This story has been updated.
Erik Cantu Jr., the 17-year-old shot by a now-former San Antonio police officer earlier this month, is getting “slightly better” but is still on life support as he recovers from at least four gunshot wounds at University Health Hospital, said his father.
“It’s very touch-and-go,” the elder Cantu said at a press conference held outside the Bexar County Courthouse on Tuesday. It was the first time his parents spoke publicly about the shooting. Erik has been cycling on and off of powerful sedatives, shaking, hallucinating and experiencing cardiac episodes, he said.
“He’s just mutilated,” his mother, Victoria Casarez said. “Please continue to pray for Erik.”
His family has organized a fundraiser to help cover medical costs and other needs.
The family foremost wants Erik to recover fully, but also seeks legal justice for the teen, who was shot by now-former officer James Brennand. They’re also seeking some kind of legislative or system change to prevent this from happening again, said Ben Crump, a nationally renowned civil rights and personal injury attorney representing Erik’s family.
“We are praying for his life, justice and change,” Crump said.
What that change could look like is still unclear, he said, but “we plan on exploring every possible legal avenue to get full justice for Erik and his family.” That will likely include a civil lawsuit.
“Can you imagine the medical bills that are going to pile up after the cameras go away?” he said. “If we don’t get justice for Erik Cantu, then it can happen to you.”
Brennand was fired from SAPD three days after the shooting occurred. He was arrested and charged with two counts of aggravated assault on Oct. 11. He is out on a $200,000 bail awaiting a Nov. 23 hearing.
Brennand’s attorney, Jay Norton, sent the San Antonio Report a statement Wednesday.
“It is very premature to form any conclusion about this situation,” Norton wrote. “There are many other factors that have not been disclosed. This case is not just about a portion of a video. We are actively investigating all of the circumstances surrounding this situation.”
On Oct. 2, Brennand was responding to a disturbance at a McDonald’s on the North Side at approximately 10:45 p.m., when he noticed a car in the parking lot that allegedly matched the description of a vehicle he had tried to pull over the night before, police officials said.
The license plates did not belong to the vehicle Cantu Jr. was driving, and SAPD later confirmed that the vehicle was not stolen.
Brennand called for backup, but before other officers arrived, he approached the car and opened the driver’s side door without warning, Brennand’s body camera footage showed. This seemed to surprise Cantu Jr., who was eating his meal. The teenager then put the car in reverse and attempted to leave.
But the car door was still open, and it struck Brennand, who stepped back from the vehicle and fired five shots at the driver. As the car drove out of the parking lot, Brennand fired five more times.
Erik and a passenger were eventually apprehended about a block away. The 17-year-old female passenger was uninjured. Cantu Jr. was initially charged with evading detention in a vehicle and assault on a peace officer, but the District Attorney’s Office rejected the charges after the video of the shooting went viral on social media and Brennand was fired.
Brennand is not entitled to an appeal of his termination because he was still considered a probationary officer, on the job for just seven months.
The family wants Brennand charged with two counts of attempted murder, Crump said, and bail revoked.
“I want to see him behind bars,” Casarez said. “It’s not safe with him out there.”
The family has seen more of the body camera footage than what has been released to the public. His mother described hearing her son say, in a moment after he was shot, “I want my mom.”
When Cantu Jr. told Brennand he had been shot, his response was: “‘Yes, you have because I shot you,'” Cantu Sr. said. “There was no humanity behind his voice.”
Cantu said his son, a young Hispanic man, was racially profiled by the officer, who is white.
The San Antonio Report has filed an open records request to view additional body camera footage.
Paul Grinke, a Texas-based attorney representing the family along with Crump, said the legal team intends to “shine a light on the San Antonio Police Department,” to find ways to prevent future similar shootings.
“These incidents don’t start at the moment the trigger is pulled,” Grinke said. “They start back in the hiring process, and the training process, the retention process; the policies and procedures of each police department.”
Chief William McManus has said Brennand’s actions were “entirely against policy and training that we receive” and he does not think a policy review is needed.
“Our policies are sound and our training is sound,” McManus told the San Antonio Report earlier this month. “And I don’t see anywhere that would require review. … This was an individual failure. Not a training failure, not a policy failure.”
McManus questioned why Brennand approached the vehicle in the first place. “You don’t know that for certain it’s the same vehicle, you don’t know for certain it’s the same driver” who evaded him the day before.
Tactically, the officer should not have placed himself in front of an open door of a car that was turned on, McManus said. And once the officer “cleared the door and was no longer in danger of being knocked down or pulled out of the car, he was not in a position where he should have used deadly force.”
The second round of shots was also against policy.
“The driver was going in the opposite direction, away from the officer,” he said. “There’s no way I could look at that, or anyone could look at it, and try to justify what happened.”