SAN ANTONIO – It took San Antonio police nearly four months to complete their investigation of Officer Michael Garza after he shot and killed a man while on duty, suspending him indefinitely for his actions. It has taken him more than three and a half years to come close to returning to duty.
On Thursday, an arbitrator ruled Garza should receive a 15-day suspension. Then-Chief William McManus suspended him indefinitely, essentially terminating him, citing seven violations of department rules.
"The actions of this officer were not reflective of the great work our 2,200 officers do on a daily basis. I'm embarrassed and dismayed that an arbitrator would give Michael Garza his job back. He will not be returning to any position where he interacts with the public," said Chief Anthony Trevino.
On July 28, 2012, Garza shot and killed Alfred Aragon in front of his home after a violent altercation that began on the city's North Side.
According to documents obtained by KSAT 12, Garza was working surveillance that night when Abigail Hernandez, the mother of Aragon's son, sent Garza a text asking him to take her to and from a bar. Hernandez complained that Aragon had been texting her repeatedly.
Garza used his city-owned cellphone to send numerous text messages, a violation of department policy. In one text, Garza said he would come pick Hernandez up after he finished his drink. Drinking on duty is also a violation of department policy.
Garza then used his city-owned police unit to pick Hernandez up, another violation of department policy. When the two drove to Hernandez's house, Aragon confronted them in the parking lot. He fired nearly a dozen shots into Garza's vehicle, hitting Hernandez twice.
Garza told investigators that Aragon continued to follow them as they tried to escape, but investigators would later discover that Garza actually followed Aragon, instead of taking Hernandez to a nearby hospital, another violation of department policy.
Aragon drove to his home and was trying to get inside when Garza shot him multiple times in the arm, foot and back. Aragon's three daughters were inside the home at the time.
Police said they wanted to file a murder charge against Garza, but that didn't happen.
"I am appalled that an arbitrator has given Michael Garza, who was fired by Chief McManus in 2012, his job back. Officer Garza was drinking while on duty, was not truthful and did not follow departmental rules the evening he shot and killed someone," said City Manager Sheryl Sculley.
"Officer Garza was given an opportunity for his termination case to be heard by an independent third-party arbitrator," said Michael Helle, president of the San Antonio Police Officers Association. "The city attorneys presented their case and Officer Garza's attorneys did as well. The city had their day in court and the arbitrator ruled against them. (Garza) went through the process allowed by law and and was awarded his job back. The personal attacks on the returning officer by the city manager are unwarranted and she should respect the process of the law."
The city could appeal the arbitrator's ruling.
Aragon's family has filed a lawsuit against the city and Garza. They have been unable to find Garza to serve him with the papers.