Black Lives Matters activists protest in front of the Bexar County Sheriff's Office on Aug. 26th following the death of Damian Lamar Daniels. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff on Friday condemned the killing of Damian Lamar Daniels, a Black Bexar County resident and veteran. 

Daniels, 30, was shot and killed by a Bexar County Sheriff’s Office deputy on Tuesday after officers responded to a mental health call. There were multiple mental health calls for Daniels starting on Monday, when his family called the sheriff’s office about Daniels having suicidal thoughts, Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said Thursday. Daniels called the sheriff’s office himself Monday night to ask for help as he felt “paranoid,” but declined to be taken to a hospital, according to Salazar. Deputies responded to two welfare check requests from Daniels’ family on Tuesday, Salazar said. It was during the second check-in when one of the officers shot and killed Daniels after attempting to take his gun.

Wolff said he believed the incident never should have occurred, as Daniels had no criminal history but was grappling with mental health issues.

“I am asking County Manager David Smith through the Mental Health Department to review this case and to recommend changes in policy,” Wolff said Friday in a statement. “In cases like this, with known mental health issues, it may have been better to send crisis mental health professionals rather than deputies with guns and uniforms. I am also asking Smith to determine what additional mental health staff would be required to augment our Mental Health Department enabling us to better respond to cases like this.”

Salazar said he did not understand why Wolff put out a statement Friday, but he and the county judge were in agreement that law enforcement officers and the jail are used far too often in response to mental health crises.

However, he stood by the officers and the procedures of his department that sent law enforcement officers to the scene rather than mental health unit deputies. There are 16 members of that unit and those deputies are also armed, according to Salazar.

“Quite frankly, I don’t know that our mental health deputies would have done anything different than what the patrol deputies did,” Salazar said. “I’ve expressed this opinion before. I’ll express it again. I believe that those deputies did their best … with the situation they were presented with and did a good job of handling the call. 

“Did it end tragically? Absolutely it did. I certainly wish it hadn’t gotten to the point that Mr. Daniels lost his life. However, I don’t know that our mental health deputies would have handled that call any different.”

In an hour-long media briefing Friday, Salazar said that deputies tried to take Daniels into custody for mental health treatment from his home in the 11000 block of Liberty Field. Officers first used a Taser, which did not “have a measurable effect” on Daniels, Salazar said. 

“At a certain point, he gained control of his weapon,” Salazar said. “It was within his shirt … and I believe he could have very easily manipulated toward that trigger and fired while there [were] deputies on him. Now bear in mind at this point, they’re in a life-or-death struggle over his gun.”

After about two minutes of struggling to take Daniels’ gun, the officers decided to take “drastic measures,” Salazar said. But he said the decision was not made hastily.

Daniels’ death sparked more outrage and grief not only from people protesting police brutality but from mental health advocates as well. Air Force veteran Larissa Martinez founded the nonprofit Circle of Arms, which provides mental health education and services to veterans, women, families, and the elderly. She said hearing about Daniels’ death affected her deeply.

“[Daniels’] neighborhood is 4 miles from where I am,” she said. “And … it just saddened me because I [saw] it more [as] a mental health issue.”

Salazar said at a Thursday briefing that officers spoke with Daniels for more than 30 minutes before attempting to take him into custody, but Martinez said police were not equipped for mental health crises like this – especially with veteran-related trauma.

“The resources weren’t there for this veteran,” she said. “This situation, whether he had a weapon or not, should have taken a lot more sensitivity to his mental status. It should have been treated almost like a negotiator would. They don’t just spend 30 minutes and say, ‘OK, let’s [use a Taser on] this person.’ They spent a lot more time trying to coax and talk and figure out really what’s wrong.”

Daniels’ death adds to the list of local residents killed by law enforcement officers. The names of those killed in past years were printed on the shirt of Camille Wright, a substitute teacher for Judson Independent School District and part of local organizations Black Futures Collective and Defund Coalition San Antonio. Wright spoke at a Thursday event advocating the City to reallocate funding from the San Antonio Police Department to other purposes. While at the event, she had to explain Daniels’ death to her students.

“The kids learned about Damian Daniels from me,” she said. “They shouldn’t have to do that. I’d rather be doing TikToks with my kids. I’d rather be that teacher. But instead … eighth and ninth grade kids are asking me how to sign a petition, and what does it do?”

Daniels’ mental health issues were not enough of a reason for officers to kill him, Wright said, and law enforcement officers should not be the responders in these scenarios.

“If we can fund the people that actually are trained to do that, then we can have less of those problems,” she said. “If he had the mental health care that he needed, we may not be here today. I may not have had to add another name to my shirt.”

Daniels lived in District 6 and was represented by Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda, who said that she has seen the stigma that mental health issues carry in her career as a disability attorney. While she said she is not familiar with County mental health procedures, she has been pushing to put a mental health care provider on every mental health call to the City.

“I’m really sorry that this happened,” Cabello Havrda said. “It really is heartbreaking. Especially a veteran, a young guy, the family calling in [for help] – it’s really heartbreaking. But [we can] take it as an opportunity to learn and change processes as much as we can, a case study in how we can change things.”

Salazar declined to share the names of the officers who responded, but said a male officer shot and killed Daniels. Though the sheriff’s office shared images from body camera footage Thursday, Salazar said he would not share the video footage yet to “not mess anything up with the case.” He also emphasized that his office did not release still images to “try this case in the court of public opinion.”

Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales assured Salazar that the case will be presented to the grand jury once all the facts have been gathered, Salazar said.

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.