A crucifix and other offerings decorate the makeshift memorial for Ricardo Torres Jr., who was fatally shot by police in Olivia, Minnesota early Sunday morning. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

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OLIVIA, MINNESOTA— Ricardo Torres Jr. was well acquainted with the police officer who shot and killed him July 4, in an alley off the small town of Olivia’s main street, according to court documents and family accounts.

In an interview with Sahan Journal two days after the killing, Torres’s cousin, Samuel Flores, noted previous run-ins between Torres and the local police and a sense of harassment. In one incident that led to criminal charges, the officer had stopped Torres for driving his girlfriend’s car because of an air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror. Another time, the same officer pursued Torres while he rode a bicycle.

Torres, a Mexican American originally from south Texas, was shot multiple times by Olivia police officer Aaron Clouse at about 2:20 a.m. on the Fourth of July, according to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, a state agency that often investigates police killings. Emergency medical workers transported him to Olivia Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. He was 32 years old and leaves behind a nine-month-old son.

A press release issued by the Olivia Police Department says an officer encountered an armed man in the alley and shot him after an altercation.

The five-member Olivia Police Department does not use body cameras according to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, and investigators currently believe there is no video footage of the shooting. State investigators say they recovered a shotgun “from near where Torres was shot.”

The Olivia Police Department told Sahan Journal it was unable to comment on why officers were on the scene prior to the shooting. The department also declined to disclose how many times Torres had been arrested by its officers over the years.

Clouse, an 11-year veteran of the force, has been placed on administrative leave, which is standard practice after a police shooting.

Olivia is a small town of 2,500 people in Renville County, about 80 miles west of Minneapolis in west–central Minnesota, on Highway 212.

The alley where Clouse shot Torres lies between a gift shop and a combined coffee shop/church outreach center on the 800 block of Lincoln Avenue, which serves as the town’s main street. Olivia touts itself as the “Corn Capital,” and corn fields surround the town. Lincoln Avenue is lined with massive corn silos, law offices, insurance shops, and the storefront of the local newspaper, the Renville County Register.

The main street running through Olivia, Minnesota, as seen on July 6, 2021. About 12 percent of Olivia’s population is Latino, including many from south Texas. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

Friends and family have established a memorial to Torres, who went by “Ricky,” at the site of his death. On the afternoon of July 6, flowers, candles of the Virgin of Guadalupe, cans of beer, loose cigarettes, and what appears to be half of a McChicken sandwich sat on the gravel. A brick wall displayed messages of love and well-wishes.

Prior encounters

Clouse had arrested Torres at least twice before, according to court documents. In one incident, he’d used a stun gun on Torres.

“He’s been harassing us for a while now,” Samuel Flores told Sahan Journal, standing on the porch of an apartment complex where he lives today, and where Torres previously resided.

Torres had a criminal record in Renville County, including charges of disorderly conduct, driving while intoxicated, and driving without a license. He had never been convicted of a felony in Minnesota, nor had he ever been charged with any form of theft or aggravated assault. His last arrest came in 2019.

In February 2018, Clouse arrested Torres for driving while intoxicated, driving without a license or insurance, and possession of drug paraphernalia. A criminal complaint filed in the case states that Clouse knew Torres, and knew that he occasionally would drive the vehicle, which belonged to his girlfriend.

When Clouse began observing the vehicle, the girlfriend was driving, and the officer followed the car to a Dollar General. After stopping at the store, Torres took over driving duties and Clause followed. He wrote in the complaint that he pulled the car over because it had an air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror.

In June 2019, Clouse used a stun gun on Torres after Torres fled from him on a bicycle. Clouse had recognized Torres, according to a criminal complaint, and knew he had an active warrant from a previous case.

Torres spent a little over a month in Renville County jail in 2018, and 90 days in 2019, according to court records.

Clouse has little activity on his social media pages. His last Facebook post, in March 2016, involved a declaration of support for the Minneapolis Police Department, the day after Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced no charges would be filed against the officers who killed Jamar Clark.

Coming to Minnesota

The cousins grew up in Batesville, Texas, a small town southwest of San Antonio, near the Mexican border. The family began traveling north to Renville County to do seasonal work during the corn harvest, Flores said.

That’s a common theme for many in the Latino community in Renville County. Latino families from south Texas journey up to work in the fields. Some have stayed to create a permanent life. Torres followed his father, Ricardo Sr., to Olivia when he was in his early 20s.

Torres’s father, Ricardo Torres Sr., drowned in Big Kandiyohi Lake in July 2016, Flores said.

About 12 percent of Olivia’s population is Latino, according to Minnesota Compass, a nonprofit demographic data site.

Torres would work in the local agricultural industry, often doing tiling and drainage jobs on farms, Flores said. “We come up here to work,” he said.

Flores said that many Latino people who have come to work in the area feel like the police are watching them closely. It doesn’t take much to get pulled over.

“If you have a Texas license plate, they’ll stop you,” Flores said.

A novelty Minnesota license plate with the name “Ricky” appears in a makeshift memorial for Ricardo Torres Jr., who was fatally shot by police in Olivia, Minnesota, early Sunday morning. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

‘He was always happy’

Torres liked life in Minnesota, Flores said. He loved to fish, and would often go on trips with Flores and his son.

Flores was raised with his cousin and thinks of him as a brother. Tears began to well in his eyes as he described his cousin as a giving young man who would always offer to do favors or run errands for friends and family.

“He was always happy, always joking and playing around,” Flores said.

Flores last saw his cousin in June, on Flores’s 35th birthday. Torres gave him a bunch of scratch-off lottery games and $20.

Flores said he knew his cousin possessed a pellet gun, but that he never saw Torres carry it. While Torres had accumulated some negative experiences with the local police, Flores said his cousin hadn’t been in any trouble recently and was determined to avoid spending more time in jail. He can’t think of why Torres would have confronted a cop.

The family was told Torres was shot three times, including once in the head, Flores said. With the lack of video or visual witnesses to emerge, he fears only two people know what happened in the alley that night, and one of them is gone.

“We want to know the truth,” Flores said.

The family is planning a candlelight vigil at the scene of the shooting at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, July 7.

Becky Dernbach contributed reporting to this story.

Andrew Hazzard covers climate issues for Sahan Journal. He has worked for newspapers in North Dakota, Mississippi and Minnesota. He is member of Society of Environmental Journalists. His work at Sahan...