Pictures show food bank donations for children in trash at San Antonio municipal court

City investigation finds court employees violated other food handling rules

SAN ANTONIO – Pictures obtained by the KSAT 12 Defenders show lunches donated by the San Antonio Food Bank this summer ended up in the trash inside the city's municipal court.

The pictures, which were taken and then sent to the Defenders in late July by a municipal court employee who asked to remain anonymous, show several unopened meals mixed with other garbage in large black trash bags.

The meals were intended to be given to children ages 18 and under as part of the San Antonio Food Bank's Summer Meals Program.

Food bank labels on the meals indicate the food was disposed of two days before its expiration date.

"So this is kind of heartbreaking, right? These are meals that are prepared, that if not served, could be frozen," San Antonio Food Bank president and CEO Eric Cooper said while viewing the pictures last month.

Surveillance footage from inside the municipal court, provided by the city through an open records request, shows two juvenile court case managers repeatedly violating food handling protocols.

Both employees, however, deny throwing away food before it expired, a city spokesman said last week. KSAT 12 is not naming either employee because they have yet not been formally disciplined by the city.

Among the violations seen in the footage was an off-duty SAPD officer working court security July 19 who was allowed to take a food item.

The officer told internal affairs investigators one of the case managers offered the item to him. He was cleared of wrongdoing in the incident, an SAPD spokesman confirmed last month.

Other violations pointed out by Cooper included case managers handing out single food or drink items to children.

"It's inappropriate, the way she was distributing the meal one component at a time," Cooper said.

A food bank employee was sent to the court July 25 after the food bank received an anonymous tip that lunches were not being handled properly by court staff.

"From our on-site monitoring, they seemed to be in full compliance. It was your investigative reporting that gave us a heads-up that we may have some issues," Cooper said.

The city's Office of Municipal Integrity, which launched its own investigation of the two employees after receiving a tip Aug. 1 from an unnamed source, found that they "knowingly violated Food Bank policy" by taking meals from the court to several off-site locations.

A city spokesperson confirmed one of the locations, an East Side satellite court, is not certified as a food distribution site.

Both employees told investigators they also took meals to the homes of children who had once taken part in the court's juvenile programs. The employees were cleared of the most serious allegation: that they had taken meals to their personal residences.

The city closed its investigation Oct. 5 and could take up to two weeks to determine what punishment will be handed to the two case managers, according to a city spokeswoman.

Seven pictures obtained by The Defenders from a court employee show both case managers, as well as teens, transporting meals from the court in a green cooler.

Cooper confirmed last month that the cooler is smaller than the ones used for the summer meals program.

Cooper also said it's possible that a picture of prepackaged carrots left on a table in an employee break room in mid-July were also donated by the food bank.

"Their intent was good, even though their following of the protocol was not," Government and Public Affairs Department director Jeff Coyle said.

Coyle declined to speak about the pictures of food bank donations in the trash since they were outside the scope of the OMI investigation. He also declined to look at the pictures and instead repeatedly requested that The Defenders turn over our investigative materials.

It is not the practice of The Defenders to hand over our investigative materials.

Coyle said the city may attempt to get the satellite court certified as a distribution site for next summer.

One of the case managers repeatedly declined to comment last week.

"The city obviously needs to take some action and investigate the evidence you have," Cooper said.

"You don't get anybody better leading a community than the San Antonio Food Bank and Eric Cooper," said District 6 Councilman Greg Brockhouse, whose West Side district is home to the food bank.

"We can't ask the food bank to continue to work in partnership with us until we can guarantee that the food gets to those who need it most."

The San Antonio Food Bank serves 16 southwest Texas counties and serves meals to 58,000 individuals per week, according to its website.

The San Antonio Municipal Court was one of 208 locations to take part in the food bank's Summer Meals Program.

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