Bexar County deputy on leave after video shows him tasing teen for 35 seconds and calling him ‘el stupido,’ sheriff says

Video raises questions about how deputy handled call about migrant teen

A Bexar County deputy who tased a migrant teenager for a total of 35 seconds is now the subject of an internal investigation after the video was published by Reveal, a nonprofit investigative news outlet.

Following Reveal’s publication about the incident, which took place on May 12, 2020, at the Southwest Key Casa Blanca shelter, the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office told KSAT 12 News that the deputy involved has been placed on administrative leave. After learning of the incident, Sheriff Javier Salazar “immediately initiated Internal Affairs investigation to investigate any wrongdoing that may have occurred,” according to the sheriff’s office.

Deputies were called to the shelter about the teen after staff members said he was angry, uncooperative, and damaged bedposts and storage containers inside the shelter. The staff talked to the teen in Spanish trying to get him to calm down and come out for about seven minutes before the deputy tased him.

In the video, the teen appears distraught. The staff later told deputies the teen suffered from ADHD and is diagnosed with severe depression.

After the responding deputy waited for his partner to arrive, he prepared to detain the teen.

“Alright, ready? I’m going to tase this kid,” the deputy said, according to the video obtained by Reveal. BCSO refused to provide the video to KSAT.

The deputy then confronts the teen, telling him to turn around in English. It’s unclear if the teen, who is from Honduras, understood him because he is not fluent in English, according to the Reveal. In the video, one of the staff members is heard telling the deputy the teen did not speak English.

The deputy never informed the teen that he was going to be placed under arrest.

As the teen stands several feet away from the officer with his hands clasped in front of his body, the deputy tases him for a total of 35 seconds.

“Where are you taking me,” the teen asks in Spanish.

“El stupido,” the deputy responded in the body camera video. The video shows the teen being put in the back of a patrol vehicle, and a deputy is heard saying he will be taken to a juvenile facility, but he was not heard reading him his Miranda rights in the 13-minute video KSAT obtained from Reveal.

The teenager came to the United States after fleeing a gang in Honduras that beat him and threatened his life, Reveal reported, citing a family member in Central America who they reached by phone. After making the trek to the United States, he spent nine months in five different shelters, spanning from California to Virginia to Texas.

According to Reveal: “The boy in that video was arrested on a charge of criminal mischief. Officials in Bexar County won’t disclose whether the boy was charged with a crime and, if he was, whether he was found guilty. When Reveal requested to interview Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar about the incident, his spokesperson said she was unaware of the case.”

Since he is a minor and has not been identified, KSAT is unable to verify court records associated with the case, including his current immigration status and the disposition of the criminal mischief charge.

Reveal obtained the footage through an open records request with the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office.

After releasing the video, however, the open records officer for the sheriff’s office asked a Reveal reporter to destroy the video because it was released accidentally. In a statement to KSAT 12 News, the sheriff’s office indicated it would not turn over the footage because it is an active investigation and the footage involves a minor.

“Reveal will not destroy the video. There is a strong public interest in its airing,” the publication’s authors wrote. “The child’s grandmother told Reveal that she wants the video to be published so the public knows what can happen in shelters for migrant children in the United States.”

The incident also caught the attention of Congressman Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, who called the footage “horrendous, and a clear example of excessive force and over-policing” in a statement to KSAT.

“I am urging a full investigation by the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services of this incident, and also the Department’s policy with respect to the use of local police and a review of refugee shelter’s employee training and trauma-informed care practices,” Castro said in a statement. “No matter who you are or where you come from, everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect by law enforcement.”

KSAT reached out to Southwest Key Programs for comment, and they issued this statement Sunday:

“We have seen the recently released police body camera video and find it distressing and hard to watch. Our staff uses de-escalation strategies in difficult situations, and we request law enforcement help only in cases where the minor presents a danger to themselves or others.

“It should be noted that it is rare and not common for us to involve law enforcement, and we only do so in the very few situations where there is a clear danger to an individual or a staff member.

“The safety of those in our care and our staff is Southwest Key’s top priority. We take this responsibility seriously, and our staff works hard to provide compassionate, quality care.  Our childcare providers have significant experience in trauma-informed care and follow best practices for de-escalation. They make a concerted effort to understand each individual child’s needs so that we can provide the best care possible during the short time they are with us.

“We understand that we provide care to young people who have suffered various traumas while coming to this country as unaccompanied minors, and we do our best to provide the highest level of care we can under what are often challenging circumstances.

“Southwest Key has incredible people on its team providing care and helping those who need help, and we will do our best as we continue our efforts to care for those who are in our shelters.”

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About the Authors:

Fares Sabawi has been a journalist in San Antonio for four years. He has covered several topics, but specializes in crime, courts, open records and data visualization.

Patty Santos joined the KSAT 12 News team in July 2017. She has a proven track record of reporting on hard-hitting news that affects the community.