mr. Blanco said. "He assumed that because they were brown, in the gallery and protesting that they were here illegally."
The exchange led to a confrontation among lawmakers, with some pushing and pointing at one another. Some legislators had to be restrained. Mr. Rinaldi got into a face-to-face argument with Representative Poncho Nevárez, a Democrat, and threatened to shoot him.
"I made it clear that if he attempted to, in his words, 'get me,' I would shoot him in self-defense," Mr. Rinaldi, who represents part of Dallas County in North Texas, wrote in a Facebook post.
Other lawmakers said Mr. Rinaldi was more pointed in the threat to Mr. Nevárez, who represents Eagle Pass, a city on the Texas-Mexico border. "There was a threat made from Rinaldi to put a bullet in one of my colleagues' heads," Representative Justin Rodriguez, a Democrat, said at a news conference, according to The Texas Observer.
Mr. Nevárez said on Twitter that he never threatened Mr. Rinaldi. "He's a liar and hateful man. Got no use for him. God bless him," [url=https://twitter.com/poncho nevarez/status/869273577090162688]he wrote[/uel].
Mr. Nevárez and Mr. Rinaldi did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment.
Legislators with state licenses may carry concealed firearms in the Capitol, but it was not clear if Mr. Rinaldi was armed. He said on Facebook that he was now being protected by the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Mr. Rinaldi said on Facebook that he called federal immigration authorities after seeing signs in the gallery that read, "I am illegal and here to stay." He accused Democratic politicians of encouraging the protesters.
Mr. Blanco said he saw no such signs among protesters.
A spokeswoman with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency did not immediately respond when asked whether law enforcement officials responded to the Capitol in Austin.
The last regular day of the four-month legislative session drew more than 1,000 protesters to the Capitol. The demonstrators who packed the House chamber were speaking out again a bill that Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, signed into law this month banning so-called sanctuary cities.
The legislation, among several highly divisive bills on the agenda, subjects law enforcement agencies to steep daily fines if they fail to cooperate with federal immigration guidelines. Some opponents to the law have called the law racist.
It was not clear on Monday whether Mr. Rinaldi or other lawmakers could face disciplinary action. The House speaker, Joe Straus, a Republican, said in a statement, "There is no excuse for members making insensitive and disparaging remarks on the floor of the Texas House."
Mr. Blanco blamed what he described as a highly charged political atmosphere ushered in by President Trump that he said has given rise to hateful speech nationwide.
"The Trump rhetoric is trickling down and allowing current elected officials and candidates to resort to racism and violence making it sound like it was O.K.," he said. "This has to stop. It is not what our country or what Texas is about."