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Video: Good Samaritan helps McAllen police officer during struggle at Family Dollar

The McAllen Police Association thanked Omar Perez (left) for helping Officer Eric Lerma (right) detain an aggressive suspect. (Photo courtesy of the McAllen Police Association)

The McAllen Police Association honored a Good Samaritan last week for helping an officer arrest an aggressive suspect.

Surveillance cameras captured the incident, which took place Feb. 23.

Officer Eric Lerma had responded to a call about a possible fight in progress near the O'Reilly Auto Parts store at 613 N. 23rd Street.

When Lerma arrived, he found a man lying face-down behind the store.

The man "advised he was involved in a fight with his friend and proceeded to point at a spot on the ground stating that was his friend," according to the criminal complaint.

Lerma witnessed the man placing a dark-colored substance — it later tested positive for synthetic marijuana, which can cause extremely aggressive behavior — in his mouth, according to the criminal complaint.

The man started running away from Lerma and ignored verbal commands to stop. Lerma chased the man to a nearby Family Dollar store, where they started struggling.

Surveillance video shows the man on top of Lerma, pinning him to the ground.

"I also felt his arms move to my neck area, which made it difficult for me to breath," Lerma wrote in the criminal complaint.

Lerma started hitting the man with his department-issued flashlight, but the man responded by slamming him to the ground.

Omar Perez, 39, of McAllen heard the commotion while shopping for a mop.

"Everybody's just standing around," Perez said, recalling the scene.

Perez intervened.

"That day I didn't see an officer," Perez said. "I saw a human being."

Perez placed the man in a chokehold and allowed Lerma to detain him.

After the arrest, another officer witnessed the man spit out a "black leafy substance," according to the criminal complaint. The substance tested positive for synthetic marijuana.

Jason Flores Garcia, 28, of McAllen was charged with assault on a public servant, a third-degree felony; evading arrest, a Class A misdemeanor; and resisting arrest, a Class A misdemeanor.

He spent 133 days in jail, according to Hidalgo County court records.

Garcia pleaded guilty to the assault charge last month. The other two charges were dismissed.

State District Judge Fidencio Guerra sentenced Garcia to five years in prison, but suspended the sentence and placed Garcia on probation for five years.

Garcia's attorney didn't respond to a request for comment.

With the case over, the McAllen Police Association honored Perez for assisting Lerma during the harrowing incident.

The association, a union that represents police officers, presented Perez with a plaque that reads:

We honor a Citizen who has gone above and beyond in a crisis situation.

A Citizen who did the right thing at the right time for the right reasons.

People like you are what makes McAllen great, so we wish to thank you and honor you for your courage.

Perez said he simply saw someone who needed help and took action.

"These guys put their lives on the line every day," Perez said. "I appreciate that our officers do things like that. They go out of their way for us."

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