Although state law prevents the public release of body camera footage worn by police officers until an investigation is completed, Mayor Ron Nirenberg called Wednesday for a “complete review” of the police department’s body-worn camera policies.
The move came after a police officer shot and killed Darrell Zemault Sr., a 55-year-old Black man who lived on the West Side in Loma Park, as he was being arrested on two warrants Tuesday. Zemault allegedly attacked two officers, taking one’s gun, according to San Antonio Police Department officials. The officers were serving arrest warrants for felony and misdemeanor charges in connection with domestic violence incidents.
“I am requesting that the footage be released as soon as the investigation is complete,” Nirenberg said via Twitter in a thread that included an overview of his stance and history on police reform. “It is in the public interest for San Antonians to be able to view the video themselves.”
In a memo sent to City management, Nirenberg requested a review of bodycam policies “as part of our efforts to improve transparency, accountability, and public accessibility.”
Investigations often take months or years to conclude and body camera footage is not typically released without a formal open records request.
On Wednesday night, friends and family members hosted a vigil for Zemault on the street outside his home on Willee Drive.
“We should not have to be here … not like this,” said Celeste Brown, a community organizer who considered Zemault a “second father.” She and others associated with the Black Lives Matter movement have been pushing the City to “defund the police,” or reallocate police spending toward social services.
Earlier in the day, Brown spoke to City Council members after they discussed amendments they’d like to make to the budget. None of them mentioned taking money away from the police save for Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda (D6), who briefly said she thought the city wasn’t “doing enough” in its police budget review.
Most of the 38 people who signed up to speak during the public comment hearing spoke in favor of reallocating police spending toward housing, health, and other social services. The City’s eComment system for the virtual meeting was filled with more than 350 comments, most carrying the same message.
“Just last week during citizens to be heard, I told y’all that failure to listen means my brother could be next. My father could be next. The organizers we walk beside could be next. Hell, I could be next,” said community organizer Celeste Brown. “Yesterday, my words became truth when SAPD shot and killed Darrell Zemault Sr. A second father to me. My family member.”
Brown challenged the department’s version of events surrounding the shooting.
“$487 Million goes to police and they can’t de-escalate situations? Where is the return on that over-investment?” Brown said. “Defund the police that killed Darrell Zemault Sr. and wash the blood from your hands.”
City Manager Erik Walsh has proposed a more “deliberate,” months-long community engagement process and analysis of what adjustments could be made to the police department before making changes in how the City defines what it means to fund public safety.
Back on Willee Drive, candles were placed on the spot where Zemault was killed. Friends and family shared personal stories and demands for justice. At least 100 people filled the sidewalk and street. Neighbors watched from their lawns, others sat in their cars.
“One thing about Darrell you should know: You walk into his house, he’s going to feed you,” Brown said. “He doesn’t care if you ate already.”
The crowd laughed.
“My dad was not perfect, right?” said Susie Terry, Zemault’s 36-year-old daughter said.
“Nobody is,” someone from the crowd said.
“He made mistakes. He had a record. … But he overcame it,” Terry said. “He had faith, he had hope, he knew he was on a better path.”
Terry and Brown asked the crowd not to believe everything they see on social media about Zemault.
“It’s just people who don’t know him,” Terry said. “I’m not going to go on there and argue and fight and do that because, you know, we’re going to save that for the justice system.”
Photographer Bria Woods contributed to this article.