SAN ANTONIO – A sergeant with the San Antonio Park Police Department avoided being suspended and instead received a written reprimand late last year after he admitted telling a racist joke while on duty, according to records obtained to the KSAT 12 Defenders.
Multiple officers, including an African American sergeant, were offended by the joke, internal affairs records show.
The officer who made the racist comments, Sergeant Michael Burns, is a former SAPD deputy chief who served under current Chief William McManus.
McManus has not responded to several requests for an interview for this story and SAPD officials have not said whether he was aware of the incident or the punishment received by Burns.
Burns responded to Travis Park last August after another officer broke up a disturbance between an African American man and a Hispanic man, records show.
Burns told the officer the incident reminded him of a joke, according to records.
Burns then asked, “Why can’t a Hispanic and a black have an interracial marriage?”
After the other officer asked “why,” Burns concluded the joke by saying, “their babies/kids would be too lazy to steal,” internal affairs records show.
The officer, who stated he was not offended by the joke, later retold it to the African American sergeant because Burns informed him the sergeant had heard him tell it and the joke had his approval.
The sergeant confronted Burns over the incident, records show.
“I have never been and never will be okay with a joke like that,” the sergeant wrote in a statement provided to Park Police internal affairs.
Records show a second officer reported the incident to both Human Resources and internal affairs, and at one point asked via email why nothing was being done about the comments.
Internal affairs completed its review of the incident late last September and in November Burns signed a written reprimand admitting that he showed poor judgment in sharing an inappropriate joke, records show.
“What made you think that this was okay?”
The Burns incident is being revealed publicly as protests in honor of George Floyd have entered their third week in San Antonio.
Floyd, a Houston-native, was killed in Minneapolis May 25 after a police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes while attempting to detain him for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill.
Floyd’s death has sparked nationwide protests and calls for reforming or even defunding police departments, including in San Antonio.
"What is going on with our city? asked activist Jourdyn “Jeaux” Parks as she reviewed records about the Burns incident.
“There should be a no-tolerance policy for something like that,” said Parks, who has had a continual presence at peaceful demonstrations around the city dating back to last month. “What made you think that this was okay?”
She said Burns should have been pulled from duty and remained off the streets until he completed racial sensitivity training and if his personnel file shows a history of this type of behavior, he should be terminated.
Records about Burns’ racist joke were provided to KSAT12 Defenders by a source who believed the information should be public.
Since the incident resulted in only a written reprimand and not a suspension, the department is not required to release it as part of a request for Burns’ personnel file.
Rules set forth in the local government code only require discipline records to be released if an incident results in removal, suspension, demotion or uncompensated duty.
“Ultimately, I think the biggest issues we deal with is a lack of trust with SAPD and the people. And if these kind of incidents can be swept under the rug, and we know about this one now because somebody leaked it to you, do we have any way to really get that information?” said Matthew Alonzo, another activist who has repeatedly taken part in the peaceful demonstrations.
“This shouldn’t be accepted.”
District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran last week suggested the police department begin using polygraph examinations to weed out recruits who have racist ideologies.
“This is exactly the type of behavior that we would want to root out,” Viagran told KSAT12 via telephone Friday after being briefed on the Burns incident.
“This shouldn’t be accepted. These are our public-facing jobs. They need to be building trust,” said Viagran.
The Defenders made several requests to interview San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg for this story.
A spokesperson for the mayor said late last week he would not be made available because Nirenberg hasn’t had time to review the details of this incident, but the mayor opposes racist language and behavior.
Last year, a San Antonio bike patrol officer was fired after his own body-worn camera captured footage of him using profanities and repeatedly saying a racial slur during the arrest of a young black man at Rivercenter Mall in July 2018.
Officer Tim Garcia was reinstated to the department by a third-party arbitrator last November and his termination was shortened to a 10-month suspension.
In San Antonio, police officers who were fired ultimately were granted reinstatement in 67.5% of cases in the last decade, according to data obtained by KSAT under public information law.
“Just as a member of the public, just as percentages, that just feels wrong. I don’t know what the right percentage is, but if it’s 67 percent, it means somebody is abusing the system,” said Alonzo.
Burns worked for SAPD from 1977 to 2011, when he retired at the rank of deputy chief, according to Human Resources records.
Burns was then hired by the Park Police division in November 2014, records show.