SAN ANTONIO – The Bexar County District Attorney's Office recently decided not to charge a San Antonio police officer with perjury for allegedly lying about his education and military service in an effort to win his job back.
District Attorney Nico LaHood said he had no part in the decision to reject the charge against Matthew Martin, who had been previously fired for lying about a drug arrest in 2015.
"That ticked me off, to be honest with you, and I will tell you the rejection of the perjury case wasn't something that I approved," LaHood said in an interview this week. "I think it was a very irresponsible decision to make, and I should have been fully apprised."
Martin's involvement in an April 2015 traffic stop led to him being handed an indefinite suspension, which is equal to being fired.
After detaining the driver for traffic warrants, Martin, who was working a special assignment looking for narcotics violations, searched the vehicle and found two baggies of marijuana in the car.
The male driver was arrested and placed into the back of a patrol vehicle. While Martin was waiting for a female officer to search the passenger, the woman admitted she had a bag of marijuana in her bra.
The traffic stop was being recorded by Martin's in-car video system, which captured the exchange between Martin and the woman.
"I'll just take it out for you right now. Really, I'm not worried about it," the woman told Martin.
Martin asked how much marijuana the woman had, and she replied, "Just a $20," and admitted to buying the bag at an apartment complex Martin and his partner were watching for drug activity.
Martin then asked the woman who was watching her kids, and she replied a relative was and stated she was worried about losing her car.
Martin then muted his microphone and had a conversation with his partner. When he returned to the woman, Martin had a plan.
"This is what I'm going to do, OK. Take the cuffs off, take it out, OK. (inaudible) You go on your way," Martin said in the recording. "Just take it out and put it on the seat."
The woman followed Martin's instructions, and then he let her go home with her car.
"I'm going to tell you this much right now, this officer and I, nine times out of 10 wouldn't arrest for weed, OK? But we're working narcotics interdiction, so we really don't have a choice," Martin was heard saying to the woman in the video. "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."
As the woman pulled away, Martin explained to the driver what was happening.
"So we let her slide because I know she had some on her, alright? But all these other bags, we got to take you. 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. Alright, man," Martin was heard saying in the video. "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?"
When investigators with the DA's office were reviewing the video for the case, they were alarmed and alerted SAPD's Internal Affairs.
An internal affairs investigation led to Martin being given the indefinite suspension, and they submitted a criminal case to the DA's office against Martin, alleging he tampered with evidence.
The case was rejected by LaHood's office, with a prosecutor writing, "There is insufficient evidence of intent to prove the offense beyond a reasonable doubt."
LaHood stands by his decision to not prosecute Martin.
"We obviously had the right person. The evidence substantiated the allegation," LaHood said. "I felt this person has done a lot of stuff good. He made a horrible decision. We felt it wasn't for nefarious situations. He wasn't asking for the girl's number. He wasn't trying to hit on her. He truly believed what he thought was right. It was a decision based off what I felt at the time was the totality of the circumstances, and I stand by that decision."
Martin challenged his termination through arbitration, and the arbitrator came to a similar conclusion, writing: "Officer Martin appears to have let his sympathetic perceptions regarding the personal hardships, which 'might have resulted' from an arrest ... to temporarily eclipse his reportedly usual good judgment, compromise his professional training and cause him to act in complete disregard of all of his law enforcement experience."
"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."
What the arbitrator and LaHood didn't know at the time of their decisions to let Martin escape punishment was that he had lied again.
The lies wouldn't be discovered until an anonymous letter was sent to the KSAT Defenders' Tim Gerber in March, which claimed Martin lied about his military service.
According to a prosecution guide obtained by the Defenders, while under oath during the arbitration proceedings, Martin testified that he "was a college graduate from Ohio State University." When asked if he had any military service, Martin answered, "United States Marine Corps." He testified that in 2001, "Under the United States Marine Corps with the Third Battalion, 25th Marines, I was deployed to Afghanistan."
Investigators found the statements to be in "conflict with his employment applications with the San Antonio Police Department."
Martin had applied three times for a position at SAPD, "twice in 2001, once in 2006." In those applications Martin reported "not having served in the United States Armed Forces." Additionally, it was discovered Martin "had not attended or graduated with a college degree with the Ohio State University system." In fact, investigators learned from Martin's applications that he only held a GED.
The investigation also revealed that while Martin "had participated in the USMC bootcamp between July 15, 1997, and August of 1997, he did not complete boot camp and was never a United States Marine."
When confronted with the results of the investigation, and upon learning SAPD was submitting a criminal case against him for perjury, Martin resigned.
LaHood insists it was not his decision to give Martin a second pass for lying.
"There's a top person in our office who made that decision, and I'm dealing with that person myself," LaHood said. "There's no way I would have approved and been OK with a second case being rejected, whether he quits or not. They're going to fire him anyway, and I definitely would not have agreed with him keeping his TCOLE (Texas Commission on Law Enforcement) license."
LaHood said it appeared one of his prosecutors made a deal with Martin that if he resigned, the perjury charge would be dropped.
"The right decision in the end, in my opinion, did not happen. The right decision would have been holding him fully accountable for lying twice," LaHood said. "The bottom line about it is this guy might be a nice person, but he shouldn't be a police officer."
Martin is still eligible to be a law enforcement officer. Most recently, his TCOLE commission was held by the Wilson County Sheriff's Office.
According to Wilson County Attorney Tom Caldwell, Martin worked for him from January 2017 through May 2017, when he was reinstated by SAPD.
In a statement, Caldwell said: "(Martin's) TCOLE commission was held by the Wilson County Sheriff's Office after this by my request in an unpaid 'reserve' capacity only. He did not perform any work for my office, but may have been consulted with from time to time regarding work he did perform while employed full time. Last week, Martin's commission was released by the Wilson County Sheriff's Office. Matthew Martin is no longer employed in any capacity with Wilson County. That being said, his discharge was classified as "Honorable," because his service to Wilson County was exactly that."
LaHood said he's considered reopening the perjury case, but with the statute of limitations about to run out, it's unlikely Martin will be charged.
"I'm going to look at everything, and I'll figure it out," LaHood said. "If there's nothing to do, there's nothing to do, and I'm here speaking to you about it because I think it's the right thing to do, to speak the truth about it. And if there is something to do, we'll consider doing something. I don't know yet."
Through his attorney, Martin declined to comment for this story.