After pledging transparency, BCSO fights to block release of body cam video in shooting of Damian Daniels

Sheriff Javier Salazar called himself ‘a big proponent of transparency’ days after shooting

After pledging transparency, BCSO fights to block release of body cam video in shooting of Damien Daniels
After pledging transparency, BCSO fights to block release of body cam video in shooting of Damien Daniels

SAN ANTONIO – Weeks after Sheriff Javier Salazar pledged to be more transparent following a deputy’s fatal shooting of Damian Daniels, the sheriff’s office confirmed Wednesday it is seeking to withhold body camera footage of the combat veteran’s death.

In the aftermath of Daniels' death at the hands of a Bexar County sheriff’s deputy, Salazar said he planned to release “at least some video” of the incident. Salazar explained his reasoning — saying he is a “big proponent of transparency” — in a press conference on Aug. 28, two days after he released still photos showing snippets of the struggle between Daniels and three deputies.

I [released the photos] because I wanted to be more transparent. And the fact is, I’m leaning toward releasing some video later. I understand it may never be appropriate for me to release it all. Certainly, it’s a graphic video and I know that Mr. Daniels has a family out there. I don’t want — there’s some pretty graphic stuff on this on this video, I’ll leave it at that. I don’t want to hurt the case, I definitely don’t want to traumatize this family anymore than they’ve already been traumatized. But I also believe I’m a big proponent of — and y’all know that as a public information officer for several years, and now as the sheriff — I’m also a big proponent of transparency. I’m also a big proponent of public information. And so the public does have a right to know certain things about this case, but it’s a delicate balance, and so we’re trying to to balance all of that. So yeah, I do intend to try to release some video when it when it becomes appropriate without me aggravating the situation or hurting the case.

Sheriff Javier Salazar on Aug. 28

Editor’s note: The press conference below starts 7 minutes and 42 seconds into the video.

KSAT requested body camera footage of the fatal shooting on Aug. 31 under open records law. On Wednesday, 17 days after receiving the request, a Bexar County open records specialist responded, saying that due to the active investigation, they are seeking permission from the Texas Attorney General’s Office to withhold the video.

In Texas, law enforcement agencies are provided an exception to releasing public information when it could impact an active investigation, however, it is up to them on whether to use the exception or to release the footage. Some major Texas police departments are now releasing body-worn camera footage before the investigation is concluded as the public demands more transparency — in some cases within days of the shooting.

“Sheriff Salazar is committed to a full and transparent investigation and as he stated at the onset, he has every intention of releasing the video as soon as the investigation able, but without jeopardizing the case,” according to a statement provided by the sheriff’s office. “At this time, the investigation is open and ongoing.”

Bexar County Precinct 4 Commissioner Tommy Calvert says promising video and then taking it away is unacceptable.

“I think it’s gonna back fire -- this policy of you know best for this community,” Calvert said. “... It’s gonna piss people off more not to have the transparency.”

The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office has been under scrutiny since Daniels was shot and killed outside his home in the 11000 block of Liberty Field on Aug. 25.

Deputies responded to the home to check on Daniels, who was in mental distress. Daniels was armed and aggressive, Salazar said, leading a deputy to fatally shoot Daniels after a two-minute struggle.

Salazar previously said that, though the incident was tragic, deputies showed as much restraint as they could before resorting to deadly force on Daniels, who the sheriff said was suicidal. Attorney Lee Merritt, who is representing Daniels’ family, disputed that, saying that Daniels was paranoid and in need of help.

Merritt, along with Daniels' family, met with District Attorney Joe Gonzales on Sept. 1 to seek answers on why he was killed.

“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 Daniels family has called on the sheriff’s office to release body cam footage of the shooting.

KSAT reached out to Gonzales, whose office will lay out the case to the AG about why the footage should not be released and why authorities are seeking to withhold the video. Gonzales did not respond as of Wednesday evening.

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About the Authors:

Fares Sabawi has been a journalist in San Antonio for four years. He has covered several topics, but specializes in crime, courts, open records and data visualization.

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined the KSAT 12 Defenders in 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat. He provides restaurant health reports for KSAT's "Behind the Kitchen Door." Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.