Three witnesses who were in the drive-thru line at Chacho’s the night Marquise Jones was shot and killed by a San Antonio police officer testified in federal court for a civil lawsuit on Tuesday. Each provided varying details of the events that led up to his death and of the fatal interaction between Jones and SAPD Officer Robert Encina on Feb. 28, 2014.
The first witnesses for the plaintiffs, Jones’ family, included a man who allegedly watched the entire incident from a nearby car, Jones’ sister Whitney, and her best friend Dominique Carter. Whitney Jones tearfully recounted the realization that her brother was dead and having to wait hours before she could call her mother.
The eight-member jury will hear from several more witnesses for the plaintiff this week before the City and Encina’s lawyers call their own witnesses to the stand.
Attorneys for the defendants, the City of San Antonio and Encina, picked at witnesses’ statements to allow for doubt of their accuracy while the Jones family’s attorneys began to set the stage for one of its main arguments: Someone planted a second gun found at the scene.
Encina claims Marquise Jones, 23, pulled out a gun and pointed it at him. The officer was in fear for his life, he said, when he shot Jones in the back that night at the Northeast side chain restaurant where he was off duty, but working security for Chacho’s that evening.
“The evidence is going to say there was no cover-up,” John Fitzpatrick, a lawyer for the City, said during opening statements on Monday.
While two witnesses confirmed that Jones pointed a gun at the officer, six others said they either know he didn’t or didn’t see it. The incident was one of several nationwide over the years that involved police officers shooting allegedly unarmed black men.
A previous incident of racial discrimination by Encina, a six-year veteran of the police force, is another key piece of the Jones family’s argument, attorney Daryl Washington said during opening statements on Monday.
Encina directed offensive remarks at black customers and yelled obscenities at others, saying he was a “baller” from the “Eastside”, at Mama Margie’s in 2010, according to an internal police report.
“The City’s failure to adequately supervise or discipline this officer led to a violation of Marquise Jones’ constitutional rights,” Washington said of the wrongful death suit.
A 45-day suspension was handed down to Encina, who sacrificed vacation and holiday time off instead of taking suspension, Washington said. “Robert Encina was back on the street the next day” without real punishment or therapy.
In 2015, James Brantley read a news report that a Bexar County grand jury had voted to not indict Encina. This prompted Brantley, who had not come forward as a witness before, to contact Washington.
When asked why he didn’t come forward to the police, Brantley said it was Washington’s name that he had seen in the report and that he “felt skeptical” of contacting SAPD.
In the early hours of that Friday three years ago, Brantley left Joe’s Volcano night club and stopped at Chacho’s on the way to his home in Universal City. He ordered wings and waited in line alongside a green Cadillac and a white SUV. The Cadillac reversed slightly, backing into the SUV, Brantley said, causing the unidentified SUV driver to exit the vehicle and yell at the passengers in the Cadillac.
Jones, his friends, and his sister were in the two-door Cadillac, making a pit stop after a night playing pool at Fast Eddie’s. Fabian Garza, who has since been arrested on outstanding municipal court warrants, was driving while Jones sat in the front passenger seat. Whitney Jones and Carter sat in the back.
Brantley testified that he watched Encina approach Garza, open the door, and pull him out to handcuff him.
According to Brantley, who was in line next to the Cadillac, Marquise Jones looked “uneasy and scared,” and he wondered if Jones would try to make a run for it. Brantley added that he mouthed the words “don’t do it” through his closed window to Jones.
Brantley testified that he did not see a gun in Jones’s hands when he exited the car and started running, but that he did pause to pull up his sagging pants.
That’s when Encina fired his weapon, Brantley said, “seven or eight” times. Jones was hit once in the back.
Police at the scene did not take Brantley’s statement, and he admitted that he did not tell them that he was a witness. Soon after receiving his wings from a Chacho’s employee, he left, thinking it would be “handled.”
Whitney Jones and Carter gave differing accounts of the day leading up to their night out and contradicted some of Brantley’s testimony, including what Marquise Jones was wearing. While Brantley said he saw a hoodie, they said he was wearing a gray, long-sleeved shirt. All three agreed, however, that Jones did not have a gun.
Attorneys from both sides found inconsistencies in timelines and details from various witness statements. They spent ample time questioning Brantley’s claim that he was apprehended by a plainclothes officer of the law as part of an intimidation tactic last year. Brantley said he was picked up and driven downtown by a man who met with someone in another vehicle near the Public Safety Headquarters, and then abruptly drove him home.
Even if this incident did occur, City attorneys said, Brantley had no way of telling who those men worked for, as they didn’t identify themselves as police officers, sheriffs, or investigators. Brantley admitted this was true.
The Marquise Jones case has had several controversies tied to it over the past year. In addition to new witnesses such as Brantley coming forward, the City has hired an independent investigator to review the handling of evidence collected from the gun that was found 15 feet away from Jones.
Specifically, City officials want to find out why it took more than one year for them to learn about a fingerprint test performed on the gun. The test revealed no fingerprints. The registration number was not associated with an owner.
The defense plans to use the handgun as evidence.