No, Thank You: SA Doesn't Want To Be The Next Ferguson

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Marquise Jones was shot and killed by Robert Encina, a off-duty San Antonio Police Department officer. - Courtesy
Marquise Jones was shot and killed by Robert Encina, a off-duty San Antonio Police Department officer.

On a 50-degree February night in 2014, Marquise Jones was a passenger in a car at Chacho's and Chalucci's in Northeast San Antonio when the driver bumped into another car.

Minutes later, Robert Encina, an off-duty police officer working security at the restaurant, shot Jones in the back, killing him.

"His life was just taken away from him and I feel the police department disrespected my family when Marquise was killed," his aunt, Deborah Jones Bush, said in an interview with the San Antonio Current.

Though Jones, 23 at the time, had his troubles, his aunt said he was a normal guy — father of a two-year-old girl — who was going to join the military.

Since that shooting, the San Antonio Police Department has reported a dramatic uptick in instances where force is used, though most cases have not resulted in death.

A few years ago, the Jones case may have barely made a crime blip on local TV news, but since Michael Brown was killed by a cop in Augusts in Ferguson, Missouri, a nationwide conversation about excessive police force has blazed across the country — including San Antonio.

More than a year has passed since Jones was killed, but his family and supporters continue to hold rallies calling for an end to police brutality and for officer Encina to be prosecuted.

More Force

Jones' case is one of 1,189 use-of-force reports filed by San Antonio police officers in 2014, according to statistics from SAPD's Internal Affairs Department provided to the Current through a public information request. That's a stark increase in use-of-force reports compared to 2013, when internal affairs reported 573 use-of-force reports.

The SAPD said there's a reason behind the dramatic increase — a 2014 policy change pushing for more transparency.

"We take a hard look at our use of force and injuries that we cause, and at that time, 'takedowns' were not counted as part of use of force," SAPD Chief Anthony Treviño told the Current. "But we realized that as a result of officers taking people down, that it was causing injuries. So we thought it was important as an organization to capture that information."

In 2008, the Austin Police Department made a similar policy change, also leading to a significant increase in use-of-force reports.

In 2014, The SAPD made more than 60,000 arrests.

"Out of those you had 60 use-of-force allegations made against our officers," Treviño said.

And of those complaints, most were dismissed — just 13 prompted disciplinary action such as suspensions and reprimands but no firings, according to internal affairs.

"I think that record kind of stands for itself," the chief said. "Our officers use force very judiciously and only when they have to."

Aside from civilian complaints, anytime officers use force, they are required to file a report with internal affairs. Force includes a wide range of actions, from verbal commands to firing a gun.

No, Thank You: SA Doesn't Want To Be The Next Ferguson
Angelita Gonzales

According to documents provided to the Current, from Dec. 13, 2013, to Sept. 19, 2014, 890 reports were filed that included 637 SAPD officers, with 43 of them using force five or more times.

The SAPD has around 2,000 officers.

Edward Piña, a San Antonio civil rights attorney who used to work for the ACLU, said the increase in SAPD use-of-force reports is actually a positive step because he's long suspected the department of underreporting actual cases.

Snowball Effect

After Rodney King was beaten by the Los Angeles Police Department in 1991, police brutality — particularly targeting African-Americans at the hands of white officers — skyrocketed to the national consciousness but then eventually faded away.

But the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, along with the choking death of Eric Garner in New York City a month earlier, catapulted the issue back to the level of national controversy.

In the ensuing months, a bevy of videos of police shootings emerged — and continue surfacing, to the extent that there seems to be a growing expectation of it becoming a daily occurrence.

Activist group Black Lives Matter has taken a leadership role on police brutality, including a "die-in" at this year's MLK march in SA. - Albert Salazar
Albert Salazar
Activist group Black Lives Matter has taken a leadership role on police brutality, including a "die-in" at this year's MLK march in SA.

The latest case drumming up headlines across the country took place last week in Charleston, South Carolina, where a video of a white officer shooting a black man in the back quickly led to the firing of the cop, who was arrested for murder.

Allegations of excessive police force have captured the attention of San Antonians. Perhaps the most controverisal was the Marquise Jones shooting. The SAPD confirmed last week that it finished its internal review of the case and turned the file over to the District Attorney.

[Related Story: SAPD: Administrative Review Of Officer Who Shot Marquise Jones Completed]

There's also the case of Destiny Rios, whose handling by police was captured on cellphone video in 2013. The 24-year-old has since filed a federal lawsuit alleging cops caused her to miscarry her baby.

[Related Story: Civil Rights: Woman who had miscarriage sues SAPD, City]

Rios can be heard on the video pleading with officers to stop punching her, saying she was pregnant.

[Related Story: SAPD Report, Video Tell Two Tales]

Then there's Cameron Redus, 23, shot by a former University of Incarnate Word police officer later cleared of the shooting in March.

[Related Story: Former UIW Police Officer Who Shot And Killed Cameron Redus Evades Indictment]

Some cases actually manage to stay under the public radar. Consider the case of Jesse Aguirre, for example.

The 37-year-old man died while being subdued by as many as five officers on U.S. 90 near Cupples Road on April 12, 2013.

Piña, the activist lawyer reviewing the case, said Aguirre presented symptoms of excited delirium — he was high on cocaine and drunk and fleeing a car accident after breaking up with a girlfriend. But officers apparently didn't recognize those symptoms.

"Although there are multiple discrepancies based on the police reports and witness statements describing Mr. Aguirre engaging in 'passive' or active resistance, the video recording of the interaction clearly illustrates no resistance," he said.

WARNING: The following video depicts a man's death and may be disturbing to some readers.

That video begins with SAPD Officer Cristina Gonzales pulling next to the U.S. 90 median, drawing her weapon and aggressively approaching Aguirre, who appears to be sauntering down the median in a stupor.

"Come here or I'm going to shoot you motherfucker," Gonzales shouts after getting out of her car, gun drawn. "Come here, I'm not fucking around," she's heard ordering Aguirre.

Meanwhile, Officer Jennifer Morgan, also with gun out, approaches Aguirre on one side while yet another cop, Roberto Mendez, with a Taser does the same. When Aguirre apparently realizes what's going on and stops to talk to the officers, Gonzales grabs Aguirre by the back, handcuffs him and flips him head-first over to the other side of the median. Sometime in the next 20 minutes, Aguirre stopped breathing.

It was later determined that he died after his heart gave out.

A sworn statement from an SAPD officer does not coincide with a dash-cam recording of the incident that lead to the death of Jesse Aguirre. - Courtesy
A sworn statement from an SAPD officer does not coincide with a dash-cam recording of the incident that lead to the death of Jesse Aguirre.

"He expired while SAPD officers were laughing and carrying on and appear not to even notice as they continue to put pressure on his neck and back," Piña said.

The dash cam video provided to the Current confirms the officers' behavior — they were, at best, nonchalant about the situation until someone noticed Aguirre wasn't breathing.

But by then, it was too late.

"This is not an isolated instance," said Piña, who has investigated police use-of-force cases for nearly 30 years.

He said excessive force by SAPD officers is more widespread than people realize.

And police officers are experts at teaming up on their report narratives to agree on the same story line and cover up instances of excessive force, according to Piña.

"Usually, the only time we hear about it is when some of the officers just refuses (sic) to do it and writes a report that is different and that's how they get investigated," he said.

Police have not said much about the Aguirre death. Published reports said it was confirmed he was high on drugs and angry because his girlfriend tried to break up with him.

Police said they had to chase him through traffic on U.S. 90 after he ran onto the highway, possibly with suicide on his mind. Officers had to force him to the ground because he struggled with them, according to reports.

Tough Job

Approximately 25 percent of SAPD officers filed use-of-force reports last year and of those, the overwhelming majority only filed one report.

It's no easy call to take such action.

Roger Enriquez, a criminal justice professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, said police are authorized to use force necessary for compliance, but it should be equal to force they are met with — and that can change quickly.

"The way the law looks at this is police and civilian interaction is a continuum of activity," Enriquez said. "Police can start by asking a question, but things can escalate or deescalate depending on the circumstance."

To learn to navigate this continuum, police officers undergo hundreds of hours of training before they ever step out onto the street to patrol because the job is inherently dangerous.

Even Treviño admitted that he wouldn't encourage his children to take the job.

"It's very honorable but it can be scary at times," the chief said.

For police who work in what Enriquez calls "hotspots," the danger is even more intense.

But even in violent and risky situations, Treviño said an officer's duty is to keep people safe, including those suspected of crimes.

"This is not like a fight in the school yard, it's a completely different scenario. You're an authority figure. You're in a uniform," he said. "They know what you represent, so they'll do everything they can to resist and officers have a fundamental responsibility to protect people from harm."


While complaints linger about the SAPD, it's actually the department's union, the San Antonio Police Officers Association, which makes Mario Salas burn with disdain.

The long-time community activist and former District 2 councilman doesn't mince words.

"I have as much respect for police as anyone else," Salas said. "I have no respect for a union that defends rotten police officers."

The union refused to speak to the Current and deferred all questions concerning use of force to the department.

According to Salas, even when the police department fires an officer for misbehavior or excessive force, the union steps in. It appeals the decision and, in most instances, gets the officer back on the job.

"They'll go through a civil service board with a three-judge panel," Salas said. "What used to happen when a police officer was particularly abusive is the chief would fire him."

Neither SAPD nor the union get any respect from Marquise Jones' family.

"This officer that killed my nephew was in several altercations up to the death of my nephew. He should have been fired," Bush said.

In 2010, Encina was suspended for 45 days after allegedly trying to fight African Americans at Mama Margies, a restaurant in Northwest San Antonio.

According to an internal affairs report obtained by the San Antonio Express-News, Encina appeared drunk and yelled obscenities at black customers.

Bush believes the SAPOA prevented Encina from being fired.

"In San Antonio, we have a horrible police force. They want to keep it quiet because we're known as a tourist destination," Bush said. "Bad apples exist and everyone covers it up."

Yet there seems to be more accountability nowadays, with increased media attention and just about everybody with a cellphone at the ready to record police.

And if 2014 was any indication, the issue doesn't seem as if it will fade from the spotlight as it did following the Rodney King affair.

The SAPD has recognized this trend and continues to take steps toward more transparency, including last year's use-of-force policy change and pushing for use of body cameras.

"A lot of people have said, 'Well, San Antonio is not Ferguson,' or not the most recent video in Charleston, South Carolina," Treviño said. "We cannot take that for granted."

But such steps are not enough for Jones' family. They resent how the SAPD handled his death.

"I don't trust them. They're not just white officers or Hispanic officers — even black officers," Bush said. "They have this so-called 'blue wall,' that even if they do know the officer is wrong, they are going to protect their own."

Meanwhile, instances of police using force are still increasing in San Antonio, up nearly 2 percent as of March 30 in comparison to this time in 2014.

Only time will tell whether procedures for reporting use of force are improving, along with transparency, or if police officers are simply turning to violence as an easy way to arrest people suspected of crimes.

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