SAPD officer accused of looking the other way on narcotics arrest gets termination overturned
Officer Matthew Martin originally fired in 2015 for recorded traffic stop
SAN ANTONIO – On paper, San Antonio Police Officer Matthew Martin is a good cop who's received multiple commendations and performance awards for his police work and performed his assigned duties in a "highly satisfactory manner."
According to documents in Martin's civil service file, the 39-year-old divorced father of two "spent approximately four years honorably serving in the United States Marine Corps." He also served as a "highly trained member of a special section of the U.S. Department of Secret Service (presidential protective detail)" before he became a police officer.
Martin was accepted to the San Antonio Police Department Police Academy in February 2007 and went on active duty in September of that year.
Eight years later, Martin conducted a traffic stop that nearly ended his law enforcement career with SAPD.
On April 7, 2015, Martin and his partner, Frederick Grataski, were working a special detail, looking for illegal drug activity at known hot spots in their patrol district.
According to official documents, Martin watched through binoculars as the driver of a car entered an apartment complex and received "several small, suspicious packages."
Martin and Grataski then followed the car and initiated a traffic stop near the intersection of Martin Luther King Drive and Brooksdale Drive.
The registration on the vehicle was expired and the driver had outstanding warrants for traffic violations.
Martin placed the driver in handcuffs and detained him while they searched the vehicle. A female passenger, who was the owner of the car, stood outside the vehicle as the officers conducted their search.
The traffic stop was recorded by the officer's in-car video and audio recording system.
Having watched the car leave a known location for drug activity, Martin, according to the police report, asked the driver if he had anything on him and the driver said, 'No.' But when Martin asked the driver if there was anything in the car, the driver refused to answer.
During a search of the car, Martin found two baggies of marijuana.
The passenger who owned the car initially denied knowing anything about the pot. While waiting for a female officer to search the passenger, the woman made an admission to Martin.
"I have weed," the woman said in the recording. "If I pull it out for you now, we can just get it over with. Nobody has to come. I don't want to waste your time no more."
In the video, the woman tells Martin that she doesn't want to go to jail and had kids at home that were being watched by a family member.
Martin then muted his microphone while he and his partner had a brief conversation off camera. Martin then returned to returned to the passenger.
"This is what I'm going to do, OK?" Martin is heard saying in the recording. "I'm going to take the cuffs off, take it out, OK? (inaudible) And you're going to put it on the seat. We're going to collect it all."
The woman replied, "Oh, my God. Y'all are the best."
Martin removed the handcuffs and the woman walked up to the open passenger door and placed her bag of marijuana on the seat.
Martin then told the passenger that the traffic stop was being recorded.
"See that red flashing light, OK. Everything is being recorded because we're working narcotics interdiction," Martin said. "So we're just going to say we found it all in the same spot and that's that, OK? But you need to be more careful about that."
Shortly after that, Martin had a conversation with the driver who was now in the back of the patrol car.
"I'm going to tell her the same thing man. Me and this guy never arrest for weed, ever. But we're in a camera car and we're doubled up and we're working narcotics interdiction, OK? So we let her slide, 'cause I know she had some on her, all right?" Martin said. "But all these other bags, we got to take. And I'll tell you this much, man, because of the way it's packaged, we could book you with distribution, but we're not going to. All right, man. I mean, trust me, dude, I've never arrested for weed in my life, ever, but it's just one of those things. It's wrong place at the wrong time, man, OK? But we're going to let her slide with the car and all that stuff, all right? So we're working with you guys as much as we can."
The officers let the passenger go and took the driver to jail, charging him with possessing all of the drugs.
Investigators at the Bexar County District Attorney's Office reviewed the video as part of the case submitted to them by SAPD. The investigators rejected the case against the driver and alerted SAPD's Internal Affairs, which launched an investigation into the actions of the officers.
According to documents, when questioned about why he was untruthful in his report about where he found the drugs and who possessed them, Martin told investigators, "I wouldn't say that it was untrue. It was inaccurate."
Based on the internal affairs investigation, Martin was handed an indefinite suspension by then acting Chief Anthony Trevino and was removed from the department.
Martin appealed the decision and the case went to arbitration.
The city argued that it was justified in terminating Martin, while Martin's attorney argued the allegations against the officer were false and the Internal Affairs investigation was flawed.
According to the arbitration award documents, the arbitrator found the city did prove the allegations against Martin but also ruled the city did not prove it had "sufficient cause to issue an indefinite suspension."
The arbitrator wrote Martin's motive for releasing the female passenger without charges was likely out of sympathy for her.
"We are convinced that Martin's actions and reactions were void of any improper or self-rewarding motive; such 'proven purity of purpose' cannot be ignored.
"Had we found the slightest evidence of a selfish or personal ulterior motive, we would not have hesitated to summarily sustain Acting Chief Trevino's disciplinary decision.
(Martin) was, in our judgment, accurately perceived by multiple members of the SAPD staff as an excellent and professional police officer who unexplainably elected to conceal improper conduct and/or evidence that he knew, or reasonably should have known to be incompatible with strict law enforcement and good police work," the arbitrator wrote.
The arbitrator ordered the city to return Martin to duty, reducing his punishment to a one-year suspension.
According to SAPD, Martin has completed the process to return to duty, but he won't be going back on patrol.
In a statement, SAPD Chief William McManus said: "When an officer is indefinitely suspended, it is for good cause in the best interest of the Department, and to protect the public trust. Officer Martin's assignment going forward will be to an administrative position that will not be affected by his past disciplinary record."
Because of this incident, the Bexar County DA's office said Martin is now on a disclosure list, which could limit his participation in future criminal cases.
"At this time, it's a case by case consideration on whether we use Officer Martin as a witness," the DA's office said in a statement.
Martin's partner, Grataski, was initially given a contemplated indefinite suspension for his role in the bungled traffic stop, but his punishment was reduced to a 30-day suspension without pay which was served from June 20, 2016 through July 19, 2016.
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