This story has been updated.

A Bexar County grand jury indicted former San Antonio police officer James Brennand on two counts of aggravated assault by a public servant and one count of attempted murder, District Attorney Joe Gonzales announced Thursday.

Brennand allegedly shot 17-year-old Erik Cantu multiple times in a parking lot of a McDonald’s restaurant on Oct. 2. Brennand, who was a probationary officer, was fired days later.

“We certainly are going to be seeking what we believe to be an appropriate punishment and right now, to me, the maximum punishment appears to be appropriate,” Gonzales told reporters.

The maximum sentence for aggravated assault by a public servant, a first-degree felony, is life in prison. The maximum for attempted murder, a second-degree felony, is 20 years in prison. Penalties and plea deals are ultimately decided by a judge.

Brennand’s body camera footage from Oct. 2 showed the officer firing 10 shots into and towards a vehicle in the McDonald’s parking lot after Cantu, who was eating when the officer approached and opened the driver’s side door, reversed the vehicle away from the officer.

One of the aggravated assault charges applies to Cantu’s passenger, identified by Gonzales as Emily Proulx, 17, who was uninjured. Cantu is the complainant for the other two charges. His injuries kept him hospitalized for several weeks, including time spent on a ventilator, before he was released on Nov. 23.

Gonzales said he is open to a plea deal in the case but would need to speak with Cantu.

“It’s too early to tell … how we should resolve this, but I will tell you that we’re not going to do anything without the input of young Erik,” he said.

The case will be prosecuted by the office’s Civil Rights Division, which handles officer-involved incidents.

Former SAPD officer James Brennand was charged with two counts of aggravated assault by a public servant.
Former SAPD officer James Brennand Credit: Courtesy / Bexar County Sheriff’s Office

“We’re confident and comfortable with our evidence today,” said Assistant District Attorney Daryl Harris, who leads the division. “And we’re confident in our ability to pursue that evidence to whatever end that takes, be it a resolution by agreement or through a trial.”

Harris said he has been and will continue to meet with the Cantu family.

“I have not had the opportunity to talk with Erik himself yet,” Harris said. “That will be the next phase now that he is home and on recovery.”

It will likely take weeks to set a hearing for the case in court; if a plea agreement isn’t reached, it will be months before a trial can start, Gonzales said.

“We know that most police officers in this city care deeply about their community,” he said. “But when an officer uses unnecessary and unjustified force, the trust that exists between our community and law enforcement is rattled.

“It is my hope that by vigorously investigating and prosecuting this case, we can help to increase faith in this system, even if we can never repair and stem all the pain and suffering experienced by the Cantu family,” Gonzales said.

He pledged to get justice for Cantu, which would include getting a conviction against Brennand, getting appropriate punishment and “making sure that that man never has a gun and a badge.”

Cantu family attorney Ben Crump said the indictment is a “significant step toward justice — but there is still a long road ahead. We will continue to fight for accountability and transparency through the legal process.”

During a previous press conference last month, Crump hinted at a possible civil lawsuit against Brennand or the city.

On Friday, Nico LaHood, a former district attorney whose firm is representing Brennand, responded to the San Antonio Report’s request for comment.

“James Brennand has been tried in the court of public opinion without the benefit of his side of the story being known,” said LaHood. The body cam video lacks context, he said. “Officer Brennand’s actions were legally justified.”

The officer approached the vehicle because it was the same one that had evaded him the night before, as KSAT reported, LaHood said.

It is also important to note that “Brennan stayed on the scene and actually administered CPR on Mr. Cantu,” LaHood said. “With an attempted murder charge, you have to prove that the intent was to kill.”

It’s “extremely presumptuous” of Gonzales to start talking about maximum punishment, he added. “You’ve got to secure a guilty verdict before we start talking about punishments.”

The legal team could eventually be open to a plea agreement, LaHood said, but it “has to be consistent with the facts and justice. … I’m not even considering a plea right now, none of us are, until we know exactly what kind of agreement we’re talking about.

Avatar photo

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org