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Officers more likely to commit violence once given the right to unionize, research shows

Pair of SAPD officers fighting to win back jobs after family violence incidents

SAN ANTONIO – A study from a group of professors at the University of Chicago Law School found a 40% increase in violent incidents among law enforcement agencies after those departments were given the right to unionize.

The working paper, titled "Collective Bargaining and Police Misconduct: Evidence from Florida," examined nearly 20 years of 'moral character' violations reported by law enforcement agencies there.

It was co-authored by professors Dhammika Dharmapala and Richard H. McAdams and assistant professor John Rappaport.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE WORKING PAPER.

The Sunshine State's access-friendly open records laws, along with a 2003 Florida Supreme Court decision that gave sheriff's deputies in the state collective bargaining rights, created an opportunity for the team of professors to examine deputy behavior before and after the decision was in place.

Municipal police officers in the state, who already had the right to unionize prior to the court decision, served as a control group.

"Just the collective bargaining rights themselves caused an effect on the incidents of violent misconduct, even separate from the decision to actually unionize," said Rappaport, who pointed out that only about a third of sheriff's offices actually unionized following the court's decision.

Rappaport also spoke at length about "bargaining in the shadow," the concept that even a threat to unionize can serve as a powerful tool for law enforcement officers against department management.

READ MORE: SAPD detective fired weeks after family violence charge dismissed

Fractured orbital and sinus walls

The power of unions when members of law enforcement are accused of violent conduct remains on full display in San Antonio.

In June, when fired San Antonio Police Department Officer Justin Ayars stepped into a city meeting room with attorneys, an arbitrator and witnesses, he had already taken a big first step in winning back his job.

Last fall, a Bexar County grand jury voted not to indict Ayars, amid allegations that he attacked his then-fiancee in May 2018 following an argument at their far North Side apartment.

The woman, Krista Cooper-Nurse, suffered injuries that included fractures to her orbital and sinus walls and significant injuries to her fingers.

She later underwent reconstructive surgery on her face.

"Her nose is broken. It is. Her nose is broken and she's got big, freaking purple marks on her neck where his fingers were. Oh (expletive)," officers who responded to the scene were recorded saying on body-worn cameras.

The footage shows Cooper-Nurse inside the couple's apartment, then inside an ambulance while being treated by paramedics and then inside a hospital room.

An internal affairs investigation conducted separate from the criminal investigation of Ayars provided his side of what happened.

Videos released to the KSAT 12 Defenders show Ayars, flanked by his criminal defense attorney, demonstrating what he said happened after a night of drinking.

Ayars said that Cooper-Nurse attacked him from behind and then repeatedly struck him with a large river rock, before Ayars was able to get her off of him.

"This makes absolutely no sense -- the way it was described by Mr. Ayars versus the way it was described by Ms. Nurse-Cooper (sic) and an independent witness," said SAPD Chief William McManus, who testified last week as the arbitration hearing resumed more than a month and a half after it first began.

McManus said Ayars' version of events didn't add up, remarking that the injury Ayars suffered didn't align with someone who had been hit while lying on his back.

A fellow SAPD officer and his wife, who were with Ayars and Cooper-Nurse the night in question, said they witnessed the couple arguing but did not see the physical incident in question.

The officer's wife testified during the hearing that Cooper-Nurse broke a bottle of liquor.

The woman testified that a shard of glass from the bottle then cut her forehead, prompting her and her husband to leave.

As they departed from the complex, the woman testified that they encountered a shirtless and bloodied Ayars, who told them, "She hit me with a rock. She went crazy." The trio left to report the incident at a police substation, leaving Cooper-Nurse at the scene.

A neighbor, however, told SAPD investigators that Ayars attacked Cooper-Nurse, kneeing her in the body three times and repeatedly punching her in the face as the couple struggled over a cellphone. 

While Ayars was being questioned by internal affairs in July 2018, the investigator revealed an independent witness reported that Ayars hit Cooper-Nurse with a rock. Another witness told police she heard Ayars berating Cooper-Nurse, then saw her bleeding after the incident and brought her into her apartment before calling 911, a police report states.

Cooper-Nurse previously stated that Ayars knocked her unconscious with a rock and hit her several more times when she regained consciousness.

The case is now in the hands of a third-party arbitrator, who is expected to make a decision on Ayars' status several months from now.

"Passed out due to drinking and had slobber and bile on his shirt"

SAPD Detective Daniel Pue, fired last month after his arrest on a family violence charge, has also exercised his right to bring his case before a third party arbitrator.

Pue, whose arbitration date has not been set, won a victory in his pursuit of being reinstated after the criminal charge against him was dismissed earlier this summer.

In early January, Pue was arrested by Bexar County Sheriff's Office deputies who responded to his far West Side home after a neighbor that morning called to report that Pue was assaulting a woman in the front yard.

An incident report states the neighbor told dispatchers he saw a man punching a woman in the face while he stood over her.

When deputies arrived at the home, they said they saw Pue walking back to the home despite having been told by deputies to "come here." Pue, the report states, responded "No!"

Deputies said the woman's face was covered in blood and that she was crying in the front yard.

Suspension documents state Pue then refused to let the responding deputy inside his home and the deputy had to force himself in.

After entering the home, deputies ordered Pue to "get on the ground" and he responded, "For what? I'm a police officer," according to the report.

The report states Pue was taken into custody after deputies threatened to use a Taser on him if he didn't comply with their demands.

The report notes that a responding deputy said Pue smelled of alcohol and that, before his arrest, someone whose name and relationship to Pue was redacted from the report, had called Pue's supervisor to inform them that he "appeared to be passed out due to drinking and had slobber and bile on his shirt from drinking too much."

SAPD suspension documents for Pue indicate that he used police resources on several occasions to search the woman's name on the National Crime Information Center database and Texas Crime Information Center database and had messaged her from his city-issued cellphone.

According to the investigation report summary, Pue texted her the same day of his arrest, writing "Enjoy ur life," and "U wanted to f--k other people. There u go. Bye."

Additionally, the report states Pue communicated with the woman using his city-issued phone on at least three occasions in September 2018.

A spokeswoman for the Bexar County District Attorney's Office confirmed the charge against Pue was dismissed after the woman waived prosecution, and that a special prosecutor was appointed to the case because Pue has a relative who works for the DA. The spokeswoman referred any other questions about the case to the special prosecutor.

The special prosecutor, Suzanne Kramer, did not respond to multiple requests for comment from the Defenders for this story.

After the story was published Monday afternoon, Kramer said via text message, "I didnt (sic) really see the need to provide info that wasnt (sic) already public record."

"I required a great deal of Pue before I was willing to dismiss. He complied with all my requirements," Kramer said via text message.

When pressed by the Defenders for more details Kramer said via text message that Pue completed an anger management class.

She then incorrectly said via text message it would be up to SAPD to decide whether or not to give Pue his job back.