How San Antonio police lost a bullet tied to the shooting death of a baby

Past SAPD audits document repeated evidence handling problems.

click to enlarge The city of San Antonio conducts an audit of police evidence handling procedures roughly every five to seven years. - Pexels / Terrance Barksdale
Pexels / Terrance Barksdale
The city of San Antonio conducts an audit of police evidence handling procedures roughly every five to seven years.
Editor’s Note: This story was produced by the students at the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, an initiative of the Scripps Howard Fund in honor of the late news industry executive and pioneer Roy W. Howard. Contact the reporting team at [email protected] or on X @HowardCenterASU.

Eight-month-old Rosalinda Martinez died in April of last year after a July 2023 indictment says she was shot during a fight between her parents over a handgun. San Antonio police collected evidence from the crime scene. 

Police arrested Ruby Mora and Alejandro Martinez, the baby’s parents, for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and reckless bodily injury to their child, according to court records. Mora was arrested on April 18, 2023, and Alejandro was booked a month later on May 7. Both Mora and Martinez are in jail and awaiting trial in Bexar County Court. 

But San Antonio police have lost a crucial piece of evidence: a bullet. 

The SAPD disclosed the loss of the bullet in baby Martinez’s case in response to a records request from the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at Arizona State University. Records show SAPD had assigned a barcode to the bullet, which was booked into evidence as “ONE (1) APPARENT LIVE ‘FC 9MM LUGER’ ROUND.”

Martinez’s defense attorney, James Tocci, declined to comment on whether the missing evidence will impact his case. Lt. Michelle Ramos, SAPD Deputy Chief of Staff, said via email that the SAPD is “confident that questions to the missing ‘live bullet’ will be answered in court.” 

Marcia G. Shein, a veteran criminal defense lawyer based in Georgia, said criminal defendants often benefit when police agencies lose evidence after it is collected.  

“Knowing how evidence is collected and if it is done properly and stored properly is key,” said Shein, former president of the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, via email. 

Shein said improper handling of evidence would not typically lead a defendant to be “completely exonerated.” But, she said in an email, “It has however been a factor in getting a more favorable plea or outcome.” She also said defense lawyers regularly file records requests to learn whether police damaged evidence has an impact on trials. 

Past audits reveal repeated problems with SAPD evidence-handling

The city of San Antonio conducts an audit of police evidence handling procedures roughly every five to seven years. 

In its most recent audit, dated May of 2024, the city confirmed bullets and casings would be stored in the Property Room, but said the audit “specifically excluded activities conducted by the Homicide Unit… and the Firearms/Ballistic Unit.”  Outside of those units, the report said, “evidence preservation controls are adequate and working as intended.” 

Three prior city audits of SAPD’s evidence handling procedures, conducted between 2006 and 2019, showed the department had a pattern of allowing too many unauthorized users access to its evidence storage areas. Each of those three audits found the SAPD needed to tighten security. None of those audits said they excluded the homicide or ballistics units. 

In 2006, the city’s audit determined that “an excessive number of users have computer access to property and evidence records,” including 57 employees the city had fired who still had access.

Auditors found more than 500 people with badges that would give them access to evidence who could not be identified as current employees and concluded, “many of these… users had recently accessed the mainframe.” Auditors noted, “allowing access to sensitive information to those who don’t have a legitimate need increases the risk of data loss, corruption, manipulation, disclosure, and misuse.

In a subsequent audit in 2013, the city determined that “access to the property and evidence warehouse was not being reviewed.” Auditors provided a list of recommendations, including tighter security policies such as more frequent testing of the evidence warehouse’s security and alarm system and changes to the key access codes to sensitive areas. 

In its 2019 audit, the city found that employees from various units could access the confidential evidence stored in the property rooms freely, even if it was not for their unit. For example, 26 of the 28 staff members who had access to the main facility warehouse were from Arson Investigation, while the remaining two had transferred to different units and no longer required access. According to the audit, “While no inappropriate access was noted, insufficient access controls increases the likelihood of misappropriation of property.”

What “might” have happened to the missing bullet?

During a phone interview with San Antonio Police Department’s Public Information Officer Nicholas Soliz in March, Soliz didn’t answer when asked what the department knows for certain about the loss of evidence in the Martinez case. 

But Soliz provided theories about how the bullet might have disappeared from the evidence room – everything from a suspect tampering with the evidence, to the possibility that it was lost in transit between two property rooms.  

In explaining the tampering theory, Soliz noted that responding officers initially went to Northeast Baptist Hospital in San Antonio rather than the apartment where the baby was fatally shot. Soliz said that one of the suspects, Alejandro Martinez, the baby’s father, left the hospital at the time and was not in police custody. Soliz suggested Martinez might have been involved in the bullet’s disappearance. 

“The suspect left, Alejandro left. Who’s to say, like, in the time that the victims were in the hospital and Alejandro was gone, that that crime scene was, y’know, messed,” Soliz said. “It could’ve been. Officers didn’t respond there until later to secure that crime scene, from what I remember so, there’s a lot of factors that go into things like that.” 

Martinez’s lawyer, James V. Tocci, did not respond to requests to comment on Soliz’s statements. 

When the Howard Center asked police to explain how a bullet could get a barcode that identified it as SAPD evidence and then later be taken by a murder suspect from the crime scene, Soliz responded in an email that he had only previously shared “hypotheticals” about missing evidence, none of which applied to “any specific case.”  

In the same interview in March, Soliz offered another theory for how the bullet linked to the baby’s shooting might have disappeared: The bullet, Soliz said, may have been lost in the transition between the SAPD’s two property and evidence rooms.

“So there’s an initial property room, like, officers go to an initial property room next to jail, and from there, that property is taken to our actual property room on the other side of town, in San Antonio. So there is a lot of movement.”

In May 2010, the SAPD relocated to a new evidence and property warehouse, paying over $8 million to double its space. Since then, the old Property and Evidence Room has served as a drop-off facility for officers who can’t take evidence to the new, offsite location on the other side of town during normal work hours. According to the 2013 audit, city employees transport evidence from the old facility daily by city van. 

In the March interview, Soliz said SAPD most likely has “video of that officer logging in that evidence that night and from it getting shipped from the small property room to the large property room.” Soliz said whatever happened with that bullet, it would be on camera. 

But after the bullet tied to the baby’s murder left the SAPD’s small property room, Soliz said that he would not know how the bullet would have gone missing.

“Now, after it leaves that initial property room, I really can’t speak to that because that has nothing to do with us – that other property room, that’s run by citizens – civilians,” Soliz said. 

SAPD declined a records request asking the department to provide the Howard Center any documents related to the filing and logging of physical evidence in this case, including any video of evidence being logged or filed into either of the property rooms or to provide the names of those involved in the filing and transporting of such evidence. The SAPD denied the request on the grounds that the information related to a case of alleged or suspected child abuse or neglect.

The SAPD provided no information to support Soliz’s initial statement that suggested Martinez might have tampered with the evidence, nor has it explained the bullet’s disappearance.

Evidence handling problems elsewhere

San Antonio isn’t the only police department struggling with how it handles crime scene evidence. 

The Schertz Police Department, in a suburb of San Antonio, revealed in a press release in July 2022 that it had removed or destroyed evidence from its property and evidence room without following proper procedures. Specifically, the department said 1,376 cases from 2007 to 2018 were impacted, and it had not identified at the time of the press release whether or not these criminal cases were open or pending.

“The goal of the Schertz Police Department is to provide exemplary law enforcement service and unfortunately, in this instance we failed to meet that standard,” Police Chief Jim Lowery said in the press release. “I hope that our residents know we are committed to learning from this situation and will work to ensure something like this never happens again.”

Dallas also had issues with inadequate surveillance of its property storage areas. A 2021 audit of Dallas’ property and evidence rooms found that neither the Dallas Auto Pound nor the Property and Evidence division was equipped with video surveillance to monitor who had access to the inventory at these locations. 

Similarly, the Dallas audit indicated that property and evidence were stored in a decommissioned patrol station, citing space limitations. But the items were not well protected, the audit found. In one area of the facility, property and evidence were stored on “wood pallets with muddy surroundings from rainwater that floods the area.” The audit suggested that “heat, cold, humidity, and rain could damage the items, rendering them unrecognizable or unusable for evidence purposes.” 

Dallas PD did not respond to a request for comment.

Another Texas police department had a different challenge. In a phone interview, Wade Roberts, a lieutenant for Huntsville Police Department, a city north of Houston, told the Howard Center that his office had not lost evidence but had experienced a different kind of problem at an old evidence facility: Rodents were eating the evidence, especially seized marijuana. 

“Ultimately, we just found that our drug evidence was being gnawed on,” Lt. Roberts said. “You could see that the packaging had been eaten through, and mice and rats were getting into that packaging.” 

Roberts added that after his agency switched evidence facilities, the rodents have not been an issue. 

Missing evidence isn’t just a Texas problem. The Howard Center reached out to police agencies in other cities of comparable size and found they too had lost track of items that were logged as evidence. 

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, with a similar number of sworn-in officers as SAPD, revealed in response to a public records request how much evidence was lost from 2020 to 2024. 

Records from the LVMPD list 58 entries indicating “missing” items under their possession, including bullets, “possible DNA” samples, drug paraphernalia, license plates, and various articles of clothing. 

The LVMPD pointed out that the dozens of lost items were only a very small fraction of the items they keep in their property and evidence rooms.  

LVMPD sergeants are responsible for conducting internal audits of their evidence vault every 60 days. These audits are typically unannounced and are ordered by the Sheriff. LVMPD did not respond to additional questions.  

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