San Antonio civil rights attorneys create referendum for police reform, citing custody deaths

106 people died in San Antonio Police custody over past decade, attorney claims

SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio Law Enforcement Accountability Project and the Coalition for Police Reform and Accountability said the collective bargaining agreement between the city and the San Antonio Police Department is flawed, partly because group members say 70% of police officers who are fired get their jobs back through arbitration.

Civil rights attorneys are now trying to create a referendum that will do away with the collective bargaining agreement altogether and bring forth major changes to the police department.

Civil rights attorney Edward Piña said over the past decade, 106 people have died in San Antonio police custody.

”And I don’t mean in jail. I don’t mean at a hospital. I mean in police custody at the point of arrest or in the vehicle,” Pina said.

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But San Antonio Police Officer Association President Mike Helle questions the numbers and their representation of possible police brutality.

”You’re inside your apartment. We get a call for shots fired. I knocked on the door. Boom. You kill yourself. That’s an in-custody death,” Helle said.

Pina mentioned the 2015 case of Norman Cooper and the 2013 case of Jesse Aguirre, both men who he said died after being handcuffed and had the weight of officers pressed on their necks or backs similar to George Floyd, who was killed in Minneapolis police custody.

”They kneel on your back. They’re pressing on the back of your head. Well, those things are going to kill you. You know, they know that,” Pina said.

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Helle said in every case of a custodial death involving SAPD, an intricate investigation is conducted, and so far no officer has been found culpable.

”Their perception might be that these are the causations of the person that passed away. But it’s not. They may not be the reality of why they passed away,” Helle said.

Helle said any officer found guilty of wrongdoing should held accountable.

Both Cooper’s and Aguirre’s cases are pending.

Pina said the current collective bargaining agreement is beyond reform, and that the entire SAPD must be reimagined.

He and other attorneys are working on a referendum to bring the changes forward.

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