Ex-BCSO deputy convicted in tampering case says agency used his own words against him

Michael Fernandez convicted in 2019, despite correcting report for altercation with inmate

SAN ANTONIO – It’s been nearly five years since former Bexar County Sheriff’s Office deputy Michael Fernandez was convicted of misdemeanor tampering with a governmental record.

Despite a guilty sentence that came with no jail time and a short stint of community supervision, Fernandez told KSAT Investigates the stigma of having a criminal record has taken a toll on his mental health.

The ex-deputy told KSAT he has spent $36,000, to date, for attorney fees for his original 2019 trial and his subsequent appeals, all of which have been unsuccessful.

“This is all frivolous stuff”

In December 2017, Fernandez was indicted by a Bexar County grand jury for an altercation with an inmate that occurred 18 months earlier.

Fernandez, who was charged with official oppression, violation of the civil rights of a person in custody, assault causing bodily injury and tampering with a governmental record, did not seem all that concerned with the charges after posting bond at the Central Magistrate’s Office.

“This is all frivolous stuff. I’ll have my court date,” Fernandez told KSAT reporter Dillon Collier before getting into the back of a vehicle.

Michael Fernandez leaves the Central Magistrate's Office after being arrested in December 2017. (KSAT)

In June 2016, while working as a detention officer for BCSO’s Special Emergency Response Team (SERT), Fernandez took inmate Gilbert Ramos to the ground.

Fernandez, shortly after the incident, wrote in a facility incident report that a standing Ramos refused multiple orders to sit down while pacing in the booking area.

“I just remember telling him, ‘Have a seat.’ And he said, ‘f--- you, I’ll whoop your a--.’ And that’s kind of like a direct threat. So that’s when I got up and walked towards him. I was kind of always trained to act quick. Don’t wait. If something’s in your gut, act,” Fernandez told KSAT during a recent interview at his home.

Jail surveillance footage obtained by KSAT through a public records request shows Fernandez get up and approach someone off-screen before the top portion of Ramos’ body appears on the ground.

Footage of the aftermath of the incident, recorded by Fernandez, shows Ramos being helped to his feet before being walked to a medical unit to get checked out.

“That was a stupid move, man. I’m going to file charges on you, you know that right? Yeah. Stupid move,” said Ramos, whose left cheek was already showing signs of swelling.

As he promised, Ramos did file a formal complaint shortly after being released from jail, claiming that Fernandez grabbed him while he was seated, threw him to the ground, punched him in the face five to six times and used his knee to strike Ramos’ side two to three times, court records show.

Inmate Gilbert Ramos complained that he was seated when Fernandez grabbed him and took him to the ground. (KSAT)

Ramos had a bruised and swollen left cheek and a bruise above his left eyebrow, photos taken while he filed a complaint show.

A fellow detention officer interviewed by BCSO’s criminal investigations division in early July 2016 said that he saw Fernandez and Ramos on the ground “scuffling” but had not witnessed their initial interaction, a taped recording of the interview shows.

“No, he was not complying. He was very resistant,” said the deputy, when asked if Ramos was complying with commands.

Fernandez that same week was called in and questioned about discrepancies between the video and his incident report.

He later provided a three-page Garrity statement in which he noted that his initial facility incident report was incorrect and that Ramos was actually seated when he made physical contact with him.

“I said, ‘What is this for?’ He said, ‘This is so you don’t incriminate yourself, so you’re protected, sheriff’s office is protected,’” said Fernandez, who claims he wrote the statement after being allowed to review video of the incident.

Fernandez submitted a Garrity statement in July 2016, correcting his initial facility incident report. (KSAT)

Fernandez told KSAT he was demoted from SERT after the incident, but continued working for BCSO and had even completed his peace officer training courses.

“I worked for the sheriff’s office for almost two years after this incident happened,” said Fernandez, who confirmed he was unaware the case had even been forwarded to the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office for criminal review.

Ramos did not respond to a phone call or email seeking comment for this story.

Three acquittals, one conviction

Fernandez, who was terminated after his indictment, confirmed to KSAT that he did not testify on his own behalf during his March 2019 trial.

A jury that month acquitted him of the first three charges but found him guilty of tampering with a governmental record, a misdemeanor.

He told KSAT investigators took issue with him saying he had inadvertently struck Ramos on the way down to the ground, pointing out that a prosecutor reiterated that Fernandez had repeatedly punched the inmate.

“On the video, you don’t see any striking,” said Fernandez.

None of the five videos provided to KSAT following a public records request show Fernandez punching Ramos.

Fernandez said he was essentially convicted for making a misstatement on a written report that he had amended within a few weeks.

“Let’s just say I saw the video. I saw it, there it is and I go and write that (Ramos was seated). That’s tampering with a government record. Wait a minute, guys. I fixed that already,” said Fernandez.

BCSO officials declined to make Sheriff Javier Salazar available for an interview for this story.

In a statement, BCSO spokeswoman Sandra Pickell confirmed that Fernandez’s Garrity statement, which corrected his facility incident report, was not used during the trial.

She referred other questions about the case to the DA’s office.

Fernandez said Salazar turned his back on a deputy who made a simple mistake in a report and took steps to quickly correct it.

“I feel like the sheriff’s like the pope. He’s untouchable. If you were to commit a crime, like who watches him?” asked Fernandez.

Fernandez told KSAT the state erroneously reported that he had been convicted of felony tampering, which caused him to miss out on job opportunities.

He said officials later chalked up the mistake to being a “clerical error.”

Fernandez said the tampering conviction also caused him to be barred from entering Canada for a wedding about a year ago.

“I worked really hard to get to that position and it just went all away,” said Fernandez.

Appeals denied

After his conviction, Fernandez filed an appeal.

In it, he challenged whether the facility incident report is actually a government record and whether he knowingly made a false entry on the report.

The April 2020 ruling from the Fourth Court of Appeals, which affirmed the jury’s finding of guilt, noted that Fernandez made no mention in his report that he had repeatedly punched Ramos in the face.

A BCSO investigator had previously determined that Fernandez’s contact with Ramos’ face was not inadvertent, as the then-detention officer had claimed.

The appeals court determined that Fernandez’s facility incident report was a government record and that he knew his statement that he inadvertently struck Ramos in the face was false.

Fernandez’s petition for discretionary review was refused by the Court of Criminal Appeals.

His request for judicial clemency, which would have set aside his conviction, was denied in 2022.

In Fernandez’s most recent appeal, a writ of habeas corpus, he wrote that the jury in his trial was ill-advised, he was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment and that BCSO entrapped him, court records show.

Fernandez’s writ was dismissed last summer after the Court of Criminal Appeals determined it did not have jurisdiction since Fernandez was given community supervision on a misdemeanor conviction, court records show.

Read more reporting on the KSAT Investigates page.

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 award-winning 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.

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