San Antonio Police Chief William McManus broke his silence on the 2014 fatal shooting of Marquise Jones during a tense City Council B session Wednesday, saying the off-duty police officer who shot Jones was not at fault.
Jones, a 23-year-old African-American man, was shot and killed by SAPD officer Robert Encina in the drive-thru of Chacho’s and Chalucci’s on the city’s near-Northeast side. Encina, who was working as a security guard for the fast food restaurant, was investigating a nearby fender bender when Jones exited the car. According to the official investigation, Jones took out his gun and made eye contact with Encina.
“Mr. Jones had a gun, the officer saw him with the gun, an independent witness saw him with a gun,” McManus said. “The driver of the vehicle that Mr. Jones had been in prior to the shooting said in his statement to the investigator that when the shots were being fired he believed that Mr. Jones was the one shooting. The officer reported that Mr. Jones was turning toward him, armed with a gun when he opened fire. The autopsy report is consistent with that statement. The case was independently reviewed by Bexar County Assistant District Attorney and District Attorney, and then taken before a (Bexar County) Grand Jury where it was ‘no billed.’”
The jury decided not to pursue criminal charges against the officer.
Not everyone agrees with McManus’ account of events in the minutes leading up to the shooting, and the case has become part of the larger national conversation on police reform efforts. Jones’ family has argued that he didn’t have a gun with him that evening, that he was shot in the back because he was walking away, and that the gun found at the scene didn’t have any fingerprints on it. The family has publicly called for Officer Encina’s arrest and removal from the police department, and recently requested that District Attorney Nico La Hood put the case in front of a new Grand Jury.
Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4) pointed to conflicting witness reports as a source for most of the dissension – in and outside the courtroom. Body cameras, he said, could minimize such contradictions.
Civil rights groups and citizens across the country have protested a chain of fatal police shootings of civilians, mostly African-Americans, shot by white officers. There have been growing demands not only for criminal prosecutions, which have been the exception to the rule, and also an overhaul of training and use of force policies in a number of big city and suburban police departments.
Jones’ family was invited to take the stage at the commemoration program in Pittman-Sullivan Park that followed the MLK March on Jan. 18. Their presence drew emotional comments from speakers who condemned incidents of police shooting African-American citizens.
San Antonio, which has largely avoided racial or ethnic tensions between inner city residents and the police, is determined to stay ahead of the curve in adopting progressive policing practices, McManus told council.
“I have no use for bad cops,” McManus said. “Don’t tolerate them, never have, never will. If I thought that shooting was a bad one, if I thought it was against policy, that there wasn’t a gun, if I thought it wasn’t justified, I would have filed charges on that officer, I’ve done it before.”
McManus met with Mayor Ivy Taylor, City Manager Sheryl Sculley and City Council members in an executive session before presenting the department’s new policing approach to the public. U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) attended the meeting, but did not address the council during the meeting. He was present to show his support for the City’s plans to deploy body cameras for use by all officers.
City Council approved funding to equip the entire department with body cameras last May, and will begin deploying cameras to police officers on bike patrol by mid-February. Rep. Castro, who helped secure the $1 million federal grant for the cameras, said he wanted to make sure the police department’s leadership create a strong blueprint for use of the cameras and police transparency.
“San Antonio will actually be ahead of the curve once we implement those (body cameras) among the officers over the next year and a half,” Castro said. “I know their approach is to first outfit officers who right now have no cameras at all – such as dash cams – I think that’s a smart thing to do. ”
The second wave of cameras will be distributed to park police, and the third wave to police officers in neighborhoods. All officers are expected to have body cameras by the end of 2016.
Councilman Saldaña expressed concerns over possible investigation issues involving body cameras in the future, but McManus and Sculley said they were working on solutions. An outside third-party could possibly review the camera footage and release the video to the public at a later date, but that is yet to be decided.
21st Century Policing Task Force
President Obama created the 21st Century Policing Task Force in 2014 to encourage local and collaborative police reforms across the country. San Antonio is among the 22 cities across the country involved with the initiative, and seeks to partner community members with police officers to identify issues and recommend possible solutions.
Earlier this month, McManus and Deputy Chief Anthony Treviño met with Justice Department officials in Washington D.C. to discuss police performance standards. They will meet again with officials on Thursday to discuss the implementation for new training procedures.
The San Antonio task force identified transparency and accessibility as department issues of concern cited by citizens. The department has since created a web portal, where visitors can go online and view officer shooting reports, officer demographics and other report updates.
Changing the Policing Approach
Most police departments use the traditional “ATM” approach to judicial procedure – “ask” the individual for compliance, “tell” the individual, then “make” the individual comply – to train current officers and cadets attending the police academy.
“(The ATM method) is pretty harsh,” McManus told council members. “We are switching from the ‘ATM’ method to ‘LEED’ – listen, explain with equity and dignity – this method of judicial procedure will lead to police legitimacy.”
Police departments viewed by the community as “legitimate” are more likely to get the community’s cooperation, McManus said. All department officers underwent so-called procedural justice training in 2015; all cadets will undergo LEED approach in the future.
“We are looking at training that calls into question, ‘Is that (force) really necessary?’” McManus added.
The LEED model represents a departmental shift away from traditional policing methods, including a focus on tactics and fire arms training, McManus said, and toward a new policing culture where de-escalation methods are employed first. The de-escalation training will be integrated with CIT training already mandatory for academy cadets.
Mayor Taylor thanked McManus for his leadership.
“I think we’re doing a much better job today than we’ve done in the past,” McManus added. “Community relations is important, and how we treat people is important. … We stress that everywhere we go.”
*Top Image: San Antonio Police Chief William McManus overlooks the crowd at Alamo Plaza during the 2015 Christmas tree lighting. Photo by Scott Ball.