SAN ANTONIO – Sixteen fired San Antonio police officers, some of whom have been off the job for over a year, are now pending arbitration amid a growing backlog of cases, city records obtained by the KSAT 12 Defenders show.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which started in the spring of 2020 and wiped out the ability for in-person hearings to take place, is partially blamed for the backlog.
The only city arbitration hearing scheduled this month so far is for a terminated San Antonio Fire Department engineer, city records show.
16 officers, 17 firings
Records show 15 officers fired between March 2020 and late February have appealed their indefinite suspensions.
The 16th officer, Kenneth Moreno, faces two indefinite suspensions handed down last May, records show, in addition to his original termination in the fall of 2019, following his arrest that year for stalking.
The criminal charge was upgraded last summer to continuous violence against a family member, court records show. Moreno is currently free on bond awaiting trial.
Another ex-officer, Erik Rodriguez, chose not to appeal his termination after being handed an indefinite suspension in early March. He faces a list of criminal charges, including bribery and possession of child pornography.
SAPD officials on Friday released the service photo for fired officer Lee Biegert, but, to date, have still not provided information about why he was indefinitely suspended by the department in late February.
The appeal process for fired officers, which is laid out in state law and in the current collective bargaining agreement between the union and the city, often took years to complete even before the pandemic’s effect.
The cases can often prove costly for the city if an officer is reinstated, since he or she is typically owed back pay and benefits covering the time between being terminated and being returned to duty.
Data obtained by the Defenders under public information law showed fired SAPD officers who later appealed were reinstated to their jobs 67.5% of the time from 2010-2019, either by a third-party arbitrator or after the chief reconsidered their termination.
No dates set on contract negotiations
A city spokeswoman on Friday confirmed no dates have been set for contract talks to resume between the city and the San Antonio Police Officers Association.
The union won a major victory during the May 1 election, after voters narrowly rejected Proposition B. If passed, the ballot measure would have repealed the union’s right to collectively bargain with the city.
Instead, the current negotiating process remains in place.
The two sides have made progress on smaller disciplinary issues, but remain stuck on how to change the appeals process, the city’s top priority.
The city wants the police chief’s decision to fire an officer to be given more deference during the appeals process, while the San Antonio Police Officers Association wants to ensure its members can effectively challenge what they think are unfair firings, an aspect of past contracts that has allowed a long list of officers to win reinstatement.