SAN ANTONIO – An Edgewood Independent School District police officer seen on cell phone camera footage kneeling on the neck of a teenager late last year had previously been dismissed by the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office for excessive force, personnel records obtained by KSAT Investigates show.
District officials in recent weeks have defended both Officer Jonathon Garza’s actions during the Nov. 11 incident off campus near Kennedy High School and his hiring.
Video obtained by KSAT investigates showed Garza using the controversial knee-on-neck restraint as he and another officer attempted to put handcuffs on a teen who was involved in a fight in a parking lot in the 1800 block of S. General McMullen Dr.
The footage, which includes audio that cuts in and out, showed Garza and the teen struggling in a grassy area near a sidewalk, before the teen assaulted the officer, punching him multiple times as a second Edgewood ISD officer arrived on the scene.
Garza was able to gain control of the teen and flip him onto his stomach. Garza then placed his knee on the teen’s neck and pulled out his handcuffs.
The footage ended with Garza’s knee on the teen’s neck and with the officer still in the process of placing handcuffs on him.
Garza’s knee was placed on the teen’s neck for at least 10 seconds, the footage shows.
The district’s non-lethal use of force policy, obtained by KSAT Investigates through an open records request, makes no mention of the controversial knee-on-neck restraint.
A district spokeswoman confirmed via email earlier this month that an internal investigation determined there were no policy violations.
“It was very obvious that the kid was in an extreme emotional state. And I’m not saying that there wasn’t like some accountability that needed to happen with the child, but also he’s a child,” said Six Gawd, advocacy director for police accountability group ACT 4 SA.
Six Gawd added that accountability and knowledge can give people the desire to make different choices in the future.
“We’re very quick and general to resort to this punishment mind frame instead of actually addressing the cause. These two kids were fighting. What were they even fighting about? I’m sure the cop doesn’t even know,” said Six Gawd.
BCSO excessive force incident
In August 2020, while working as a Special Emergency Response Team (SERT) deputy in the south tower of the Bexar County Jail, Garza repeatedly ordered a female inmate to stop talking to a fellow inmate in the intake area.
After the woman began to resist Garza and a second deputy as Garza attempted to handcuff her, he pulled her to the ground by her right arm, causing her face to hit the floor, BCSO records show.
The woman suffered a broken tooth and a cut lip, the records show.
The incident, which BCSO officials labeled as excessive force, led to Garza being placed on administrative leave the following day.
He was eventually handed an order of dismissal in early July 2021.
Sheriff Javier Salazar upheld Garza’s dismissal in August 2021, following a grievance hearing on his case, records show.
Additionally, Garza was given a dishonorable discharge on his Texas Commission on Law Enforcement paperwork.
A BCSO spokeswoman said during arbitration Garza asked for the dismissal to be rescinded. His county separation paperwork was updated to show he resigned from the agency in early August 2021, records show.
Following arbitration, Garza was awarded more than $14,800 in back pay, covering a portion of the time he was on administrative leave, and his separation paperwork was changed to a general discharge.
Garza agreed to a “voluntary separation” from the agency, the paperwork states.
He is not eligible to be rehired by BCSO, a sheriff’s spokeswoman confirmed this month.
BCSO filed criminal charges against Garza for assault causing bodily injury and official oppression, but the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office rejected the cases in early 2021.
“After a review of the cases and the applicable law; it was deemed that the evidence was insufficient to negate and overcome the justifications to use force in a correctional facility beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore the cases were rejected, and the charges dismissed,” a DA spokeswoman said via email this month.
Garza’s union attorney did not respond to multiple emails seeking clarification on his client’s separation from BCSO.
Edgewood ISD officials released a portion of Garza’s personnel file, showing he was hired by the district’s police department on November 1, 2021, less than three months after his official separation from BCSO.
In a written statement, an Edgewood ISD spokeswoman said the district was aware of Garza’s previous incident with BCSO.
“The officer mentioned an ongoing situation with his previous employer that had a final outcome of a general discharge where the termination was rescinded, and he was issued backpay. It is our understanding that the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office performed a thorough review of the facts of the case and the law that applies. The case was rejected by the District Attorney’s Office and the case was dismissed. In November 2021, the Officer was hired in Edgewood ISD. Edgewood ISD takes pride in our hiring processes and strives to employ top candidates that will follow the district’s mission and vision,” said Edgewood ISD Chief of Staff and Communication Olga Moucoulis.
Six Gawd said the incident is larger than one department and one officer’s discipline history.
“I think that’s the real concern is this is not the first time and it’s not the last time. Why are we so okay with this as a community?” said Six Gawd.
Warning: Video contains images that may be disturbing to some viewers.