SAN ANTONIO – When Bexar County Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Magana resigned in lieu of being terminated in July 2019, it had been nearly two years to the day since his arrest on a charge of driving while intoxicated.
Magana, who was captured on a dashboard and body-worn camera flashing his BCSO credentials and begging the San Antonio police officer conducting his field sobriety test to let him go, had to repeatedly be reminded he was being recorded while standing outside his truck in the 5700 block of Industry Park Drive.
“I’m not going to jeopardize my job for you. Turn around. OK. Turn around! This is your final warning, sir,” said the arresting officer after Magana ignored his initial commands to put his arms behind his back.
After a series of motions and postponements in the criminal case, Magana was found guilty of DWI in June 2019, court records show. He was given probation instead of jail time for the misdemeanor offense and was forced out by his employer days later.
“At some point, you just gotta say ‘stop,’ draw the line in the sand, and say ‘we’re not tolerating it anymore,’” said Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar.
Salazar, who has repeatedly said he would “cut them out like a cancer” after deputies run afoul of the law, contends that 2018 was the tipping point of having to address drunk-driving issues within the agency’s rank and file.
That year, two dozen BCSO deputies were arrested, a significant portion on DWI-related offenses.
After Deputy Libmar Rodriguez was pulled over along the Interstate 10 frontage road and subsequently arrested on suspicion of DWI in July 2018, he told the SAPD officer who made the stop that he was ruining his life.
“That’s all I have. That’s all I have in my life is working for Bexar County. It’s all I have,” said Rodriguez, while handcuffed in the back of an SAPD patrol vehicle.
Hours later, Salazar fired Rodriguez, a probationary deputy who had not yet qualified for civil service protection.
Rodriguez pleaded guilty to a reduced charge in June 2019, court records show.
During his first term in office, Salazar has pushed to update BCSO’s civil service process.
Past arrests, which wouldn’t necessarily prevent a person from working in law enforcement, now make them ineligible to work for BCSO.
“I just can’t continue to take those chances,” said Salazar.
Dr. Brandi Burque, the agency’s staff psychologist, works with deputies who may have an alcohol problem to address the issue before it surfaces in a public arrest, according to Salazar.
“She’s going to try to get them the help that they need before they end up ruining their career and this agency’s reputation,” Salazar said.
Salazar said he faced a lot of pushback from deputies after announcing a partnership with Alcoholics Anonymous, defending the “controversial” move by stating the agency has a problem with drinking.
Salazar said members of the group address the agency during in-service days.
The results of the initiatives, so far, have been positive, Salazar said as he literally knocked on wood during a recent Zoom interview.
This year, the tally of BCSO deputies charged with DWI stands at one.
The KSAT 12 Defenders asked Gerry Rickhoff, Salazar’s opponent in the November election, about the agency’s efforts to combat drunk driving.
Rickhoff, the former Bexar County Clerk, said in the following written statement that Salazar has mismanaged BSCO since taking office in January 2017:
“Deputies who break the law should be arrested. But another after the fact attempt to treat a symptom and not the disease is just the latest example of Javier Salazar’s failed leadership and why he has lost the faith of the community. Salazar’s mismanagement has led to historic turnover at BCSO where he has failed to fill 238 vacant positions, overworking a depleted staff and jeopardizing their safety and our community’s. As Bexar County Sheriff, the public’s safety will come first, and I have developed a solution to fill BCSO’s decimated ranks and restore the morale of our current force. I intend to involve our entire community – the public sector, private sector, and non-profits – in partnerships that reduce stressors on deputies new and old, increase recruitment and improve Bexar County’s safety.”
Paying for public information
The release of the dashboard and body-worn camera footage from the arrests of Magana and Rodriguez came after a protracted dispute between the Defenders and the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office over the cost of the footage.
The DA’s office and the Bexar County Clerk’s Office are the only county departments that require records to be paid for in their entirety before being processed for release.
A majority of county departments do not charge for the release of public information.
After the Defenders requested the footage in June 2019, officials with the DA’s office responded with invoices requiring payment of around $400 before footage from the two cases would be released.
Officials also declined to let the Defenders review the footage in person without paying the full amount.
The Defenders filed a cost complaint with the Texas Attorney General’s Office, which ruled that the DA’s cost estimate was appropriate in late July.
The Defenders paid the full amount, and the footage was released earlier this month.
District Attorney Joe Gonzales did not respond to multiple requests for an interview about his office’s decision to charge for the release of public information.