SAN ANTONIO – A San Antonio police officer who tried negotiating with an armed man despite having no formal training in the practice was one of three officers suspended in connection with a deadly police shooting in September 2020, according to suspension records recently obtained by the KSAT 12 Defenders.
The suspensions, which were handed down in March, were released this week, months after they were initially requested. Department officials have offered no formal explanation about why they waited so long to make the records public.
On Sept. 22, 2020, police were dispatched to an apartment complex in the 5600 block of Culebra Road to investigate a burglary in progress call. As officers were on the scene, they heard a gunshot from inside the apartment complex.
As officers ran in to investigate, a woman and five children were seen running from an apartment, where 44-year-old Victor Sanchez had fired his gun and barricaded himself in the bathroom. Sanchez was not a suspect in the burglary call, but police discovered Sanchez was out on bond for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
Officer Richard M. Cuellar, who has been with the department since 1992, took over as lead officer. Internal investigators said Cuellar “imprudently entered” the apartment against the advice of another officer, which resulted in multiple officers entering the apartment to provide cover.
“Officer Cuellar then, again imprudently, took on the role of negotiator, verbally engaging the armed suspect although (Cuellar) lacked the formal training for that role,” according to the suspension documents.
The negotiation attempts failed, and Sanchez was ultimately shot by police multiple times after he left the bathroom and allegedly pointed his gun at officers.
Angelica Baron, Sanchez’s girlfriend, later told KSAT 12 News that Sanchez was suffering a mental health episode as police investigated the burglary call, firing one shot into the ground to scare off who he thought were intruders. He instructed Baron and the children to flee from the home.
Baron said she counted 51 gunshots in the home, and returned to find pools of blood in the apartment’s hallway.
The shooting is still being investigated by the Civil Rights Division of the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office, a DA spokesperson confirmed Wednesday. The county’s medical examiner’s office declined to turn over Sanchez’s autopsy report, citing the pending investigation.
Cuellar’s was initially handed a 30-day suspension, but he along with Police Chief William McManus agreed to a reduced 22-day suspension, the records showed.
SAPD Sgt. Anastacio Hernandez and Capt. Jorge L. Suarez were also suspended in connection with Sanchez’s death for failing to properly assess the situation, the records showed. Both were faulted for allowing Cuellar to take on negotiations. They were also cited for allowing one officer to enter the apartment with a bean-bag equipped shotgun, even though they were dealing with an armed suspect.
Hernandez, who was suspended for 30 days, is appealing his discipline by requesting arbitration. Suarez, who was initially handed an indefinite suspension, agreed to a reduced 45-day suspension, records showed.