SAN ANTONIO – Editor’s note: This story is part of KSAT Defenders’ “Broken Blue” investigative series digging into misconduct and disciplinary procedure in the San Antonio Police Department. The series will culminate with a one-hour investigative special airing on Jan. 12 at 9 p.m. For more reporting on this topic, click here.
There are two basic requirements for police officers: enforcing the law and being truthful. But for former San Antonio police officer Matthew Martin, it seems that was just a part-time rule.
On April 7, 2015, Martin and his partner conducted what appeared to be a routine traffic stop for an expired registration.
The stop and what happened after was caught on video by Martin's patrol car camera system.
Prior to stopping the vehicle, Martin and his partner witnessed the male driver receive what was described as several small packages, possibly drugs.
The officer asked the driver to get out of the car and he was placed in handcuffs while the vehicle was searched.
"I'm going to have to pull him out and search him a little better because I asked him three times and he .. oh there it is," Martin was heard saying in the video.
Martin found two baggies of marijuana near the center console. The female passenger at first claimed she had no idea about the pot the officers discovered, but when Martin called for a female officer to search the passenger, she made a surprising admission.
“I have weed. If I pull it out for you now and we can just get it over with,” the woman said in the recording. “Nobody has to come, I don’t want to waste your time no more.”
Then, things took a turn.
First, Martin muted his microphone and had a conversation with his partner. Then, he came back to the passenger with a plan.
“See that red flashing light, OK? Everything is being recorded because we’re working narcotics interdiction,” Martin said in the video recording. “So we’re just going to say we found it all in the same spot, and that’s that, OK? This is what I’m going to do, OK? Take the cuffs off, take it out, OK, (inaudible) you go on your way.”
After removing the handcuffs from the woman Martin is heard telling her what to do with the bag of marijuana she had hidden in her bra: “Just take it out and put it on the seat. OK,” Martin said.
The next step involved explaining the plan to the driver, who was now handcuffed in the back of the patrol car.
“Me and this guy never arrest for weed, ever, but we’re in a camera car and we’re doubled up and we’re working narcotics interdiction, OK,” Martin said in the video. “So we let her slide, 'cause I know she had some on her, alright? But all these other bags we got to take you.”
The woman was allowed to drive off while Martin and his partner took the driver to jail, where he was charged with possessing all 3 bags of marijuana.
While Martin may have thought that was the end of the story, his actions would come back to haunt him.
Investigators at the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office saw what transpired on the video while reviewing the case. Shocked by Martin’s actions, they called Internal Affairs at SAPD.
After interviewing Martin, the department noted it in its investigation that he repeatedly lied about the events of that night.
The investigators determined Matthew Martin should be fired and a recommendation went to the DA’s office to charge him with tampering with evidence.
But the District Attorney at the time, Nico LaHood, ultimately rejected the case because he felt Martin was a good cop who made a bad decision.
"It was a decision based off, what I felt at the time, was the totality of the circumstances," LaHood said in an interview with KSAT's Tim Gerber. "I stand by that decision."
When Martin appealed his termination, the arbitrator came to a similar conclusion: saying in his ruling while Martin lied in his police report on the incident, "his actions seemed sympathetic and he didn't personally benefit by letting the passenger go."
The drug possession case against the driver was dropped and the arbitrator ruled that the indefinite suspension should be reduced to one year.
That penalty reduction is part of a larger trend at SAPD. Since 2010, officers have been reinstated after indefinite suspensions 27 times, while only 13 terminations have been upheld, records show. But in 2005, four of seven terminations were upheld.
When asked about the Martin case, national police expert and former Seattle Chief of Police Norm Stamper, said rulings like these are a lose-lose situation.
"It's just vital that we understand the harm being done every time one of those disciplinary actions is overturned," Stamper said.
Stamper believes when a questionable officer is returned to the force, it hurts the department’s order and discipline and damages the community’s trust.
"It really creates havoc. It reduces consistency and reliability to virtually nothing," Stamper said.
Months after Martin returned to duty, the KSAT Defenders were sent an anonymous letter claiming Martin had made several false claims during his arbitration, which were cited in the arbitrator’s ruling.
Martin falsely claimed that he “spent four years honorably serving in the United States Marine Corp.” including a tour in Afghanistan. In reality, his military records indicate that he never completed boot camp.
He also claimed he joined the U.S. Secret Service “as a highly trained member” on the elite, presidential protective detail and graduated from Ohio State University.
It turns out, none of the claims were true. Once again, Martin had been caught in a lie.
The department opened a new internal affairs investigation and once again, investigators sent new charges to District Attorney LaHood, this time for perjury.
Like the previous instance, the charges were rejected and district attorney LaHood said he wasn’t happy with the decision, claiming that it was made by someone else on his staff without his knowledge.
Further investigation revealed that Martin avoided court by agreeing to resign from the force.
“There’s a top person in our office who made that decision and I’m dealing with that person myself,” LaHood said during an interview about the case just weeks before he left office. “The right decision in the end, in my opinion, did not happen. The right decision would have been holding him fully accountable of lying twice.”