SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio police dash camera video obtained by the KSAT 12 Defenders contradicts the department’s long-held narrative that a woman shot and killed by an SAPD sergeant in early 2019 had pointed a weapon at him prior to being shot.
The account of the March 2019 shooting of Hannah Westall in the parking lot of a North Side shopping center is the third time since October 2018 that information provided by Chief William McManus about a fatal shooting involving his officers was later refuted by video or had to be corrected by McManus himself.
“Approached the woman, gave her some commands. She very slowly turned around, pulled the gun, and pointed it at the sergeant,” said McManus while briefing the media in the parking lot of the Huebner Commons on March 20, 2019.
Dash camera video of the shooting, however, shows Westall repeatedly being shot and the weapon falling behind her without it ever pointing at the officer.
The officer who fired at Westall, later identified as SAPD Sergeant David Perry, happened to be in the parking lot and assigned himself to the call after a dispatcher received a 911 call for a distraught woman with a possible machine gun tucked in her back waistline, SAPD records show.
A media advisory released by SAPD’s public information office two days after the fatal shooting included the same narrative about a weapon being raised and pointed at Perry, but acknowledged the weapon in Westall’s possession turned out to be a non-functional replica of a handheld machine gun.
“The replica is visually indistinguishable from a fully functional gun,” the media advisory stated.
Photos taken by SAPD personnel at the scene showed that the weapon carried by Westall, 26, was a replica Uzi BB gun.
SAPD officials declined to make McManus available for an interview for this story because of threatened litigation in the case.
An attorney representing Westall’s family attempted to settle the case earlier this year without a lawsuit being filed, but records obtained by the Defenders show in late June the city attorney’s office rejected the offer.
“While the incident is tragic, it appears that the officer’s actions were reasonable based on the available information,” wrote Deputy City Attorney Deborah Klein.
“I believe it’s spin to get the media attention off of SAPD. And if families don’t ask and people don’t ask questions, they’re not going to tell different. And they will work everything to continue with that narrative,” Westall’s mother, Marlo Ondrej, told the Defenders in her first public comments since her daughter’s death.
Ondrej, who waited until the fall of 2019 to hire an attorney, at first attempted to do her own investigation of Westall’s shooting after she said she was provided inaccurate information about her daughter’s injuries.
McManus, in his media briefing, stated that Westall was shot in the upper and lower torso but did not mention a gunshot wound to the back of Westall’s head.
Ondrej said a family member who viewed Westall’s body at a funeral home, prior to her burial, claimed the bullet wounds did not match what McManus said at the scene or what a detective had told the family a day after the shooting.
“And that’s when we realized the narrative was off and wrong and we were not being told the facts,” said Ondrej. “I did feel as a family I deserved the right to know what happened to my daughter and from everything I’ve been hearing and my own research and reaching out to different people, I was finding a whole different scenario that was given to me.”
The attorney hired by Westall’s family, Adam Cortez, said their preference was to avoid further press coverage and keep it a private matter, but that they felt compelled to release videos and documents handed over by SAPD after the city refused to address issues the family claims the shooting revealed or to “make amends” for Westall’s death.
“It’s not at all what happened. To say it’s a false narrative is awfully kind when you have video evidence that completely contradicts your statement. That’s not a false narrative. A false narrative is when you’re mistaken. That’s an outright lie and nothing is being done about it,” said Cortez, who added he believes he will have to eventually file a federal lawsuit against the department on the family’s behalf.
Near the end of McManus’ briefing, which remains on the department’s Facebook page, the chief was challenged by a KSAT reporter about whether Westall had actually pointed a weapon at Perry. McManus said, “I can’t tell you exactly what the sequence of events was, but I am told she reached her hand. I don’t know how far she got with it. That’s unknown.” The comment came about a minute before the end of the briefing and after some members of the assembled media had walked away.
The narrative that Westall pulled a firearm from her waistline and pointed it at Perry was also included in the department’s in-custody death report submitted to the Texas Attorney General’s Office.
The report was signed by McManus nine days after the shooting of Westall, long after the chief would have had access to the dash camera video recorded in Perry’s vehicle.
What we know about the shooting
Ondrej acknowledged that Westall had a history of mental illness.
Bexar County court records show several arrests in Westall’s past, mostly for drug possession, but none of the cases were for violent offenses.
On March 20, 2019, SAPD dispatchers received a 911 call around 5 p.m. for a report of woman walking at Huebner and Vance Jackson “with some big old sweat pants and like a machine gun in her back pants.”
The caller told dispatchers the woman, later identified as Westall, “looked all distraught” after walking into a corner store.
Ondrej said her daughter had a habit of carrying the non-functional replica of a gun to keep men from approaching her.
“She didn’t have a car and she was 5′2″, 95 pounds and she would walk to go get food and do different things. And she would be approached a lot by men. And she felt it was her safety and that when she wore it in the back of her pants that she wouldn’t be approached by guys,” said Ondrej.
Witnesses who interacted with Westall shortly before her death or saw her interaction with Perry have given conflicting accounts of her behavior that evening.
A husband and wife who were in the parking lot and told police they witnessed the shooting, claimed Westall was waving her arms around and appeared upset prior to Perry pulling up.
The couple, who asked that they not be identified, repeated the claim in a phone call with the Defenders last month.
A third witness questioned by SAPD after the shooting, however, told the Defenders via telephone last month that she did not see Westall waving her arms around.
A fourth witness, Vernon C. Hicks, told KSAT that Westall was shot shortly after the two spoke inside the Domino’s Pizza he was managing.
Hicks said the claim Westall was distraught prior to being shot was “incorrect."
“If she was belligerent, if you will, if she was like that, she wouldn’t have made it three steps into my store. I don’t tolerate any of that, whatsoever,” said Hicks, who told Westall to come back later after she asked if there was any leftover food she could have.
“She was very polite, very cordial for her age. When she came back I was going to offer her a job, but never got the chance,” said Hicks, who claimed he had offered jobs in the past to people who appeared to be “down on their luck.”
Hicks, like other people in the shopping center, noticed the weapon carried by Westall.
He said he quickly realized, however, that it could not be a real weapon or an actual extended ammunition clip.
“There’s no way that the pants she was wearing would have supported it,” said Hicks.
Perry, who, according to SAPD records, was leaving a donut shop in the same complex, backed out of his parking spot and made contact with Westall less than a minute after his SAPD vehicle began moving.
Perry, who was wearing a body-worn camera, did not activate it or the COBAN in his vehicle, according to City Attorney Andy Segovia.
There is no body-worn camera footage of the fatal incident.
“The city received a demand from Ms. Westall’s family’s attorney, who admits Ms. Westall represented she was carrying a weapon. Given the family’s demand, the city will refrain from further comment,” in an email statement sent by a city spokesperson July 8 attributed to Segovia.
The email confirmed the dash camera captured the incident without audio.
The dash camera footage shows Westall stop walking a second after Perry’s vehicle comes to a stop. She then takes a drag from a large vape pen. Six seconds later she raises her hands in the air, the footage shows.
Two seconds later, Westall turns to her right, and the weapon is seen on camera. Perry, in a sworn affidavit signed about four hours after the shooting, said Westall “bladed me and I saw a firearm in her rear waistband.”
The footage shows Westall reach for the gun with her right hand, but she is repeatedly shot without it coming up or pointing toward Perry.
Perry then circles behind Westall and kicks the weapon off-screen.
Westall was pronounced dead at the scene.
Her autopsy report indicates that she had seven distinct gunshot wounds in all, but that it was highly probable one bullet caused more than one injury in some instances.
Dash camera video captured by a person who was driving out of the shopping center shows Perry’s vehicle approach Westall.
While the fatal shooting happens off-screen, that camera captured what sounds like five gunshots.
Cortez said Perry’s actions are more disconcerting when the SAPD footage is zoomed in.
In Cortez’s demand letter sent to the city earlier this year, he said the footage shows Westall trying to explain that she is not in possession of a real weapon.
“You see her say ‘it’s a toy, it’s not real. Wait!' And then five shots: one, two, three, four, five, including the one as she’s falling that went through her head that killed her,” said Cortez.
Perry, at the time a 23-year veteran of SAPD, wrote in his official affidavit that Westall “put one of her hands behind her back and pulled the firearm from her waistband. I saw the firearm and her demeanor and it appeared as if she was going to shoot me.”
Perry added that he did not remember pulling out his duty weapon but did remember squeezing the trigger and shooting. He wrote that he did not remember Westall saying anything during the encounter.
Perry, according to court records, was arrested in March 2017 on a charge of misdemeanor family violence.
Records released after Perry’s arrest indicate that his then-wife told an SAPD investigator that Perry hit her arms and the back of her head while they were together in a motor vehicle.
The criminal case against Perry was dismissed in early 2018, court records show.
He is currently assigned to patrol at the SAPD North Substation, a city human resources official confirms.
City officials, so far, have refused to release to the Defenders a majority of the written records related to the case.
In a denial letter pertaining to the dash camera footage, an assistant city attorney said a previous ruling from the state attorney general allowed them to withhold it because the case did not result in a conviction or deferred adjudication.
After the Defenders pointed out that the dash-camera footage was already released to Cortez, the assistant city attorney released the footage to KSAT Friday afternoon.
A city spokesperson last month refused to say whether Perry was ever disciplined for failing to activate his vehicle’s COBAN or his body-worn camera, calling it part of the investigative file.
The Defenders examined every San Antonio fire and police civil service commission agenda from March 2019 to present, and could find no record of Perry ever being suspended for failing to activate his COBAN or body-worn cameras.
These agendas make public all SAPD and San Antonio Fire Department suspensions that are one day or longer.
Suspensions for failing to activate either camera are commonplace within SAPD.
Three officers received suspensions from mid-December 2019 to mid-January after failing to activate one or both of their cameras, SAPD records confirm.
SAPD rules require officers to activate their body-worn cameras while conducting official police activity and failing to do so is a policy violation, unless the officer can provide reasonable justification that it was unsafe, unrealistic or impractical to do so.
Officials from the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office, which has routinely confirmed information about whether a police officer has been cleared of criminal wrongdoing after shooting a suspect, did not respond to repeated requests from the Defenders over multiple weeks about the Perry case.
Cortez said Perry was cleared of criminal wrongdoing late last year, and pointed to Perry being back on patrol as an indication that there is no pending criminal case against him.
DA officials also did not respond to repeated requests from the Defenders to interview Chief of Litigation Christian Henricksen for this story.
Roundtree, Goodale, Westall
In October 2018, after an SAPD officer shot and killed someone inside a home in the 200 block of Roberts Street, McManus said the person killed was armed and a threat to the officer.
“The officer saw a weapon in one of the individuals’ waistbands and at some point thereafter, the officer ended up using deadly force on that individual,” McManus said at the scene.
The person killed, however, turned out to be unarmed 18-year-old Charles Roundtree Jr., who was sitting on a couch.
McManus, in a follow-up interview with KSAT said he was “purposely vague because we didn’t have all the facts,” before providing a correction that the person armed with a gun was shot by an officer, but that the bullet traveled through him and struck Roundtree, killing him.
The man who was armed, Davante Snowden, was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm but was acquitted at trial last summer.
A grand jury last year declined to indict the officer who shot and killed Roundtree.
In January, after an SAPD officer and federal law enforcement agent shot and killed Randy Goodale while he sat in a truck outside a home in the 4400 block of Stetson View, McManus said the officers opened fire after Goodale “started ramming into occupied police vehicles.”
Home surveillance video obtained by the Defenders, however, shows that Goodale’s vehicle didn’t move until after he was fired upon.
When asked by a reporter at the scene why police officers opened fire, McManus doubled down: “Well, he was ramming the cars, for one. And there were officers in the vehicles whose lives were being threatened by that.”
The footage, however, showed that Goodale’s truck remained in a driveway and only after officers finished shooting did it slowly move down the driveway and bump into one of the parked, unmarked police vehicles.
That vehicle appeared to be unoccupied.
The in-custody death report submitted to the state attorney general’s office after Goodale’s death included an updated narrative that the truck did not move until after the shooting had taken place.
“Two law enforcement officers fired their service weapons at the subject as he prepared to drive at the officers near the front of the stolen truck.”
An SAPD spokesperson at the time released the following statement about the chief’s comments:
“Chief McManus provided information at the scene as the investigation was just underway. As always, this is preliminary information and subject to change as the investigation unfolds. Surveillance videos are important, however, they don’t always provide the full scope of an officer’s perception. For example, there is no audio in the video you obtained so you cannot hear what the officers are experiencing. In addition, you cannot see what the suspect is doing so you do not know what the officers are perceiving.”
Ondrej, who is now raising Westall’s young daughter, said her daughter’s death and what has taken place since is an indication that outside agencies should handle the investigation when an SAPD officer shoots and kills someone.
“I would beg him to not ever do that to a family again. It was horrendous pain,” said Ondrej, when asked if she had a message for McManus. “Please just wait for the facts before you say that, because there’s families out there that are holding onto every word.”
Sunday afternoon, more than three weeks after the Defenders repeatedly reached out to the department’s public information office to interview McManus and just hours before the story was scheduled to air on television, the chief released the following written statement:
When I give information at a scene it is preliminary and subject to change as the incident is investigated. I always make that point very clear to the media. In this case what I was told at the scene is that the woman turned and pointed a gun at the Officer. The investigation, including review of video, confirms that she was reaching to pull out a gun she had visibly demonstrated to have in her possession. This was a terribly unfortunate incident. The officer’s actions were reviewed independently by the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office and determined to be justified.