SAPD officer appeals termination, wins job back through arbitration

Matthew Belver's indefinite suspension reduced to 45 days

SAN ANTONIO – A San Antonio police officer who fought his termination has won his job back.

Chief William McManus handed veteran Officer Matthew Belver the indefinite suspension in February 2016 for an incident that occurred in August 2015.

Belver was accused of challenging a prisoner to a fight for his freedom and for incorrectly handling evidence at a crime scene.

It was the second time in six years that Belver was given an indefinite suspension for violating department policy. Even so, an arbitrator recently overturned Belver's termination, ordering the city to give him his job back.

Belver earned the termination for an encounter with a handcuffed prisoner that was captured on Belver's in-car camera.

Belver had arrested the suspect, Eloy Leal, for interfering with the duties of a public servant at the scene of a shooting.

When Leal became aggressive, questioning why Belver arrested him, the officer was captured on video offering to remove Leal's handcuffs and challenging him to a fight.

"As soon as they (handcuffs) come off, I'm gonna beat your ass. That's what I'm going to do. You ready?" Belver said in the recording before removing the handcuffs. "There you go. Now you can get out. Let's go. Run. Do something."

The exchange only lasted a few seconds and no punches were thrown. The video recording captured Belver belittling Leal as he was placed back in the patrol car.

"You had the chance to run, to fight, to do whatever, but you didn't because not only are you stupid, you're a coward," Belver said in the video.

The incident wasn't the first time Belver was given an indefinite suspension for violating department policies.

McManus gave Belver an indefinite suspension in 2009 for a series of arrests Belver made in the span of 12 days that October.

Two brothers accused Belver of entering their home without a warrant and arresting them following a disturbance in their neighborhood. One of the brothers accused Belver of roughing him up.

Days later, another man Belver arrested on suspicion of DWI claimed the officer told him he would let him go if he could beat him in a fight, using very similar language to what was heard during the incident with Leal.

The suspect, Carlos Flores, said Belver hit him several times on his head, arms and back while he was in the back of the patrol car. Flores had visible injuries in his mugshot.

Belver's termination was later reduced to two 30-day suspensions and he entered into a last chance agreement, which stated he could be terminated if he failed to follow that agreement.

During Belver's appeal of his latest firing, the city argued that the last chance agreement was still in effect when Belver had the incident with Leal.

Belver's lawyers argued it had expired nine months prior to the incident, so his past discipline could not be taken into consideration.

The arbitrator agreed with Belver's lawyers and overturned the termination, reducing his punishment to a 45-day suspension and ordering the city to give him his job back with back pay and benefits.

Mike Helle, head of the San Antonio Police Officers Association, issued a statement supporting Belver's reinstatement.

"Civil service law allows for officers to appeal suspensions through an unbiased third party arbitrator," Helle wrote. "We are satisfied with the arbitrator's outcome of reinstatement and suspension of Officer Belver."

The chief and city manager Sheryl Sculley had a very different reaction.

In a statement, McManus said: "A decision to indefinitely suspend an officer is made for serious behavioral infractions only after reviewing all the facts and circumstances surrounding each case. In every case, the officer is entitled to due process. To overturn a police chief's decision, except in cases of fact errors, is a disservice to the good order of the department. It also undermines a chief's authority and ignores the chief's understanding of what serves the best interest of the community and the department."

Sculley wrote: "The actions of Officer Matthew Belver are in violation of department policy and do not reflect the actions of the majority of SAPD personnel. Officers who blatantly disregard department rules damage the relationship of trust between SAPD Officers and the residents we serve. The arbitrator's ruling to reinstate Officer Belver into our police department demonstrates the need for disciplinary process reform for officers who have been suspended for intolerable behavior."

According to SAPD spokesman Jesse Salame, Belver has completed the return to duty process and he's currently on military leave, but when he returns, he will be assigned to South patrol on the overnight shift.

In addition to giving Belver his job back, the city will also have to pay him back for the time he lost while he was suspended.

SAPD Officer Matthew Belver arbitration hearing document.pdf by David Ibanez on Scribd


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About the Author:

Tim Gerber is an investigative reporter and anchor on the KSAT Defenders team.