'Here are the facts': SAPD chief responds to questions in smuggling case involving 12 immigrants

City officials still have questions

SAN ANTONIO – In response to questions about his handling of a smuggling incident involving 12 immigrants two days before Christmas, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said he “managed the investigation, as is my prerogative, under the state’s anti-smuggling law.”

Contrary to speculation McManus may have acted against protocol, he said he "gave no direction to skip or disregard standard protocol or process.”

McManus sent KSAT 12 a bulleted list of facts, addressing the process from start to finish.

Here are the facts:

"I was on the scene and managed the investigation, as is my prerogative, under the State’s anti-smuggling law.

We notified Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) soon after the incident was reported to SAPD.

An agent from HSI arrived at the scene approximately one and a half to two hours after the arrival of SAPD.

I gave no direction to skip or disregard standard protocol or process.

The two drivers were arrested for human smuggling and taken into custody by SAPD.

The 12 individuals in the truck were taken to SAPD headquarters for questioning.

No background checks or fingerprints were taken of the 12 victims because it is against procedure do so of victims of crime or witnesses to a crime, especially in the context of a human smuggling case. (See general manual procedure at bottom of story)

The HSI agent was present at SAPD headquarters and was provided access to the 12 individuals.

At no time did SAPD restrict or prevent the HSI agent from taking custody of the individuals.

SAPD had no legal authority to hold the 12 individuals after they were questioned; the City may have faced legal liability if SAPD had done so.

I met with HSI after the incident to discuss communication and coordination, including response times, in the event of future similar situations.

SAPD will continue its long history of coordinating with federal law enforcement agencies.”

Sgt. Michelle Ramos, SAPD spokeswoman, said officers followed state law and department policy.

District Attorney Nico LaHood said was curious as to why it wasn’t a federal case, but after a lengthy conversation with McManus, he felt the situation merited that action.

“Everyone has to do what they have to do. Whether I understand it, agree with it or not, is irrelevant,” LaHood said. “The case has been turned over to us, and we’re going to handle the case. We are capable of handling it.”

Ramos said human smuggling cases like this are handled on a case-by-case basis. As an example, she said the tragedy last July outside a Walmart cost ten lives. That was a federal case.

In this latest incident, the second within six months, it was a much smaller group of immigrants who survived the trip from Laredo.

Even so, District 6 city councilman Greg Brockhouse said he thinks officers need consistency in how they handle such cases.

Brockhouse has asked for an in-depth briefing, body camera video and reports from the officers on scene.

The council member said he understands why immigrants risk their lives to reach the U.S. “We should honor that, and honor human dignity,” he said.

But Brockhouse also said, “This isn’t an immigration policy issue. Initially, for me, it’s a public safety issue.”

He questioned why the people suspected of entering the country illegally weren’t fingerprinted or subject to criminal background checks.

In his statement, McManus said, according to the department’s general manual, “It is against procedure to do of victims of crime or witnesses to a crime, especially in the context of a human smuggling case.”

District 10 city councilman Clayton Perry also has questions about the case.

Perry sent the following statement to KSAT 12:

I have spoken with the City Manager about the human smuggling incident that occurred before Christmas. It appears that there were several moving parts by various law enforcement agencies involved in this incident and subsequent decisions. All the facts have not been presented to me at this time and the situation is under review. I still have questions, and I look forward to getting answers to those questions. 

Additionally, I am very concerned that traffickers continue to choose San Antonio as a stopping point. I hope we can work with all applicable agencies to follow the appropriate procedures, deter traffickers from our city, and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law to those that continue this practice.

Antonio Fernandez, president and CEO of Catholic Charities for the San Antonio Archdiocese, said after being contacted by the police chief, vans were waiting for three to four hours outside Public Safety Headquarters where the immigrants were questioned.

Several went with Catholic Charities workers to be fed and clothed at a hotel, others went their own way, but eventually they left for their destinations.

"We can’t get a hold of these people," Brockhouse said as he questioned how they will be able to testify. “ We don’t know where they’ve gone.”

Ramos said SAPD would work with the DA’s office to track them down, like they do with other victims and witnesses.

“We are going to want to talk to all those witnesses,” LaHood said. “Does that mean the case doesn’t go forward if we do not speak to all or some of them? No.”

LaHood said they would look at “the totality of evidence available to us.”

About the Author:

Jessie Degollado has been with KSAT since 1984. She is a general assignments reporter who covers a wide variety of stories. Raised in Laredo and as an anchor/reporter at KRGV in the Rio Grande Valley, Jessie is especially familiar with border and immigration issues. In 2007, Jessie also was inducted into the San Antonio Women's Hall of Fame.