SAN ANTONIO – On Aug. 25, Mathias Ometu said his life “changed forever” after San Antonio police stopped him while he was jogging during a search for a family violence suspect.
Ometu was detained while he was out exercising as officers searched for Darren Smith Jr., who was accused of choking and assaulting his ex-wife.
After refusing to provide his information, a physical altercation ensued between officers and Ometu as they attempted to force him in the police car, which was caught on camera by bystanders. Although Ometu was not the suspect police were searching for, he was still jailed and accused of assaulting two police officers during the struggle.
Following the release of body camera footage in the case, which has made national headlines, criminal charges against Ometu were dropped at the request of the officers who arrested him and Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales.
As Ometu, the police department and the community move forward from the incident, questions remain about what happened to him:
Why did police keep Ometu detained despite differences in the suspect description?
In defense of the officers’ conduct, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said that officers acted appropriately based on the suspect description they were given. In a memo, McManus wrote that the family violence victim described her ex-husband as a “Black male wearing a green shirt, medium build with a scruffy beard.” Ometu was jogging in the area with a green shirt on.
But in body camera footage, when officers asked the woman if her ex-husband, Darren Smith Jr., had a beard, she said, “kind of.” Based on that response, the officer tells dispatchers that the suspect is a Black man with a “full, black beard.” The officers had seen Ometu before talking to the victim, according to the video, leading them to quickly detain him.
When officers asked her further clarification on the facial hair after detaining Ometu, she told them Smith had “a little scruff on his chin.”
Ometu did not identify himself, so the officers began comparing his picture to a picture of Smith they had on file, which would show obvious differences between the two men. Smith had an active warrant in an unrelated robbery, which he was jailed on last week.
Following the struggle to get Ometu into the car, which led to the charges officers filed against him, officers were finally able to get the victim to the scene to identify whether Ometu was the man she accused of injuring her.
After she repeatedly told them Ometu was not her ex-husband, officers still continued to wonder if he was.
“I mean, his nostrils kind of looked the same on the mugshot,” the detaining officer said.
Officers tried calling a phone number they had for Smith to see if Ometu’s phone would ring. It didn’t.
“Maybe he has more than one phone, you know,” the officer said. “This is too much of a coincidence for this not to be the guy.”
The nearly two-hour incident would end with Ometu jailed on charges of assaulting a peace officer.
McManus has previously argued that the incident would have been resolved “within minutes” if Ometu had identified himself.
Was Ometu appointed a dead attorney?
Following his arrest, the Express-News reported that court records showed Ometu’s attorney was Rudolph T. Monsalvo, who died in 2011. In a news conference on Wednesday, Ometu’s attorneys echoed the same point.
Ana Amici, the county’s general administrative counsel, disputed that.
“As you can imagine, I was very concerned about the report that was made about an inmate being appointed an attorney who was deceased,” Amici said Thursday. “Upon review, Bexar County Information Technology has indicated that the supposed appointment of a deceased attorney was never made. I believe the information that was reported is inaccurate.”
Amici provided KSAT with the technological report, which showed that Monsalvo was not assigned to the case. Amici said Monsalvo had represented a client in 1998 with the same case number that was assigned to Ometu. The case numbers are recycled every 20 years, she said.
Still, Ometu was arrested on Aug. 25, and defense attorney Adam Kobs said he wasn’t assigned to the case until Aug. 27 at 4:16 p.m. Kobs said it is the first time he’s ever seen a two-day delay in a court appointment.
Bexar County officials did not respond to questions about the lag on Friday.
Court records still have Ometu’s first name misspelled.
Why wasn’t Ometu, who has no criminal record, given a personal recognizance bond?
Ometu, an insurance adjuster at USAA, has no criminal record. As long as he did not pose a threat or a flight risk, a judge would have the discretion to let Ometu free without posting bail, provided he makes his court dates.
“I’m not sure why he was not getting a PR bond is the simple answer,” Kobs said Wednesday. “I can tell you that Joe Gonzales (Bexar County District Attorney) was getting ready to get on the phone when this came to light, late Thursday, and was getting ready to request the PR bond for Mr. Ometu. But again, a lot of mistakes were made.”
Ometu was struggling to get in touch with anyone while he was in jail and his bail was set at $20,000, records showed. He “felt violated” by his time in jail, he said.
“I experienced true darkness,” he said.
What will happen next?
Within minutes of the public release of body camera footage from Ometu’s arrest, charges were dropped against him “in the interest of justice,” according to his court records.
“Both officers felt it important to use this incident as an opportunity for unity and understanding at a time when it is most needed,” McManus said. “It is clear that pursuing charges against Mr. Ometu would not bring us closer to our goals of building trust and creating partnerships with our community.”
The chief said the department has extended an open invitation with Ometu to “start a dialogue on policing.”
During his news conference, Ometu called for a further review of what happened to him.
“I was treated unfairly, and that has to be addressed,” Ometu said. “I was physically, emotionally and mentally harmed, and that has to be addressed.”
Ometu’s civil attorney, Tess House, said Wednesday they are still planning their next move.
“We are entertaining all that is available to us and we will release that information as soon as that is done,” House said.