SAN ANTONIO – A 61-year-old man who San Antonio police said was assaulted by one of its off-duty officers late Monday described the car crash that preceded the beating and the extent of his injuries during an interview Wednesday with the KSAT Defenders.
Ara Halibian suffered a broken nose, significant trauma to his face and injuries to his shoulder, elbow and knee after being punched by Officer Dezi Rios — according to Halibian’s count — between 20-25 times.
The attack happened under the overpass at Bulverde Road and Loop 1604, moments after Rios crashed his vehicle into a curb, and is at least the third known road rage incident involving Rios since August 2017.
Those incidents include a near-fatal shootout in the parking lot of a Northwest Side strip club in May 2018, in which Rios and another man shot each other a combined 14 times.
Rios and the other driver in Monday’s incident had minutes earlier been involved in a crash at the intersection of O’Connor and Stahl Roads, after Rios’ vehicle crashed into Halibian’s while Halibian was stopped at a red light, according to limited information released by SAPD.
After Rios got out of his vehicle and inspected the damage, Halibian said Rios got back into his vehicle and sped off, forcing Halibian to pursue him.
“I said, ‘I’m just going to stop him, get his license plate number, at least the insurance.’ He shouldn’t run away,” Halibian said Wednesday when asked why he followed Rios several miles.
After Rios’ vehicle hit the curb under the overpass, Halibian walked up to the off-duty officer.
“He came and punched me right on my face,” said Halibian.
After Rios attacked him, he said the officer began to act as if he had been the one attacked.
“He’s a good actor. He’s a good actor,” said Halibian, an armed security guard who was in uniform and returning home from a late shift when the crash occurred.
SAPD officers who responded to the second scene described Rios as showing signs of intoxication and being involved in a road rage incident, according to a warrant filed to draw a specimen of his blood.
The warrant describes Rios as “amped up,” “very cocky” and “at one point clenching his fists.”
Rios, 38, was formally charged early Tuesday morning with misdemeanor DWI and misdemeanor failure to stop and provide information but has so far not been charged with assaulting Halibian.
When asked why Rios had not yet been charged with assault, an SAPD spokeswoman on Wednesday released the following statement via email:
“When a misdemeanor offense occurs outside the presence of an officer, the officer is limited in their arrest capacity. Please see the code of criminal procedure for more information. The case will be investigated and we anticipate at the conclusion of the investigation assault charges will be filed.”
After the Defenders asked if it had already been determined to be a misdemeanor assault, despite the seriousness of Halibian’s injuries, the spokeswoman clarified that if the assault is shown to have risen to the felony level, it will be filed as a felony.
“He should not be out in the street. And he’s a shame wearing the uniform,” said Halibian, a native of Lebanon who moved to the United States in 1999 and has since become a U.S. citizen.
“He’s lucky he didn’t get smoked.”
Monday’s incident is not the first time SAPD records have shown Rios to be amped up at the scene of a road rage incident.
In August 2017, Rios was involved in an unrelated encounter near downtown.
“Aggressive, very short-tempered, careless,” Nathan Pezina told the Defenders in early 2019, recalling his encounter with Rios along U.S. Highway 281 South as he was returning home from having breakfast.
Pezina, then 20 years old, was driving in the outside lane in his Dodge Avenger when Rios, in a rented Ford Expedition, attempted to merge into his lane, according to an SAPD incident report.
While Rios told investigators that Pezina sped up to block him from merging, Pezina told the Defenders that Rios was the aggressor, repeatedly swerving his vehicle and nearly hitting the front bumper of Pezina’s vehicle.
“I could tell in a way he was mocking me or laughing about it. Kind of a smug sort of demeanor to him,” Pezina said.
Rios told investigators that Pezina, while driving, lifted up a firearm and pointed it at him, causing Rios to fear for his safety, call 911 and then follow Pezina until on-duty officers pulled Pezina over on the on ramp from Interstate 37 South to Interstate 10 West.
The SAPD incident report also indicates that Pezina admitted to a responding officer that he had pointed the gun toward Rios.
However, body camera footage from officers responding to the call later obtained by the Defenders contradicted those statements.
“I had the gun, but physically bringing it up, pointing it? No.” said Pezina, who added that it was clearly visible to Rios since he was in a vehicle higher off the ground.
Pezina was charged with deadly conduct and unlawful carry of a weapon.
Bexar County court records show the unlawful carry of a weapon charge was dismissed, and Pezina was given one year of probation after pleading no contest to deadly conduct in November 2017.
Body-worn camera footage from officers who responded to the 2017 scene showed Rios repeatedly clinching his fists.
Rios told the officers that he reached for his department-issued service pistol in his passenger seat, but then realized it was in the back area of the rented vehicle.
“He’s lucky he didn’t get smoked,” Rios was recorded saying on a fellow officer’s body-worn camera after being allowed to sit in the front seat of a patrol vehicle while officers conducted their investigation.
A second conversation between officers and Rios was not recorded with audio because the officer muted his microphone just before he began talking to Rios on camera.
“It’s the old paradigm of law enforcement. The thin blue line, the cover-up,” said Charles Adams, a Houston-based attorney and former police officer who represented Demontae Walker, a San Antonio driver involved in a road rage shootout with Rios nine months after the 2017 incident.
In that 2018 incident, which started along Interstate 10 when Rios’ vehicle sped past Walker’s, Walker said Rios followed him into the parking lot of All-Stars Gentlemen’s Club as Walker dropped off his wife’s cousin for work.
“You didn’t hit me bro. You’re good. Go your own way,” said Walker during a 2019 interview, recalling what he told Rios after both men had gotten out of their vehicles.
“He got like really charged up over it,” said Walker, who added that it was clear Rios was under the influence of intoxicants.
“When you see someone that far gone, they’re that far gone and there’s nothing you can do to stop them,” said Walker.
Walker said he was armed with a handgun because he was going to make a cash deposit at a bank for his barber business after dropping off his wife’s cousin, and that he fired at an “amped up” Rios after the off-duty officer walked toward him and reached for the front of his own waistband.
Walker’s contention that Rios was also armed during the verbal altercation before Walker shot him six times contradicts the police narrative of what happened that night.
Rios, who according to his suspension paperwork had consumed two mixed drinks and three shots of liquor during a 2 1/2 hour period while at a police cadet dinner at Ajuua! Mexican Grill, gave conflicting stories on how he ended up in the parking lot.
After Rios was shot, he told an officer wearing a body worn camera, “I was driving by and he kept on like, he was like flashing his lights. He pulled over real quick. And he was like, ‘You almost f------g killed me!’ And I was like, ‘What the f--k are you talking about man? F--k you.’ And he pulled out a gun and I was like, ‘oh, s--t.’”
A month after the shootout, as Rios was being interviewed at SAPD’s homicide office, he instead told investigators that he pulled into the parking lot because he could not find his phone and remembered that he needed to call his wife.
Rios was eventually suspended 15 days for his role in the shootout and transferred out of his role as a physical training instructor at the Police Academy but eventually returned to full duty as a patrol officer.
“Exemplifies what a bad job the San Antonio Police Department did in regulating and having accountability of its own officers. This isn’t justice for Demontae Walker,” said attorney Charles Adams, who took on Walker’s case after he was criminally charged in connection to the 2018 shooting of Rios.
Walker, who was shot eight times including being grazed on the head by a bullet, remains paralyzed from the waist down. He has documented his arduous physical therapy sessions on Instagram, including sharing footage of him walking with the help of a robotics system.
Walker, who spent more than three months in the hospital, was originally charged with two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
However, a grand jury in December 2018 declined to indict Walker.
Rios was never criminally charged for the shootout.
“Dezi Rios was allowed to keep his job, keep his badge. And they chose not to charge him, and that’s what led to this incident,” said Adams, referring to Monday’s drunk driving crash and assault.
SAPD officials on Wednesday refused to make Chief William McManus available for an interview.
Rios has worked for SAPD since October 2006 but has been on extended military leave since late July 2019, SAPD officials said this week.
Rios is scheduled to be arraigned in County Court 4 on the misdemeanor charges Aug. 5, Bexar County court records show. He has been suspended without pay, pending the outcome of his criminal and administrative investigations.