SAN ANTONIO – A veteran San Antonio police officer was indefinitely suspended, the equivalent of being terminated, in January for an incident that happened last summer.
Officer Tim Garcia was recorded by his own body-worn camera using profanities and repeatedly saying a racial slur during the arrest of a young black man at River Center Mall on July 14, 2018.
Garcia and his partner were dispatched to the mall to speak with Dewaxne Robinson, 24, who was being detained by mall security guards who claimed Robinson was disturbing shoppers.
According to a police report, Robinson was "getting aggressive and confrontational with mall patrons as they were walking by." It was also alleged Robinson was "using vulgar language" and "threatening patrons as they passed."
A copy of Garcia's body-worn camera footage obtained by the KSAT Defenders showed a calm Robinson in front of the Macy's department store surrounded by several security guards as Garcia and his partner approached.
Robinson explained to Garcia that he felt he was being harassed by the security guards, who had told him to leave. He said he was in the process of leaving, but the security guards kept following him and he "got upset that security would not leave him alone."
Garcia explained to Robinson that if the security guards wanted him to leave, he needed to comply with their order or he could be arrested and charged with criminal trespass.
"My question to you is, ‘If they tell you to leave the mall, are you going to leave the mall?’" Garcia said in the video. "If they tell you they don't want you here and you have to leave, then you have to leave. If you don't leave, then you're breaking the law, but you're not breaking the law by being here. But if they tell you to leave and you don't leave, then you're breaking the law, and that's when I get involved."
In the video footage, Robinson said he didn't do anything wrong but agreed to provided his identification to Garcia. Before handing the ID to Garcia, Robinson continued to question what he was doing wrong and why he could face a criminal trespass charge even though he was cooperating with the officers.
The police report, which was written by Garcia, stated Robinson "removed his ID from his wallet but refused to hand it to me ... at that point we could see (Robinson) changing posture and begin to take an aggressive stance."
The video showed Robinson calmly saying, “No, hold up” when Garcia asked a second time for the ID. Garcia and his partner then grabbed Robinson by his arms and placed him in handcuffs before setting him on the ground.
"All I did was ask a question," Robinson was heard saying in the video. To which Garcia responded, "Right, and we asked you for ID and you refused to give it to us."
As Garcia and his partner asked the mall security guards questions and jotted down notes about the arrest while they waited for a van to transport Robinson, Garcia continued to engage in a back-and- forth banter with an increasingly agitated Robinson.
As Robinson complained about being arrested, Garcia was recorded saying, "You know what's bulls***? The way you were raised is bulls***."
Robinson also complained about his arm being twisted while the handcuffs were being put on and used a racial slur, referring to Garcia as "n***a" several times, to which Garcia replied in a mocking tone, "N****? Do I look like your n****? Say it right. Put an 'r' at the end. If you're going to say it, don't call me n****. I ain't your n****."
When Robinson asked once again why he was being arrested, Garcia sarcastically replied, "For being a f***ed up n****."
Rather than de-escalating the situation as officers are trained to do, Garcia continued to escalate the situation by interacting with Robinson, eventually stating "F*** you, too. Here, here, this is the police telling you f*** you. How do you like that?"
The recording, which lasts 24 minutes and 52 seconds, also captured Garcia taking Robinson to the ground once they got outside and using his baton as a pressure point when Robinson became uncooperative during a patdown search.
It was that use of force that led Robinson to file a complaint against Garcia with the San Antonio Police Department a month after the arrest.
When Garcia's supervisors reviewed the body camera footage, they saw his interaction with Robinson.
A sergeant wrote in a report, "I did observe Officer Garcia use vulgar language in a manner that was unnecessary."
When referring to Garcia's use of the N-word, the sergeant wrote, "He did not use the word in a racist manner, or direct it at anyone. He merely repeated the word after Robinson said it out loud several times."
The sergeant determined a written reprimand would be an appropriate punishment for Garcia.
Two lieutenants, who also reviewed the incident, wrote in reports: "Garcia was very unprofessional with his use of profanity and slang word 'n****.' I saw no procedural violations with the use of force. I concur with Sgt. Jerrytone's recommendation that a Letter of Reprimand for this incident will remind Off. Garcia that this will not be tolerated anywhere on the department."
When the incident was reviewed by a deputy chief, however, he did not agree with the other officers in the chain of command. He wrote, "Officer Garcia engaged in unnecessary banter with the arrested person even acknowledging that he is telling the arrested person ‘F*** you’ on camera, very unprofessional behavior-- forward to Internal Affairs for formal investigation."
San Antonio police Chief William McManus later agreed with a review board's assessment of the incident, which recommended the indefinite suspension.
"That was not reprimandable conduct by any means. Indefinitely suspending the officer was the only remedy to this particular situation," McManus said in an interview. "That kind of behavior is not in accordance with our guiding principles. So the whole thing, from start to finish, right after start to finish, was just as wrong as wrong can be."
McManus said officers have been trained in de-escalation tactics for years and all officers went through bias and implicit bias training within the past two years.
"We go to great lengths to make sure our officers understand what bias is, what implicit bias is, and that, again, is something that we will not tolerate," McManus said. "That word is like nitroglycerin."
McManus said he was in disbelief as he watched the video of the encounter. He said he contacted the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to let them know what happened and the actions he took, and then he met with NAACP leaders.
"There were maybe 12 to 15 folks that met us up in the conference room, and I answered questions about it, told them what I did about it and at the end of the day, I hope they were satisfied," McManus said. "We've got 2,347 police officers in this department, and when one of them makes that kind of mistake, it reflects poorly on the department, the department's culture, and we simply can't have that."
When asked about the incident by Internal Affairs investigators, Garcia attempted to defend his actions.
"I used similar language as a means of communicating my point. I repeated some of his language in order to speak a vernacular he would understand.
“In retrospect, I was wrong and should have refrained from stooping to his level.
“I usually take offense to such language, and I don't stand for it. I did not use the word in a derogatory manner or use it in reference to anyone at the scene. Nobody has complained of the language, either,” Garcia said.
McManus was not swayed by Garcia's explanations.
"That doesn't justify it or explain it away by any stretch," McManus said. "We will not tolerate any kind of racial or ethnic discrimination or defamation when it comes to those things. We're just not going to do it, can't do it."
Garcia and his attorney, Morris Munoz, a Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas staff attorney, initially agreed to do an interview about the incident with the Defenders’ Tim Gerber but backed out at the last minute, opting instead to send the following statement:
"While we respect Chief McManus' right to issue disciplinary actions, we respectfully disagree with his decision to terminate my client, San Antonio Police Officer Tim Garcia in lieu of a lesser punishment. Officer Garcia has nearly 19-years of law enforcement experience of which nearly 11-years are with the San Antonio Police Department. Officer Garcia is a reputable officer and has been assigned to bike patrol since 2009, where he interacts with thousands of individuals monthly. He is proud to serve the great San Antonio community. The event that led to Officer Garcia's termination was incredibly unfortunate, but it was not a result of any intentional malice on his part. Officer Garcia takes full responsibility for his actions and openly admits he should be disciplined for allowing himself to echo the same words the male was articulating towards the officers at the location, but not terminated for this isolated event. Officer Garcia expresses regret and sincerely apologizes for his behavior. In his law enforcement career, he has never been cited or disciplined for any similar conduct."