SAN ANTONIO – Editor’s note: This story is part of KSAT Defenders’ “Broken Blue” investigative series digging into misconduct and disciplinary procedure in the San Antonio Police Department. The series will culminate with a one-hour investigative special airing on Jan. 12 at 9 p.m. For more reporting on this topic, click here.
A San Antonio police officer who won reinstatement last year after being fired for giving a homeless man a feces sandwich is still awaiting arbitration for a second indefinite suspension for an unrelated incident.
Bike patrol Officer Matthew Luckhurst won his appeal for the 2016 feces sandwich incident in March 2019, after his legal representation was able to capitalize on a section of the local government code that prevents law enforcement agencies from disciplining an officer for conduct that occurred outside a 180-day window, or within 180 days of the department becoming aware of the incident if it constitutes a possible criminal act.
Luckhurst admitted that while he and other officers were asking homeless individuals to leave an area along Houston Street, under Interstate 35, he grabbed a piece of dog feces with a piece of bread to avoid stepping on it and placed the feces, wrapped in the bread, into a nearby food container which he said he viewed as trash.
Explained: How arbitration plays out for disciplined San Antonio police officers
He said he left the container "in close proximity" to a transient who did not clear the area and that the person picked up the container containing the feces and threw it on the ground after smelling it.
Another bike patrol officer who was on patrol with Luckhurst told him, “You can’t be doing that. You have to go pick that up,” arbitration paperwork states. The officer told authorities Luckhurst biked back to the area, returned and said he had disposed of the container, the documents state.
Luckhurst’s attorneys successfully argued during arbitration that SAPD’s internal investigation used an incorrect timeframe for when the incident took place, because an injury suffered by Luckhurst prevented him from riding his bike and that the feces sandwich incident had actually taken place earlier in the year, outside the 180-day time period.
Luckhurst’s indefinite suspension was later shortened to five days by the arbitrator.
“The purpose of it was to take politics out of the decision making,” said San Antonio Police Officers Association President Mike Helle, referring to the state civil service law that outlines the 180-day discipline requirement.
“It’s basically the process. My only goal is to make sure that you guys follow the process when you’re going after one of our employees,” said Helle, describing the union’s position in its argument with the city for Luckhurst’s reinstatement.
Luckhurst firing, take two
A month after Luckhurst was indefinitely suspended in October 2016, he received a second indefinite suspension after he and another officer defecated in a female restroom at the downtown bike patrol office and did not flush it.
Luckhurst and the other officer then got a brown substance with the consistency of tapioca and spread it on the toilet seat, giving the appearance that there was fecal matter on the seat, according to a copy of his November 2016 termination paperwork.
He was scheduled to go before an arbitrator in mid-November in that case, but the hearings were canceled without the media being given an explanation.
A spokeswoman for the city’s human resources department said no new dates have been set for the hearings.
“Clearly, the current collective bargaining agreement limits the Chief’s ability to appropriately discipline officers that deserve to be disciplined. We intend to bring those issues to the next contract negotiation with the police union," said City Manager Erik Walsh in a statement to KSAT. "I am hoping the police union will agree that these cases tarnish and impact the community’s confidence in our police department. The residents of San Antonio expect better behavior from police officers than what these individuals demonstrated, and frankly, so do I. Fortunately, the conduct of these few does not reflect of the high character of the more than 2,300 other officers on the streets protecting our community today.”