From the scene of the Embassy Suites officer-involved shooting on Tuesday morning April 24, 2018.
San Antonio Police work a crime scene in downtown San Antonio. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

A family altercation on the North Side last Wednesday ended in a stepson lethally stabbing his stepfather, marking San Antonio’s 12th homicide related to domestic or family violence in 2018.

The victims included seven females and five males from all parts of the city. Among them were a 14-year-old boy allegedly shot by his father, a high school student killed by her ex-boyfriend, and a woman shot to death by her boyfriend on the balcony of her upscale apartment complex.

“We know that there has been a rise in violent crime in the last three years, and we know that this was largely due to domestic violence,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. “Whatever we are doing systematically to address the issue simply has not been enough.”

Nirenberg spoke at a May 3 luncheon aimed at bringing awareness to the prevalence of domestic violence locally, where he committed to reviewing the City’s allocation of funds for organizations working to combat the issue, and ensure that safety net funds are not removed from the budget or reduced.

On Tuesday, representatives from the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, Department of Human Services, and the San Antonio Police Department, will brief the City’s Public Safety Committee on how to help prevent intimate partner violence by educating about risk factors and providing information about local resources.

While many domestic violence situations that turn fatal are spontaneous and difficult to predict, SAPD spokesman Sgt. Jesse Salame said, there is usually abusive behavior that occurs leading up to a fatal incident, ranging from unwanted physical contact to bodily injury, that could have been reported.

“The abuse rarely stops – it continues to get worse and worse,” he said.

The 12 homicide deaths so far this year were identified by SAPD, which in 2017 classified 23 homicides as related to family violence.

With more than seven months left in the year, the number of homicides appears on track to equal or exceed the 2017 count. That indicates the prevalence of family violence in Texas and the pervasiveness of the problem, said María José Angelelli, director of support to service providers with the Texas Council on Family Violence, which tracks incidents of violence between intimate partners.

“Domestic violence is preventable,” Angelelli said. Programs doing intervention work must be funded and offenders must be held accountable, she added.

SAPD works closely with agencies that provide services to people affected by domestic violence, including Family Violence Prevention ServicesChildsafe, and local shelters including the Salvation Army Hope Center, Salame said. However, he stressed that both victims and the public need to be aware of warning signs of domestic abuse and report incidents to police.

The Salvation Army Hope Center is located at 521 W. Elmira St.
The Salvation Army Hope Center is located at 521 W. Elmira St. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

“It doesn’t really matter what your socioeconomic status is,” Salame said. “It doesn’t really matter what side of town you live on. No one is immune to this.”

Clarissa Riojas was just 18 years old when a boyfriend she had recently ended a relationship with came to the Southeast San Antonio apartment where she lived on April 25 and wanted to talk, police reports said. Riojas initially refused to let him in, but opened the door after he began firing a gun. Louis Nickerson, 19, allegedly grabbed the Highlands High School senior and shot her in the head, police said.

Nickerson, a football player at Highlands, was later found in a nearby wooded area dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, police said.

“When relationships are coming to an end and become volatile, for the police department it is one of the most dangerous calls [we respond to],” Salame said. “When you take an emotional situation and you mix alcohol, drugs, and weapons, it is a recipe for violence and disaster, and unfortunately sometimes we don’t find out any of this is going on until after it happened.”

The lack of reporting on instances of abuse may leave police at a loss when determining the motive behind fatal instances of domestic violence. When 35-year-old Tania Rendon-Santiago was shot by Scott Caruso, 36, there had been no previous police reports noting any abuse during the couple’s eight-year relationship. Caruso shot Rendon-Santiago as she stood on her balcony on March 12, struggling to keep the sliding glass door closed and herself away from Caruso, according to police reports.

After shooting Rendon-Santiago, Caruso used the gun to take his own life, police said. Rendon-Santiago’s murder occurred at her upscale apartment on Broadway Street not far from the Pearl, and 29 people called 911 to report gunshots.

“Unfortunately, there is a lot more visibility given to victims of domestic violence when they are dead,” said Marta Peláez, president and CEO of Family Violence Prevention Services, the nonprofit that runs San Antonio’s Battered Women and Children’s Shelter.

Peláez said that while the majority of domestic violence incidents involve a male perpetrator, domestic violence against males is dramatically underreported.

“This is simply because little boys are socialized to express emotion differently and appear strong,” she said. The Battered Women and Children’s Shelter provides services to male victims, but Pelaéz said that the most men the facility has helped at any given time is three. “Usually the most we see is one man at a time.”

An argument over the family dog led to the fatal stabbing of Leland McCoy, 44, by his stepson, 17-year-old Xzavien Davis-Johnson on May 9, police said. What started as a argument between the two men quickly turned physical, ending with Davis-Johnson allegedly stabbing McCoy in the chest, police said. 

Nirenberg called for more resources to be devoted to assisting victims of domestic violence, intervention before violence occurs, re-education of perpetrators, and addressing the long-term effects of trauma on children, saying that the problem needs to be addressed comprehensively. The City will have to “talk about financial priorities [and] get more resources into the agencies that do [domestic violence] work,” and ensure that safety net funds are not a negotiable part of the City’s budget, he said.

In order to ensure that local funding to combat domestic violence is being effectively utilized, Nirenberg said that the Office of Equity is looking at whether dollars spent are producing measurable change rather than simply providing safe havens to victims. The Battered Women and Children’s Shelter is the state’s largest by capacity, able to accommodate up to 222 people on its complex, which includes a school, a medical and dental clinic, and two transitional housing duplexes.

“This is not so much about funding shelters,” Nirenberg said. “It’s about how we as a city address domestic violence and whether we are getting at the root cause instead of just ensuring battered women [have somewhere to go].”

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.