SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio Police Chief William McManus has asked the FBI to conduct an independent review of two police encounters after he indefinitely suspended four officers within weeks of each other.
Officers Michael Brewer and Andre Vargas were fired in late June for an arrest they made in November 2019, while officers Thomas Villarreal and Carlos Castro were fired in early July for an incident on Jan. 16, according to records obtained by KSAT through open information laws.
McManus said the officers’ actions in the two unrelated incidents were “indefensible.”
“Excessive use of force will not be tolerated within this department. The actions that these four officers showed on two separate incidents are indefensible and do not align with our use of force policy, de-escalation tactics, and our guiding principles,” McManus said. “SAPD will continue to hold its officers to the highest standard of conduct and impose discipline when warranted in order to maintain the trust and confidence of our community. I have asked the FBI to conduct an independent review of these two incidents and we are fully cooperating and providing all the information that we have to them.”
At least two of the officers have appealed the indefinite suspension, records showed.
Meanwhile, FBI officials said they’re ready to investigate any potential violations they find.
“We are aware of the two separate incidents, occurring in November of 2019 and January 2020, which resulted in the suspension of four officers with San Antonio Police Department,” said Special Agent Michelle Lee, Public Information Officer for the San Antonio branch of the FBI. “We are in regular contact with local authorities. If in the course of the local investigations, information comes to light of potential federal violations, the FBI is prepared to investigate.”
Records: Officer placed knee on handcuffed suspect’s neck
On Nov. 26, 2019, police were called about a disturbance in a parking lot near Commercial Avenue and Grosvenor Boulevard.
A witness told police she saw Matthew Anthony Garza, 29, argue with a woman over their child, according to preliminary information provided by the police department. The department declined to release the official police report because it involved a minor, officials said.
The woman told police Garza followed her and the child when she tried walking away from him. She described Garza as someone who “gets mad easily,” according to preliminary information. The woman and child were able to get into a witness’ car and waited in the car until police arrived.
As Brewer and Vargas made the scene, they said Garza was in his car and “started to accelerate,” leading officers to believe he was going to leave the scene.
One of the officers blocked Garza with his car and drew his firearm, ordering Garza out of the vehicle and onto the ground, according to the preliminary information. The officers said Garza approached them with his hands raised “and did not comply with orders.”
When Vargas ordered Garza to place his hands behind his back he “released the taser trigger,” according to the police department.
In his firing document, investigators said Vargas’ use of the taser “far exceeded the reasonable force necessary to accomplish the arrest.”
Garza told police he “needed to catch his breath” after the taser was deployed on him and he was taken into custody. Police said while officers searched him, Garza “continued to act aggressively and began yelling again,” according to the preliminary information.
“To prevent (Garza) from kicking or resisting, (Garza) was pushed up against the patrol car” so officers could search the car, police said. The officers found a substance they believed to be marijuana, along with a marijuana grinder and a smoking pipe.
Garza was cleared medically before being taken to jail on suspicion of evading arrest.
In January, Garza filed a complaint about his arrest. After reviewing the incident, investigators found that Vargas used unnecessary force by lifting Garza off the ground by his arms even though he was already handcuffed, according to the disciplinary record.
Brewer’s body-worn camera shows him “subjecting Mr. Garza to unnecessary physical violence when Officer Brewer laced his left knee on Mr Garza’s head and neck, who was handcuffed and appeared to provide no resistance.”
It’s unclear whether either officer is appealing the indefinite suspension.
Garza was indicted by a grand jury on April 20 on a charge of evading arrest, and the case is awaiting trial, according to Bexar County court records.
Officers kick suspect’s door in before beating him, records show
On Jan. 16, officers pulled over a car that was traveling 48 mph on North Walters Street, where the speed limit is 35 mph. The car also failed to signal prior to turning onto Lamar Street, police said.
Officers activated their emergency lights and approached the car, which had pulled into a driveway.
Eric Wilson, the driver of the car, got out of the vehicle and walked away from police, who noted that the vehicle was emitting a strong odor of marijuana, according to the police report.
Another man, Eddie Wilson, came out of the house to talk to the officers, according to the report. Officers told Eddie Wilson to stay away and warned him of hindering their arrest of Eric Wilson, according to the report.
As officers took Eddie Wilson into custody, Eric Wilson walked into the home and closed the door on the police officers, according to the police report.
Villarreal and Castro kicked in the door “in an attempt to force their way in,” according to the suspension document. The officers “entered a private residence without consent, without a warrant and without exigent circumstances for the purposes of effecting a misdemeanor arrest,” administrators wrote.
The officers said when they got inside the home, Eric Wilson continued to resist arrest, so Villarreal unsuccessfully deployed his taser, according to the police report.
As officers struggled with the suspect, Castro and Villarreal feared Eric Wilson might reach for a weapon, so they punched him repeatedly until they were able to handcuff him. Both officers had Eric Wilson’s blood on their bodies, according to the police report. Villarreal sustained a bruised hand from the incident.
In Eric Wilson’s mugshot, injuries are visible around both of his eyes.
Officers found 6.5 grams of ecstasy and 30 grams of marijuana in the home, according to the police report. Eric Wilson was arrested for possession of a controlled substance, resisting arrest and possession of marijuana. The arrests do not currently appear on Bexar County court records.
Eric Wilson has a long criminal history in Bexar County, dating back to 1988, according to court records, including a murder conviction in 1988. At the time of his arrest, Wilson was on federal probation, according to the police report.