SAPD officer fired for repeatedly punching handcuffed pregnant woman wins back her job

Indefinite suspension of Officer Elizabeth Montoya reduced to 45 days

SAPD Officer Elizabeth Montoya has been reinstated to the department. (Joshua Saunders, KSAT)

SAN ANTONIO – A San Antonio police officer fired in 2019 after department footage showed her repeatedly punching a handcuffed pregnant woman in the head has been reinstated to SAPD by a third-party arbitrator.

Officer Elizabeth Montoya, an eight-year veteran of SAPD at the time of her January 2019 firing, testified during her arbitration hearing in March that she was trying to gain compliance from suspect Kimberly Esparza during the July 2018 incident west of downtown.

San Antonio’s city attorney expressed disappointment in the ruling Wednesday while pointing out that the arbitration was heard under the previous collective bargaining agreement.

SAPD in-car camera footage played during Montoya’s hearing showed her punch Esparza seven times in the head.

Esparza was handcuffed, barefoot and six months pregnant.

Montoya’s attorney in March utilized SAPD body-camera footage to show that Esparza “mule kicked” Montoya repeatedly during an attempted drug search.

“She was screaming in my face and she was very close. And I was afraid I was going to either get spit on or head-butted,” Montoya testified in March, when asked why she used her open palm to push Esparza’s head to the side while trying to buckle her into an SAPD patrol vehicle.

“They were compliance strikes to get her to stop kicking me and to follow my instructions,” testified Montoya, who described the strikes as “rabbit punches” and not full-on haymakers because she was not putting her weight behind them.

Montoya, whose discipline paperwork stated she left a handcuffed and barefoot Esparza on the ground in heavy rain for 26 minutes, remained on patrol after the incident until being told of the proposed indefinite suspension nearly six months later.

Her attorney argued during the arbitration that Montoya had been subjected to disparate treatment by the department, pointing to 17 other SAPD officers who were suspended, but not terminated, after the department determined they did not properly care for people in their custody.

City Attorney Andy Segovia released the following statement Wednesday:

“We are disappointed with the arbitrator’s decision to overturn the Chief’s decision to terminate this officer. The City clearly established that the Officer’s conduct was not in keeping with the standards established by SAPD. The arbitrator simply decided the discipline was excessive when compared to other incidents. It’s important to note that this arbitration was heard under the previous Collective Bargaining Agreement. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement places proper weight to the Chief’s discipline decisions and limits the arbitrator’s subjective determination that the imposed discipline was excessive.”

A source said Montoya returned to work Wednesday.

About the Author:

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.