SAN ANTONIO – Editor’s note: This content was created exclusively for KSAT Explains, a weekly streaming show that dives deep into the biggest issues facing San Antonio and South Texas. Watch past episodes here and download the free KSAT-TV app to stay up on the latest. This week’s episode focuses on the debate around law enforcement body camera footage.
It’s been more than two years since 18-year-old Charles “Chop” Roundtree was shot and killed by San Antonio Police Department Officer Steve Casanova. For Roundtree’s family, it feels like the shooting just happened.
“(I) fell asleep and woke up to my son being shot. It’s hard,” Patricia Castillo, Charles’s biological mother, told KSAT. “He was the life of everything.”
Bernice Roundtree, Charles’s adopted mother, said during a recent interview with KSAT Explains at Patricia’s home that the teenager “just was a joy to be around."
“He was a clown. He loved to make everybody laugh," she said.
The fatal encounter
Roundtree was shot in his chest in the early morning hours of Oct. 17, 2018.
Casanova, a five-year veteran at the time, was investigating an assault report in the early morning hours at a house in the 200 block of Roberts Street on the near West Side with two other officers. The suspect in the alleged assault was later identified as Davante Snowden.
Footage from Casanova’s body camera and another officer at the scene, obtained by KSAT from a source familiar with the investigation, shows the interaction between Casanova and Snowden that led to Roundtree’s death. SAPD and the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office have refused to publicly release the footage.
The full video from Casanova’s body camera is posted below:
“I broke down when I saw [the video]. (What) was going through my mind is like, where was the proper protocol?” said Bernice Roundtree. “They got these body cams to help us. But is it? It doesn’t even matter whether with or without the body cameras, they are still killing us.”
In the video, Casanova is seen walking up to the front door and briefly questions a person on the porch. Casanova continues to the front door, knocks and pushes it open, revealing Snowden and two other people in the living room: Charles Roundtree and Taylor Singleton.
Casanova asks Snowden, “What’s up, man?,” but does not identify himself as a police officer, according to the video footage, which includes audio.
Snowden stood up from the couch and responded, “Hey, who the f*** is this?” He took two steps toward the front door, paused and began to move away from the officer.
The officer then puts his hands through the door with iron burglar bars, yells to Snowden, “Hey, let me see your f****** hands,” and, within a second, fires two shots into the house.
One of the shots grazed Snowden and hit Roundtree in the chest as he was sitting on the couch. Roundtree was pronounced dead at the scene.
The fatal encounter — from the moment Officer Casanova approached the porch until he fired two shots into the home — was less than 45 seconds.
Moments later, Casanova can be heard in the video telling other officers that Snowden had a gun: “Hey, he had a f****** gun and he pulled it out! ... The guy had a gun on his waist, looked like a 9(mm). He was reaching for the gun and took off running to the back of the house.”
Casanova also acknowledges there were three people — Snowden, Roundtree, who he called a “young kid” and Singleton, a woman — sitting inside the living room. Casanova said Roundtree and Snowden “both kind of matched the description I was given.”
Casanova described the confrontation in more detail moments later. “He kind of stopped what he was doing and I couldn’t see exactly what was in his waist because his hand was covering it. Then he kind of moved it slightly and I saw a gun. I can’t remember if I said ‘drop the f**** gun' or 'show me your f**** hands,’ but he took like two steps towards me, and then he kind of went to the side and he was like lifting his shirt up, so I fired I believe two rounds at him.”
During a press conference at the scene, San Antonio Police Department Chief William McManus incorrectly said the person killed (Roundtree) was armed and a threat to the officer.
“The officer saw a weapon in one of the individuals' waistbands and at some point thereafter, the officer ended up using deadly force on that individual,” McManus said to the media at the scene.
About 12 hours after the shooting, McManus called a press conference to correct his statement and provide an update. He confirmed that Roundtree was not armed.
“The individual who died did not have the gun. It was the other individual who was shot and wounded by police,” said McManus.
McManus said the shooting was unfortunate and tragic, but that Casanova handled everything professionally, claiming that Snowden tried to use deadly force against police. McManus said the location was a known “drug house” and there had been dozens of calls to the location over the past 10 months.
Roundtree family questions evidence
During the investigation, police found a pistol in the back of the home, but it was never linked in court to Snowden or anyone inside the living room, including Roundtree. In 2019, a Bexar County jury found Snowden not guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
But the firearm isn’t the only piece of evidence put forth by SAPD in defense of the shooting that’s still being questioned by Roundtree’s family.
As detectives were gathering information at the scene, Casanova told a detective the front door was “slightly open” and “I knocked and it swung open.”
McManus repeated that during his press conference.
“The door was open when the officer showed up. There was a burglar bar door that was closed, but the officer could see inside and spoke to the individual on the couch,” the chief said.
However, new footage obtained by KSAT that’s never been seen by the public raises questions about whether the door was open when Casanova arrived. The new video is from the body-worn camera of the officer behind Casanova and shows a wider angle of the shooting.
In the footage, Casanova can be seen pushing the door open moments after walking up to it — without announcing himself as an officer — and moments before opening fire inside the home.
See both officers body cameras side-by-side in the video below:
“The video is supposed to be our protection, our proof that this man is doing wrong,” said Bernice Roundtree. “I feel like McManus should have got all the facts straight before he came on TV and gave his story.”
The Roundtree family has continually pushed back against SAPD’s description of what happened.
“[McManus] still backing up Casanova, and Steve Casanova is still lying. Why are you still lying? The world has seen the video. You did it. You killed him in cold blood,” said Castillo.
Still, a Bexar County grand jury chose in July 2019 not to indict Casanova, who remains on the force. His no-bill came a week before Snowden was acquitted on the firearms charges.
“Our office presented all the evidence regarding this officer-involved shooting to the grand jury. Although the decision of the grand jury may not be the decision that was hoped for by the family of Charles Roundtree, Jr., we respect the grand jury’s decision and extend our sympathy to the Roundtree family,” said Bexar County District Attorney Joe D. Gonzales at the time of the ruling.
Castillo and Bernice Roundtree found the decision hard to believe since body camera footage of the incident had been posted online in May, and there are questions as to why a decision was made not to indict Casanova before Snowden’s ruling.
“They said he was an innocent bystander, so he’s an innocent bystander. Then he (Casanova) needs to go to jail because you didn’t do your job and you shot inside of a home," said Castillo. You weren’t even inside the house. So how did you feel threatened?”
The Roundtree family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the San Antonio Police Department.
KSAT contacted SAPD for a statement and requested an interview with Chief McManus, but were directed to the San Antonio city attorney’s office. City Attorney Andy Segovia released the following statement:
“This case has been thoroughly investigated and presented to the grand jury, which declined to indict Officer Casanova. The video, which news outlets have previously aired publicly, depicts Officer Casanova responding to a residence in response to an assault call. A civil suit remains in litigation and as such the City will not comment on the details of the civil claim."