SAN ANTONIO – A dispute at an auto shop over a President Trump bumper sticker is being characterized by the Republican Party of Bexar County as a politically motivated attempt to suppress a customer's right to free speech.
But the mechanic involved tells KSAT 12 that the explanation is much simpler: the sticker was illegally placed and his request to remove it had nothing to do with politics.
The incident gained attention when the Republican Party of Bexar County posted a video on its Facebook page laying out the details. In the video, County chairwoman Cynthia Brehm interviews a couple who claimed a vehicle inspector at a San Antonio auto shop made them remove their President Trump bumper sticker before he would inspect the vehicle.
The couple, Tim and Cathy Rodriguez, said they stopped at Jerry's Auto Service on Aug. 9 and were told they needed to remove their political sticker.
"He stated that he wasn't able to do our inspection on the vehicle until he removed the sticker off the windshield. I was shocked. I was puzzled and confused as to why he wasn't able to do the inspection. So, quickly, I told my husband, 'I'm just going to remove it quickly and carefully. After he's done with the inspection, I'll go ahead and just place it,'" Rodriguez said in the video.
Brehm wrapped up the video with a message to fellow Republicans.
"Folks what I'm here to tell you is this: Your vehicle is your personal property and you are protected by the U.S. Constitution. You do not have to take off that sticker," Brehm said.
As of Monday afternoon, the post had 95 shares and more than 100 comments, including calls for boycotts and protests of the business and encouragement to "blast" the company's name on Facebook.
Brehm urged others to call her office if they had similar experiences.
"It is considered free speech and nobody can make you do anything," she said.
KSAT called Jerry's and spoke with the inspector, Gustavo Martinez, on Monday afternoon.
Martinez said he urged the couple to remove the sticker because of where it was placed, not because it was political in nature.
Martinez said he explained to the couple that the vehicle would not pass inspection because the sticker covered the brake light in the rear window. He said he was just doing his job.
"I explained to her that [the brake light] needed to be visible," Martinez said.
"I'm neutral. I do my work and the sticker was on the light and had to be removed. I do my work by the book," he said.
Martinez said he warned the couple that the police could pull them over for the violation, adding that he had once been pulled over for the very same issue as he was driving a customer's vehicle during an inspection.
"I'm not against nobody. I need to do my work right. If the light is not visible, it's not going to pass inspection," Martinez said.
Martinez said he could tell that Rodriguez "got kind of offended" but said she didn't say anything to him. Instead, Martinez said she explained to her husband that it was OK because she had another sticker she could put on after the inspection.
"I didn't remove it. She removed it," Martinez said.
State law requires vehicles to have functioning stop lamps. As of 2017, that includes center high- mounted stop lights for passenger cars for model years 1986 and newer and light trucks/SUVs for model years 1994 and newer. In order to pass inspection, those lights must be visible from 300 feet.
KSAT contacted Brehm, who said she hadn't spoken with anyone from Jerry's before posting the video.
A short time into our phone call with Brehm, she hung up to take a call from someone from the auto shop.
Afterward, she agreed to answer some questions over email.
Brehm said she learned of the Rodriguez's story when they came by the office to buy Trump campaign T-shirts on Friday. She said she tried to call Jerry's Auto Shop but there was no answer.
"I believed the Rodriguezes. They are both credible and intelligent people. I questioned them thoroughly. Mr. Rodriguez is an educated man. He is currently studying for his MBA. I had no reason to doubt what they were telling me about what happened to them at the service center. When I found out that the Trump sticker was not blocking anything, I knew it was an issue and a teaching moment for others," Brehm said.
Brehm said that after Martinez called her on Monday, she called the Rodriguezes back.
"Mr. Rodriguez stated that his rear brake light mount sits up high on his rear-view window, and that the sticker was not blocking the brake light. There was no reason to remove the sticker, but he chose to comply and remove it just to get the vehicle inspected," Brehm said.
This is a picture of the campaign sticker — post-inspection — provided by the Rodriguezes to Brehm:
"I think this had everything to do with politics. This is why he had them remove the Trump sticker," Brehm said.
Brehm said she stands by her post, calling it a "teaching moment."
San Antonio couple were told to remove their Trump sticker on their back windshield BEFORE they could get their vehicle inspected! This is so wrong. You are protected by Free Speech in the U.S.Constitution. No one should ever tell you to remove anything on your personal property. #Trump2020 #MAGA #KAG @theRealDonaldJTrump!Posted by Republican Party of Bexar County on Friday, September 20, 2019