Poteet councilwoman files federal suit to keep city from removing her from her home

City claims home is an unsafe structure while councilwoman claims she is being targeted because she is outspoken

A lawsuit filed in federal court in San Antonio late Monday accuses several high-ranking city officials in Poteet of attempting to have a councilwoman removed from her home because she repeatedly challenged their authority.

POTEET, Texas – A lawsuit filed in federal court in San Antonio late Monday accuses several high-ranking city officials in Poteet of attempting to have a councilwoman removed from her home because she repeatedly challenged their authority.

The suit, filed by an attorney representing Councilwoman Denise Sanchez, lists as defendants Poteet City Administrator Eric Jiminez, Poteet Police Chief Bruce Hickman, a city inspector and the presiding city judge, who earlier this year ordered Sanchez to vacate the property.

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The suit asks a federal judge to block city officials from removing Sanchez from the home.

The house, located in the 700 block of Avenue E, belongs to Sanchez’s late father's estate.

Sanchez currently resides in it, along with a disabled military veteran in poor health.

The federal suit is the latest chapter in an 18-month battle over whether the home is safe to live in.

This footage from the Poteet Police Department shows the inside of Sanchez's home in November 2018. (KSAT)

In November 2018, city officials inspected the inside and outside of the home and determined it had a number of safety violations.

The inspection came after complaints claiming the home violated the city’s Unsafe and Dangerous Structure Ordinance.

Footage of the home’s dilapidated condition was later shared by the Poteet Police Department on its Facebook page and then re-shared by the City of Poteet’s page.

“It was embarrassing to me. Have they broke me? That’s what they want to do is break me. I’m going to be honest,” Sanchez said Tuesday as she got emotional.

The violations were dismissed during a hearing in December 2018, according to Sanchez’s lawsuit.

In March 2019, however, another administrative warrant was served at the home.

Sanchez said Tuesday she has made some repairs to the structure, including adding new lumber to the carport, but conceded that the home still needs wiring in a back room and the kitchen.

Despite the repairs, Poteet Municipal Court Presiding Judge Bill Gamez in February determined the home was substandard and dangerous and ordered Sanchez and anyone else living at the home to vacate it within 90 days.

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Last week, Gamez denied a motion from Sanchez’s attorney that would have pushed back his order.

Late last week, Sanchez was issued a trespassing warning by police, but she said she has continued to remain in the home because she has nowhere else to stay.

She said police told her they may be ordered to forcibly remove her as early as Tuesday.

The veteran she cares for, who has a number of health issues including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), would become homeless and face an increased chance of contracting COVID-19 if he and Sanchez are force to leave, the lawsuit claims.

A caseworker with Adult Protective Services called Sanchez while the Defenders were at the home Tuesday.

The caseworker confirmed two previous complaints filed against Sanchez related to her care for the veteran were closed, but that a third case was now open because the state had been informed about the removal order.

The federal suit portrays Sanchez as a thorn in the side of Poteet city government, both while she has been in office and while out of office.

“There are many more times in which Ms. Sanchez has angered the leaders of Poteet by asking questions and demanding that they live up their obligations,” the suit claims, referring to specific incidents in which Sanchez questioned the criminal record of Jiminez and the law enforcement credentials of Hickman.

The suit claims that, at one point, Sanchez was criminally charged and banned from City Hall after an alleged altercation with a city staff member.

The criminal case was later dismissed, according to the suit, but Sanchez remains banned from City Hall, except to attend council meetings.

“I forgive everybody who’s come after me. I hate no one. I wish I could. I just can’t,” said Sanchez.

Jiminez and Hickman did not respond to requests seeking comment for this story.

A police department employee referred questions to the city’s secretary.

Several city officials, including Mayor Willie Leal Jr., were seen leaving a meeting near City Hall Tuesday morning, but they departed before the Defenders could ask them about the case.

City officials also declined to release records related to the municipal court case, claiming they needed to consult an attorney before doing that.

Sanchez has arranged to have an electrician make the necessary wiring repairs, but the work has been delayed due to the ongoing pandemic, the suit claims.

About the Authors:

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined KSAT Investigates in September 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat and on the Six O'Clock News. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.

Joshua Saunders is an Emmy-nominated photographer/editor who has worked in the San Antonio market for the past 20 years. Joshua works in the Defenders unit, covering crime and corruption throughout the city.