There’s a reason two recent San Antonio police shootings had different results, activists say | San Antonio News | San Antonio

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Michael Karlis

Ananda Tomas of Act 4 SA speaks during a protest outside the San Antonio Police Department headquarters.

Last week, protesters from Act 4 SA and the Party for Socialism and Liberation descended on the downtown headquarters of the San Antonio Police Department, calling for the arrest of Officer James Brennand.

Brennand was the former SAPD officer who made national headlines when he shot and injured 17-year-old Erik Cantu as the unarmed teenager ate a burger in the parking lot of a McDonald’s. As of press time, Cantu remains on life support.

Less than an hour after protesters returned home, Police Chief William McManus announced that the department had filed two counts of aggravated assault by a peace officer against Brennand.

Although the charges appear to be a victory for protesters, advocates for police accountability said Brennand’s charges were an anomaly, which they attributed to his rookie status and lack of union representation.

“It’s much easier to fire that officer and for him to stay fired because he’s not covered by the union,” said Ananda Tomas, founder and executive director of nonprofit Act 4 SA. .

Among those present at the protest demanding justice for Cantu were the family of 13-year-old AJ Hernandez, who was shot and killed by SAPD officer Stephen Ramos in June. Hernandez was the second civilian killed by Ramos in two years.

And though the shootings of Cantu and Hernandez have striking similarities — they both garnered national attention and involved teenage drivers — Ramos remains on paid administrative duty.

Similar cases

Just three months apart, Ramos and Brennand claimed to have fired their guns in self-defense. Ramos said he shot at the vehicle Hernandez was in after he boned a colleague’s cruiser – which the officer said posed a threat to his colleague.

Brennand first told the SAPD he fired his gun after being hit by Cantu’s vehicle as the teenager tried to flee the scene.

However, advocates of police accountability said body camera footage of the two incidents appears to contradict officers’ statements.

At a press conference in June, Lee Merritt, the well-known civil rights attorney representing Hernandez’s family, told reporters that the vehicle hit the police cruiser at a speed of no more than two miles an hour. . This account appears to align with the eyewitness account of Jesse Hernandez, a neighbor who told the Express-News that he saw no damage to the cruiser.

Unlike Ramos’ body camera footage, Brennand’s has been made public. It is not clear from these images if Cantu’s car hit the officer.

Despite these similarities, several months after the incident, members of Hernandez’s family said they were upset that the case had not yet gone to a grand jury.

Hernandez’s aunt, Stephanie Martinez, told the Running Brennand is offered as a sacrificial lamb of SAPD.

“Whether [Brennand] was not in a trial period, we would have a different result; he would be on administrative duty just like Ramos,” Martinez said. “It’s like Chief McManus said, he’s not protected by the union. He can’t appeal his case, he’s basically on his own.”

rookie problem

Junior officers like Brennand must serve a one-year probationary period before being eligible for benefits offered by the police union.

Without union representation, Brennand must find his own lawyer. Additionally, he has no right to appeal his dismissal to the department through arbitration, a process that, at the very least, can delay dismissals and court hearings for months or even years.

“You look at AJ’s case, and that’s the second person that Officer Ramos has shot and killed,” said Tomas of Act 4 SA. “But Brennand is not covered by the union, and I really think those are two of the biggest factors here as to why they are treated differently.”

A prime example of the power of the San Antonio police union is former Lt. Lee Rakun, Tomas said.

Rakun was fired seven times by SAPD during his 27-year tenure on the force, getting his job back each time through arbitration.

He was eventually forced to retire in 2020, but not before receiving $447,000 in compensation — an accumulation of base salary, medical benefits, accrued vacation and other incentives, according to a Express-News report.

Of the 71 SAPD officers fired between 2010 and 2020, 10 were forcibly discharged by an arbitrator and 20 were brought back by the police chief, according to the San Antonio report.

Only 26 of the 71 dismissed left the SAPD, only half of whom were expelled after losing their appeal, according to data reviewed by the online news source.

Although Brennand was arrested and charged with two counts of aggravated assault, Tomas and Martinez don’t believe that’s cause for celebration.

“It’s not progress, because if there was progress, these other victims, as well as my nephew, would see the same result,” Martinez said. “I just want justice for my nephew, I just want equal treatment for everyone.”

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