SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio police officials on Thursday provided footage to the public from two fatal police shootings earlier this year, marking the first releases of this kind since the department introduced a body-worn camera policy late last year.
Department officials had declined to release videos from the first three shootings to take place since the policy went into effect in December.
And while police accountability expert Kevin LaChapelle called Thursday’s releases a “great first step,” he also criticized SAPD’s decision to significantly edit the clips and include narration over key parts of the footage.
“Let videos speak for themselves, because what will happen -- it will cause people to be more suspicious if there’s narration over it,” said LaChapelle, a former California police officer who is now a criminal justice professor and consults on anti-violence projects and police accountability efforts.
In the first video, suspect Joe Gomez is seen exiting his vehicle after driving the wrong way toward a San Antonio International Airport terminal April 15.
The surveillance footage, which does not include audio from the scene, shows Gomez armed with a handgun opening fire in the direction of a San Antonio Park Police officer, numerous bystanders and passing vehicles.
The three minute and 17 second clip included an SAPD spokeswoman introducing the video and then a lieutenant describing where the shooting took place.
The lieutenant, however, continued his narration as the video played out.
The second clip, which shows the April 16 shooting deaths of Sammie Barbosa and Alex Garcia during a traffic stop in the 2300 block of Pinn Road, also included an introduction from the spokeswoman as well as narration from the lieutenant that continued on and off during much of the footage.
LaChapelle, after viewing the video, said the lieutenant’s narration actually made it more difficult for the public to follow what was happening before the officer was shot in the hand and returned fire.
“Because any reasonable person would say, ‘Oh my gosh! This is crazy. This officer had to endure that,’” said LaChapelle.
A second version of the Pinn Road footage, which did not include narration, was shared Thursday with the media by SAPD officials, who asked that the link not be shared publicly because it did not include context, such as police reports, a press release or a narration.
SAPD officials on Friday refused to make Chief William McManus available for an interview.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who pushed for a review of the department’s policies for body cameras last fall, was not available for comment Friday on whether he approved of the department’s handling of the releases.
SAPD’s next release of footage, from the April 20 shooting death of Brian Deleon, could happen as soon as next week as the department approaches its previously set 60-day timeline to do so.
“There is a manipulation tactic”
Barbosa’s family this week said the video released of his shooting death provides just a small picture of what actually took place.
His nephew, Brandon Barbosa, said the family was allowed to see three video angles, which included footage after Sammie Barbosa’s body was removed from the truck.
“There is a manipulation tactic,” said Brandon Barbosa when describing what was ultimately posted to YouTube by the department.
“When we saw the video, there was three versions and you can clearly see way more,” Brandon Barbosa said.
He added that police have failed to provide the full context of what took place, including an allegation made by the family that Sammie Barbosa was being held at gunpoint by Garcia and a woman in the back seat of the truck.
The woman, who was shot during the exchange of gunfire but survived, handed Garcia the gun shortly before he fired at the officer. She has not been criminally charged.
Sammie Barbosa left behind four young children, his family said Thursday.