Update at 5:45 pm: More than 50 members of the City’s executive team, City Council members, community leaders, and business leaders gathered on the steps of City Hall Thursday evening to show their support of San Antonio Police Chief William McManus after the police union released a “vote of no confidence” from its membership.
“The entire City Council as well as the mayor is unequivocally behind Chief McManus,” said Councilman and Mayor pro tem Rey Saldaña (D4).
Despite the late notice of the press conference, he was joined by Council members Roberto Treviño (D1), Mike Gallagher (D10), and Rebecca Viagran (D3) as well as McManus’ command staff, City department heads, assistant city managers, and City Manager Sheryl Sculley – all of whom cheered and applauded McManus as he arrived and throughout his remarks.
Council members cited McManus’ strong leadership and push for policy and training reform since he was recruited for the position 10 years ago this month.
The San Antonio Police Officers Association is “playing politics with public safety,” Viagran said.
Mayor Ivy Taylor was out of town, but issued a video statement (see below) Thursday morning.
Every morning, 21-year-old Ciara Cardreon wakes up and is quickly reminded of her father’s death. As a way to cope, she often refers to a keepsake book she made in his honor, where she put a few photos, his obituary, and the flower she wore at his funeral.
“Everyday I just tell myself ‘I gotta get through it,’” she said.
Antronie Scott, a 36-year-old African-American man who was fatally shot by a San Antonio police officer, was not Cardreon’s biological father, but he raised her as though he was.
Officer John Lee responded to a call to arrest Scott on outstanding felony drug charges on Feb. 4. During the encounter, Lee, an 11-year veteran, shot Scott after mistaking a cell phone in Scott’s hands for a gun.
The shooting, and others, have inspired protests and outrage, but Cardreon just wants answers.
“I can be angry all I want, but it’s not going to bring the person that I love back,” she said. “I just don’t feel like if you have a gun that should give you the right to say whether somebody lives or dies.”
The shooting was just one of dozens of recent deadly encounters between African-Americans and police across the nation that have increased distrust and fear of law enforcement in local and national communities.
Adding to the turmoil of local outrage and discussion about how police officers treat men and women of color, Mayor Ivy Taylor defended Police Chief McManus’ decision to keep Officer Lee on administrative duty for further “training” instead of firing him. Meanwhile, the police union has called for McManus’ resignation after a “vote of no confidence” from union membership.
San Antonio Police Officers Association President Mike Helle told the Express-News that 97% of 1,944 voting members voted against McManus. The union has 2,164 members.
Helle did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.
McManus called the vote “illegitimate” becuase those numbers “don’t match” with what he sees on the streets from the rank and file. “SAPOA leadership (have led its members) down the wrong path.”
Yet another factor complicating matters is the City’s pending lawsuit against the 10-year evergreen clause in the union’s contract that has stalled contract negotiations. Helle has repeatedly said the union will not come back to the negotiating table until the lawsuit is dropped entirely.
On March 1, McManus announced that Officer Lee faced termination as a consequence of his actions, which McManus described in a previous Rivard Report interview as “unnecessarily placing himself in a tactical situation wherein he felt compelled to use deadly force.”
Two weeks later, after personally meeting with Lee, McManus released a statement announcing he would not fire Lee, and instead recommended that he receive “additional training.” Lee remains on administrative duty as SAPD has turned over its internal investigation of the shooting to the Bexar County District Attorney’s office, where the case is still pending.
While McManus’ decision ignited disappointment and protest from some community members, Mayor Ivy Taylor has expressed her support for the Chief in a statement on March 15, and most recently in a public video statement released Thursday morning.
Firing Lee would not be appropriate, she stated, since the responsibility of Scott’s death was “shared” by Lee and the two detectives who were on the scene. The identities of the two detectives and details surrounding their involvement has been requested by the Rivard Report via an open records request with SAPD.
“While I am still deeply concerned about the case, I respect the chief’s willingness to do what he deems is right and not just what is politically expedient,” Taylor stated. “The District Attorney’s office is continuing their examination of the facts here, and the City leadership has no authority over that process – however should Officer Lee be indicted, then SAPD would take immediate and appropriate action.”
What would that “immediate and appropriate action” be?
According to SAPD spokesman Sgt. Jesse Salame, SAPD would “probably” move the indicted officer off of administrative duty and to indefinite suspension, pending further review and the outcome of the indictment and trial.
“We can’t have somebody working for us if they’re under indictment,” he said.
What kind of “additional training” Lee would have to take, Salame said, has not yet been finalized, but it would likely include “tactical or scenario-based” training focused on felony stops and apprehensions.
“That tactical training is incorporated annually in our inservice training, but we always try to look to ways to evolve it through using some different training strategies to try and mix it up so that we keep evolving,” Salame said.
The exact terms and the amount of training for Lee will be finalized once a decision by the District Attorney and a grand jury is made, he said, which could take one year or more.
McManus has been pushing for use-of-force reforms and an emphasis on community policing for months, especially since attending the Police Executive Research Forum in January.
“Your City leadership has already decided to invest in body cameras to increase accountability,” Taylor said. “Reforms in training at the academy and for officers are already underway. Examining racial bias tendencies should be part of the new training methods. I am asking the City manager and police chief to determine how we can expand our community policing efforts.”
Such reforms are some of the main reasons for the union membership’s vote of no confidence and have made the contract negotiations even more contentious.
After her recent United State of the City Address, Taylor told the Rivard Report that if or when negotiations resume, they won’t be picking up where they left off in terms of contract details.
She agreed that there are elements in the police union contract that make it difficult for McManus to fire police officers. It’s also difficult for him to “promote those who he thinks are most qualified to be leadership.”
Those terms of the contract “will have to be” back on the table.
“We were more focused on the fiscal aspects before, but I believe we have to discuss those (other terms) now,” she said.
Prominent Eastside and African-American community leader Rev. James Amerson from St. Paul United Methodist Church is afraid of the negative effects these interactions between the neighborhood police officers has on the community.
“I am very concerned about all of these crime and homicides in east San Antonio, and across the country,” he said. “While Officer Lee may have responded in what he considers his best judgement, there is a ripple effect that does affect the community and how we view our officers.”
Amerson said he urged his parishioners to maintain a sense of understanding in such difficult times, as well as call on the city’s leadership to take measures to ensure safety and justice for all of San Antonio.
“As a leader, I’m not stirring up any pots saying we need to protest, but I do respect Chief McManus and am trusting (him) to be doing what is best in regards to justice issues. I think that Officer Lee needs to have that (additional) training, not as a mandate, but certainly as a recommendation from one leader to the police department.”
Scott’s daughter Cardreon grew up San Antonio but now lives with her mother in Mississippi where she works for a home healthcare agency. Though she believes Lee should have been fired, she said she forgives him. She can’t say the same for the rest of Scott’s children and family.
Amidst the countless news reports, community-wide protests, and statements from City officials concerning her dad’s case, all she wants people to know is what a great person he was, despite his criminal history and any other mistakes he had made throughout his life.
After recently earning a diploma from technical school and securing a steady job, Scott was “working on being a better father,” Cardreon said.
“People say ‘This is one less thug on the street,’ well it’s not that way, and they say that because they don’t know him,” she said. “Yes, he was a felon, yes, he made mistakes, but he loved his kids and he was such a family person, and it’s hard for people like (him) to bounce back because of their backgrounds.”
In her video statement, Taylor said that as far as debating racism in terms of this case, she won’t be “grandstanding to score political points.” Still, as an African American and a city leader, she is hoping to work toward a solution.
“I can tell you this: my goal is to restore and ensure that our San Antonio community trusts the officers who work to keep them safe and to ensure that our SAPD have the tools and training to do their jobs effectively,” she said. “We are one San Antonio and our fates are tied together. So let’s get to work on the solutions.”
*Rivard Report Managing Editor Iris Dimmick contributed to this report.
*Top image: Chief William McManus and San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley embrace following his speech during the press conference. Photo by Scott Ball.