The City has hired an independent investigator to find out why it took more than one year for officials to learn about a fingerprint test done on the handgun involved in Marquise Jones’ killing.
Contrary to initial reports, the San Antonio Police Department “did in fact attempt to secure fingerprints from the handgun found at the scene of the February 2014 shooting,” according to a memo sent out Monday by City Manager Sheryl Sculley and City Attorney Andy Segovia to City Council.
No fingerprints were ultimately found on the gun, which is at the center of a civil lawsuit filed by Jones’ family against the City and SAPD Officer Robert Encina, who fatally shot Jones in the back outside a Northeast side restaurant. Encina claims Jones pointed a gun at him, while the Jones family claims he was shot while walking away and the gun was planted. A search of the gun’s registration number did not reveal an owner.
A Bexar County grand jury voted not to indict Encina in 2015, but the civil case is scheduled to start next Monday, March 27. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for this Tuesday.
The handgun will be used as evidence in the trial.
The City’s official discovery response in the case – prepared without the fingerprint test results – will be amended. The City has hired local attorney Kyle Watson to investigate why SAPD Chief William McManus, City Council, and other City officials weren’t made aware of the test and how the City can avoid such a communication gap in the future.
Sculley said she expects a report from Watson in two to three weeks and that it may lead to a policy that calls for all handguns involved in fatal shootings to be fingerprinted – especially those that involve police officers.
“In all likelihood we’ll start doing that,” Sculley said. “We’ve already discussed that whenever there’s a police officer-involved shooting that we should be trying to get prints from the gun, even though it’s unlikely to be retrievable.”
The gun wasn’t initially tested because it is rare that handguns retain fingerprints, Sculley said, citing several industry publications that outline the low probability – about 5% – of such tests producing meaningful results. One study conducted in Denver revealed that 7.24% of revolvers tested revealed fingerprints.
San Antonio will be looking across the nation to determine what kind of policies exist in other cities, she said, adding that cost isn’t typically a factor in deciding whether to fingerprint.
Daryl Washington, the attorney representing the Jones family, could not be reached for comment by deadline.
“We should not be receiving this type of information on the eve of trial,” Washington told the San Antonio Express-News. “That’s clearly bad faith. And testing something two years later is not an efficient way to do anything. It’s been handled and pushed around too many times.”
While not a substantive new piece of information, Segovia said, it is possible that the revelation of the test could delay the trial, depending on how Washington proceeds.
“To our knowledge, there exists no evidence of any tampering or deliberate withholding of information by any officer within the chain of custody of the handgun,” the memo states. “However, we want to ensure full transparency so that the parties involved, the City Council, and the community have full confidence in the City’s handling of the investigative and litigation process.”
About one week after the test was conducted, Antronie Scott was shot and killed by SAPD Officer John Lee, Sculley said, and media and departmental attention shifted to that case. At the same time, the City was embroiled in contract negotiations with the police union.
“It’s not an excuse, it’s just the reality of what a police department [and the City] deals with,” Sculley said.
While double-checking the case’s facts in anticipation of the civil hearing, Segovia said, an attorney on his team found the results filed with SAPD.
“It is disappointing whenever there is a lack of communication or transparency, especially with an officer-involved shooting,” Mayor Ivy Taylor stated in an email Monday afternoon. “I’m expecting a quick and thorough review of this incident by city staff and the independent counsel, resulting in an equally thorough report to me and my Council colleagues. These developments underscore the importance of my having created the Council on Police-Community Relations in the first place, which has focused much of its efforts on the issue of greater transparency.”
Mayor Ivy Taylor found out about the test Sunday evening, she said during the police-community relations meetings that took place Monday night. The ad-hoc council, which is made up of community leaders from all over the city, discussed policy and action recommendations that it will be presenting to a City Council committee in early April.