A family sought revenge against a tormentor. They shot the wrong man, police say

Luis and Florinda Argueta were fed up, according to court documents.

Their son, Joe Argueta, 19, had been feuding with another teenager and his friends who had been harassing the family for weeks, slashing their car tyres and shooting at their house in Houston, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and a lawyer for Joe Argueta said.

Florinda Argueta, 39, hatched a plan: the family would stay up all night, wait for the teenager and his friends, and “deal with them”, according to a report filed by a Harris County prosecutor.

Late on Monday night, Florinda Argueta’s brother, Margarito Alcantar, waited near the end of a street in an SUV, prosecutors said.

Around 11.30pm, a dark-coloured Dodge that the family believed belonged to one of their harassers pulled up near the Arguetas’ house, and the family pounced, the report said.

The SUV blocked the Dodge from one side, and Florinda Argueta pulled up behind it in her Honda sedan. Luis and Joe Argueta and Alcantar chased the car on foot.

Joe Argueta held a bat, and his father was armed with a gun, according to the report. Multiple shots were fired at the Dodge, the report said.

The driver of the Dodge, Eddie Reece Clark III, 29, pulled onto a yard to try to flee, crashed into a tree and then ran out. Clark, who had been shot in the torso, was pronounced dead at a hospital.

He had never even met the family before that night, law enforcement officials said.

“Seems like a tragic case” of mistaken identity, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez of Harris County said on Facebook. “Now four are charged in the murder.”

The prosecutor’s report said that “all four defendants actively participated in the plan to chase” Clark down a public road, block his path, then assault him with a bat and a gun.

“Eddie Reece Clark III was a neighbour that lived on an adjoining street and was merely driving home when he was accosted by the defendants,” the report said.

Clark’s family declined to comment. Joe Argueta was released from jail after he posted US$50,000 (NZ$69,675) bond on Wednesday. His mother was released on US$20,000 bond.

The police said they were still looking for Luis Argueta, 45, and Alcantar, 29. Florinda Argueta declined to give the police contact information for her brother and said she did not know where her husband had fled, prosecutors said.

Florinda Argueta’s lawyer, Christopher Sharkey, declined to comment.

David Bires, a lawyer for Joe Argueta, described the teenager as an electrician’s apprentice who had to quit working in April after he had knee surgery. Joe Argueta has no prior criminal history, Bires said.

“He didn’t shoot anybody,” Bires said. “He is not guilty of murder.”

Clark was a commercial truck driver who had lived in the subdivision with his mother and father since he was child, said Albert Ausberry, 28, who met Clark when they were both in the seventh grade.

Growing up in the neighbourhood, the boys always felt safe, Ausberry said. “It’s a great place to raise a family,” he said.

Ausberry said he and Clark had been talking about starting a barbecue food truck business together. Clark, who was easygoing but ambitious, had drawn up blueprints for the truck and was full of ideas about how to make the business successful.

'Why would you take an innocent man's life?'

He said his friend’s death was “agonising”.

“It just angers you,” Ausberry said. “Why would you take an innocent man’s life?”

Deputies had come to the Arguetas’ home seven times in the past three weeks, Sergeant Ben Bell, a member of the Sheriff’s Office homicide unit, told reporters after the shooting.

Someone had shot at their house at least twice, and tyres had been slashed in the driveway, Bell said. “It was an ongoing disturbance,” he said.

Bires said that the Argueta family “had been harassed mercilessly over the last few weeks”.

The feud appeared to be between Joe Argueta and the new boyfriend of his ex-girlfriend.

“Complaints had been made to the police,” Bires said. “No action was taken.”

The Sheriff’s Office referred questions about the complaints to the Precinct 4 Constable’s Office, a local police agency. A spokesperson at the office said the Sheriff’s Office would have been in charge of investigating the Arguetas’ complaints.

Gonzalez said the Arguetas believed that the man harassing them drove a black Dodge Charger. Clark was driving a dark grey Dodge Challenger.

Victim less than a block from home

After he was shot, Clark crashed his car into a tree and tried to run away but soon collapsed on the ground.

The mother and son gave conflicting versions of what happened next.

According to the prosecutor’s report, Florinda Argueta approached Clark as he was on the ground, tapped him with a bat and asked, “Who sent you?”

Joe Argueta initially told investigators that he had shot at the car but later said that it was his father who fired the weapon, according to the report. He told the police that he, his father and his uncle caught up with Clark after he collapsed on the ground.

Joe Argueta said he asked Clark who had sent him. “I didn’t do anything to you,” Clark replied, according to the prosecutor’s report.

When the police arrived, they found Clark on the ground, still alive. He was flown to a Houston hospital and died two hours later.

Clark was less than a block from home when he was shot, Ausberry said.

“That tree where his car crashed,” he said. “His parents have to pass that tree to leave their neighbourhood.”

Written by: Maria Cramer
© 2021 THE NEW YORK TIMES

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