Civil rights attorney disputes BCSO’s claim that combat veteran was suicidal

Lee Merritt meets with Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales to demand justice in shooting death of Damian Daniels by BCSO deputy

Attorneys for the family of Damian Daniels met Tuesday with Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales to demand justice over the shooting death of combat veteran Damian Daniels by a Bexar County Sheriff’s Office deputy.

SAN ANTONIO – Attorneys for the family of Damian Daniels met Tuesday with Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales to demand justice over the shooting death of combat veteran Damian Daniels by a Bexar County Sheriff’s Office deputy.

National civil rights attorney Lee Merritt, associate attorney Blerim Elmazi and members of Daniels’ family met with Gonzales and his staff.

During the meeting, which lasted about 90 minutes, Daniel’s family told the DA’s Office that they first called the American Red Cross because they didn’t think a response from law enforcement was the right way to handle the situation.

Daniels, 31, was shot and killed one week ago by a deputy who responded to a call for a mental health check in the 11000 block of Liberty Field.

Merritt said the family takes issue with BCSO’s assertion that the deputy’s response was appropriate.

“Those officers were called out by the family of Damien Daniels to get him help. A great job would have been to get him help not to kill him,” Merritt said during a news conference held after the meeting.

The family also claimed that Daniels was not suicidal and that the incident was the first mental health episode he had suffered.

“He was not by any means suicidal. He was suffering a mental health crisis. He was paranoid and he needed help,” Merritt said.

Merritt also confirmed that BCSO officials reached out to the Daniel’s family after he was killed, but the family declined meeting with law enforcement. He also wants the name of the deputy who killed Daniels made public and the body cam footage of the incident released.

In a statement, Gonzales said BCSO is still investigating the shooting and has not filed its case with his office for review. Once the case is reviewed, it will be presented to a Bexar County Grand jury to determine if an indictment is warranted.

“Mental health is a crisis that needs to be addressed by people outside the criminal justice system. Today’s meeting is the beginning of a dialogue between our office and the people representing the family of Mr. Daniels. We understand the concerns they have about the events leading up to the death of Mr. Daniels. We hope to be able to provide answers to the family of Mr. Daniels once we have received and reviewed this shooting and have presented it to a Grand Jury,” Gonzales said.

Daniel’s death has sparked demonstrations outside the Bexar County Jail and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff has directed his county manager to look into policy changes.

In a statement released Friday, Wolff said, “It may have been better to send crises mental health professionals rather than deputies with guns and uniforms.”

The day after the shooting, Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said he was confident deputies did everything in their power to avoid using deadly force before one opened fire on Daniels following a two-minute struggle.

On Wednesday, Salazar released photos of the deputies’ encounter with Daniels, a combat veteran who had been feeling suicidal, “in the interest of transparency and timeliness,” he said.

“I want to release some of these still photos just to show the public what it was our deputies ... were confronted with,” Salazar said. “And, quite frankly, I’m still really quite in awe of the restraint, the level of restraint, shown by our deputies.”

One photo, taken from a deputy’s body camera, shows Daniels with a bulge coming from his shirt that was later determined to be his gun.

Damian Lamar Daniels was armed when deputies encountered him outside his home on August 25, 2020, according to Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar. (KSAT)

Daniels was erratic and grabbed a deputy’s stun gun, Salazar said.

Later on, Salazar says Daniels reached for his own gun, and deputies struggled with Daniels over the gun for more than two minutes before a deputy shot Daniels twice in the torso. Photos showed part of that struggle.

Damian Lamar Daniels was fatally shot by a Bexar County deputy following a two-minute struggle. (KSAT)

After the shooting, deputies recovered a gun and the knife from Daniels.

Daniels, who deputies had encountered multiple times in the past few days to check on his welfare, was grieving after the death of a sibling and a parent, Salazar said.

“I’m not happy with the outcome of it. I certainly wish that Mr. Daniels had not lost his life in this incident,” Salazar said.

Two veteran deputies and a trainee deputy have are being placed on administrative leave before being placed on administrative duty as standard procedure. Two separate investigations are currently underway.

The trainee, who only recently began working on patrol, has been with the agency for 16 years. The other deputies were a 23-year veteran with nine years of patrolling experience and a 14-year veteran with as much patrolling experience.

About the Authors:

Paul Venema is a courthouse reporter for KSAT with more than 25 years experience in the role.