Alvaro Luna Hernandez is a Chicano-Mexicano political prisoner sentenced to 50 years in prison for aggravated assault on an officer when he disarmed a sheriff attempting to shoot him.
He was born in Alpine, Texas, in 1952, into a racially segregated society, where police ruled the Chicano barrio with an iron fist. On June 12, 1968, Alvaro was with 16 year old Ervay Ramos and witnessed Ramos murdered in cold-blood by Alpine Police Bud Powers, a known racist cop with a history of brutality against Chicanos. Powers never served a day in jail and escaped justice under the protection of the U.S. judicial system.
Since that day in 1968, Alvaro worked tirelessly for Chicano rights and against police brutality. As a result, he was also the constant target of police harassment and brutality. In 1976 Alvaro was falsely accused of murder, for which he narrowly escaped the death penalty, destined instead to serve a life sentence. After media highlighted Alvaro’s unfair trial and proof of his innocence, he was released. Later on he also suffered a beating at the hands of several police officers. Two deputy sheriffs were convicted for the criminal civil rights violations stemming from the beating. The police received five years probation and never spent a day in jail.
In the 1990s Alvaro worked as the national coordinator of the Ricardo Aldape Guerra Defense Committee, which led the successful struggle to free Mexican national Aldape Guerra from Texas’ death row after being framed by Houston police for allegedly killing a cop. In 1993, Alvaro was a non-governmental organization (NGO) delegate before the 49th session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland. Before the U.N. General Assembly, he vociferously exposed and condemned the U.S. government’s dismal human rights record and its human rights violations of U.S. political prisoners.
Because of his work around police brutality and his active organizing in the barrios of Houston, the police began to monitor his activities. In 1996 events would turn for the worse, landing Alvaro in prison, this time for 50 years.
Alvaro Disarms Officer
On July 18, 1996, Sheriff Jack McDaniel of Alpine, Texas, went to arrest Alvaro at his home on a charge of aggravated robbery (later dismissed with Alvaro as his own counsel). No warrant for the arrest was issued and when the unarmed Alvaro questioned the sheriff’s abuse of power, McDaniel became violently angry and drew his weapon. Before he could raise it and shoot, Alvaro disarmed him and fled to a nearby mountain.
What followed next was the most massive police manhunt in recent West Texas history. In fear for his life, Alvaro eluded police helicopters, bloodhound tracking dogs from the nearby state prison in Ft. Stockton, armed vigilante groups searching for him, and other state and federal police agencies. Alvaro sought refuge in the mountainous country he knew well as a youth.
Stand Off with the Police
Days later, Alvaro returned to his mother’s house to eat and change clothes. The police found out and a heavily armed law enforcement contingent converged on the home. Without identifying themselves, police began shooting indiscriminately at the house, cars parked in front and at the public street lights. At trial, witnesses described the police shooting as a “war zone.” The police wanted Alvaro dead and were refusing to allow him to surrender.
To back them off their murderous intent, Alvaro returned fire in self-defense but never shot nor injured anyone. He then dialed 911 (emergency) and alerted other officials that the police were shooting at him and would not allow him to surrender. The City Manager pulled the army of troopers back, and the “shoot first-ask questions later” plot to kill Alvaro was aborted. During the police barrage, Sgt. Curtis Hines was shot in the left hand by a ricocheting police bullet.
Alvaro surrendered and was charged with two counts of aggravated assault; one count for disarming the sheriff and one count for Sgt. Hines’ wound. His elderly mother was charged with “hindering apprehension” and jailed.
At his arraignment, Alvaro condemned the illegal occupation of the Southwest, the false charges, institutionalized racism, and reasserted his people’s inalienable rights to self-defense and to self-determination of oppressed nations. He invoked international law and demanded to be treated as a prisoner of war under Geneva Convention principles and other human rights accords.
The initial charge which led to the July 18 confrontation with the police was later dismissed. Rejecting court-appointed attorneys as sellouts, Alvaro represented himself in court.
At the Odessa trial, he was able to have the original charge of aggravated robbery dropped. In the end, Alvaro was convicted of “threatening” the sheriff, but acquitted on the charge of shooting Sgt. Hines in the hand. The mostly-white jury explained that they would have “disgraced” the police and sent the “wrong message” to others that it is justified under law to defend oneself against the armed violence of the state. In a town where the police have ruled Raza barrios with an iron fist, and with someone such as Alvaro who the police admitted on the stand was a “troublemaker” and someone they all hated, many believe the climate in Texas pressured the jury to charge Alvaro with threatening a sheriff instead of acquitting him of that charge as well. It also explains the extreme sentence of 50 years handed down by the judge.
Video Evidence Denied
Afterward in a TV interview, the sheriff stated that Alvaro only disarmed him of his gun and never acted aggressive or in a threatening way. The video clip, considered pivotal evidence, was to be subpoenaed in his 1997 trial, but the prosecution squelched its introduction and convinced the judge to block it, then forced the Sheriff to recant his off-the-record story in subsequent testimony.
Life in Prison
In prison, Alvaro was later accused by prison administrators of gang affiliations and transferred to X-Wing (investigative/administrative segregation) of the Beto Unit. Alvaro consistently denied gang affiliations and stated he was targeted because of his political views, and connections he made with fellow Mexicano captives. This segregation was part of a campaign of harassment by prison administrators that included, at one point, transferring Alvaro from laundry room to field labor work detail and threats from guards. He has now spent more than 10 years in the repressive “control unit” of the Texas prison.
Since his jailing, Alvaro has filed several civil rights suits against county jail conditions, police abuse, and has helped other prisoners assert their legal and human rights.
As of December 2009, the prison officials were also denying him library materials.