A former detective’s mishandling of more than 130 cases of sex and domestic violence crimes does not indicate systemic issues within the San Antonio Police Department’s 45-member Special Victims Unit, according to an independent review released Thursday.
The report also points out workflow issues in the department and offers recommendations for improving detective oversight and strengthening investigative procedures.
At a press conference at City Hall, City Manager Sheryl Sculley said the audit found “no discernible pattern or practice of detectives’ mishandling of cases,” save for the actions of Detective Kenneth Valdez, who in November 2017 was fired for improperly investigating cases over a three-year period.
“The bottom line is, this was the result of one individual – one single individual – not handling cases properly,” Police Chief William McManus said.
Sculley and McManus have said that Valdez, a 17-year SAPD veteran, failed to submit forensic evidence to the crime lab for testing, act on information that may have led to successful prosecution of suspects, and properly handle evidence.
The City Attorney’s office hired local attorney Lisa Tatum, a former Bexar County assistant criminal attorney and former president of the State Bar of Texas, to lead an examination of 10,522 closed Special Victims Unit (SVU) felony cases and 1,585 closed SVU misdemeanor cases. The review team also studied 760 open SVU cases and the unit’s protocols and investigation processes.
Sculley said the review’s purpose was to determine whether mishandling of SVU cases went beyond Valdez and whether any SVU unit procedures should be revised.
“A review of the SVU through its files and its operations indicate that the mishandling of cases by Detective Kenneth Valdez or the mishandling of cases, generally, is specific to individual behavior and not attributable to the SVU as a whole,” the report’s executive summary states.
“That is critically important,” Sculley told reporters Thursday. “Any victim of a sex crime or family violence that comes forward should have the utmost confidence that they will be handled thoroughly and fairly and with compassion.”
Cases in which questions remained “have been resolved one way or another appropriately,” McManus said.
However, four of the 130 cases that Valdez mishandled cannot be re-prosecuted because they are past the state statute of limitations, Sculley and McManus said.
The report explains that all SVU personnel had been impeded by drags in their workflow and in working with a record management system “that does not readily support the duties they are assigned.”
The report also describes “a seemingly small number of lieutenants and sergeants supervising a large number of personnel for a unit that handles more complex investigations with a delicate and specialized set of victims.”
According to the report, the SVU has a ratio of one supervisor for every 11 detectives – higher than in any other SAPD unit.
McManus said procedural fixes are underway in the SVU. The review team’s recommendations include:
- Revising the unit supervisor’s review and approval process when closing cases;
- Requiring that a unit supervisor audit each of their detectives to ensure a proper caseload and disposition of cases;
- Revising documentation and handling of evidence;
- Expanding the policy addressing the handling of U-Visas, which permit victims of family violence or a sex crime to enter or remain in the United States while they help law enforcement with their investigation.
- Expanding the policy for handling human trafficking cases and seeing whether the police department needs additional resources with these investigations. (The SAPD’s handling of a highly publicized human smuggling incident last December drew praise and criticism from different corners of the community.)
- Adding another sergeant to the unit. (Sculley said the City Council, in its mid-fiscal year budget adjustments, allocated money to create two sergeant supervisory positions in the unit. The SVU currently has 48 members, McManus said, not including the new positions.)
In addition to the independent review, McManus formed an internal review committee and an external stakeholders committee to help suggest procedural improvements within the SVU.
“We’ve since made staffing and technology improvements for the unit,” Sculley said.
“I think we’re past that point where we’re trying to re-establish credibility and re-establish our commitment to investigating those kinds of cases,” McManus added.
McManus downplayed reporters’ questions about whether Valdez had felt burned out in a high-stress job.
“If you’re in that unit, you’ve got a responsibility to investigate the cases that are assigned to you,” he said.