Recent death of inmate shows lack of transparency in BCSO video release policy

Bexar County Sheriff’s Office’s current critical incident video release policy went into effect August 26, 2022.

SAN ANTONIO – Like many large law enforcement agencies in Texas, the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office has a policy in place to release videos following what they define as critical incidents.

BCSO defines those in their policy as “deputy-involved shootings, uses of force, and in-custody deaths.”

Confrontation at Commissioners Court

At the Oct. 24 Commissioners Court meeting, Irene Mora signed up to speak about the death of her brother, Emmanuel.

“My family has been waiting for 58 days for body camera footage to be released. That’s 58 days living in anguish and discomfort,” Mora said, speaking to the commissioners.

It’s been more than two months and Mora still doesn’t have a full account of what happened to Emmanuel.

The 37-year-old died on Aug. 27, less than two hours after being brought to the Bexar County Justice Intake and Assessment Annex on a drug warrant.

“Release the footage related to my brother, Emmanuel Mora, and any person who has died in Bexar County Sheriff’s Office custody this year,” Mora said to commissioners.

Her demands at the latest county Commissioners Court meeting prompted questions from at least one commissioner.

“Larry, when we passed that footage needs to be released to the families within 10 days, and then we hear things like this, how does that -- how do we justify that?” Rebeca Clay-Flores, commissioner for Precinct 1, asked.

“Commissioner, I do want to caution the court about deliberating about this issue. But the court has the -- this was a negotiation, but the sheriff is an elected official so there is that, so I would caution about any further deliberation,” Larry Roberson, the chief of the Civil Division in Bexar County, responded to Commissioner Flores.

Critical incident video release policy

On Feb. 8, 2022, Sheriff Javier Salazar agreed to adopt the 10-day body-worn camera critical incident release policy. According to the policy itself, it went into effect on Aug. 26, 2022.

In exchange for this policy being enacted, the county commissioners agreed to give BCSO an additional $3.1 million and extended the county’s contract with weapons and technology company Axon by another two years.

Axon provides BCSO’s body-worn cameras.

The money and contract extension was in addition to an already existing five-year contract for $6.4 million.

“I don’t think the policy has been written very clearly in order to establish any type of mandates or enforcement,” Bexar County Judge Peter Sakai said.

Sakai agreed to speak about the policy generally but not specifics about Mora’s case.

Judge Sakai said there is a state law that applies directly to the release of body-worn camera video.

“It is up to the sheriff to decide whether this evidence is to be released or is to be considered confidential or is to be considered part of an ongoing law enforcement investigation,” Sakai said.

The way BCSO’s policy is written now, there’s a threat of withholding funding if the policy is not followed. Sakai said state law prohibits that.

“There’s no real accountability with it. So what’s the point?” reporter Leigh Waldman asked.

“Well, you’re spot on. That means the Legislature needs to address this issue,” Sakai responded.

Ananda Tomas with ACT4SA, a law enforcement watchdog organization, agrees.

“We need to implement laws at the state level, and we need you to stand with the family and show up with them right now as they’re calling for justice,” said Tomas, the executive director and founder of ACT4SA.

KSAT Investigates checked with the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office, and Mora’s cause of death still hasn’t been determined. They explained this is an open investigation.

Mora’s family was shown the video of his death by a representative of BCSO’s record division. They subsequently signed a form to keep the video private despite an outcry previously to release it publicly.

About the Authors

Leigh Waldman is an investigative reporter at KSAT 12. She joined the station in 2021. Leigh comes to San Antonio from the Midwest after spending time at a station in Omaha, NE. After two winters there, she knew it was time to come home to Texas. When Leigh is not at work, she enjoys eating, playing with her dogs and spending time with family.

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