SAN ANTONIO – Arbitration began Tuesday for a San Antonio police officer who was caught directing a racist and sexist tirade toward a funeral home director.
An attorney for SAPD officer Lee Biegert said during his opening statement that Biegert’s lapse in judgment during the October 2020 phone call should not wipe out his more than 14 years of positive contributions to the department.
“My client, Lee Biegert, does not expect to walk away from this incident, this whole process unscathed,” said union attorney Karl Brehm.
Biegert was fired in February, months after the funeral director in charge of Funeral Caring USA provided the department recorded phone conversations between her and Biegert and her and the president of Biegert’s church.
During the two-minute phone call between Biegert and the director, Nancy Powell, Biegert said an employee of the funeral home had been rude to his loved one while she visited Biegert’s father’s grave at a cemetery in Marion.
The call, which the KSAT Defenders obtained a copy of earlier this week, was repeatedly played during Tuesday’s hearing.
“The people that use that cemetery, that go to visit, they have just as much right there as somebody coming to a funeral,” said Biegert during the call.
After Powell contradicted Biegert’s description of the altercation between his loved one and the funeral home employee, Biegert appeared to get irate.
“No they weren’t! Don’t argue with me. I checked it out. Hey, go (expletive) yourself. You (expletive) Mexic--t,” said Biegert during the recorded call.
Powell testified Tuesday she had never been treated this way during her more than 30 years of professional experience, despite routinely working with people who have recently lost loved ones.
She fought back tears when recalling the incident in front of arbitrator Paul Chapdelaine, of Houston.
“I’ve never gone through anyone treating me any different or making any comments to me because I’m Hispanic. I’m getting a little emotional. I need to stop,” said Powell.
“To me it does. Because, again, I’ve never been treated badly by someone in law enforcement,” said Powell, when asked by Brehm whether Biegert’s behavior makes him a ‘bad apple,’ a phrase used to describe police officers who engage in misconduct.
Brehm pointed to past precedent within SAPD for officers involved in similar incidents, and said it would be more appropriate for Biegert to be suspended or to be reinstated from termination.
SAPD Officer Tim Garcia, who was caught on his own body-worn camera repeatedly using the N-word during the arrest of a Black man in 2018, was fired by the department only to be reinstated by a third-party arbitrator in 2019. Garcia’s indefinite suspension was shortened to 10 months.
“I’m human. I made a mistake.”
The SAPD sergeant who handled the internal affairs investigation of Biegert testified Tuesday that the civilians and sworn officers who reviewed his findings were not unanimous on how to punish Biegert, and that most thought a written reprimand was the most appropriate course of action.
Only one of the seven officers who reviewed the case voted to hand Biegert an indefinite suspension, Sgt. Michael Riggs testified.
Biegert was called to testify by the city Tuesday afternoon. He acknowledged not seeking counseling through the department after his father passed away. He said his father’s passing also took a major toll on him.
“I’m human. I made a mistake,” said Biegert, who added that he never reached out to Powell to apologize because he did not want her to think he was trying to influence her regarding his appeal.
Biegert did not dispute making the comments, but said they did not come from a racist place and he still does not know why he used that derogatory term toward her.
“I got no idea where I came up with that from,” said Biegert.
Attorneys for the city also played a phone call between Powell and a man claiming to be the president of Biegert’s church.
The man blamed Powell for the confrontation between her and Biegert, according to the recording, but quickly changed his tone after being told the call between Powell and Biegert was recorded and that Biegert had not provided him an accurate description of what had taken place.
It appears the man’s decision to call Powell caused unintended consequences for Biegert. Powell said she was not aware Biegert was a police officer because he did not identify himself during their call, and that she looked up how to file a formal complaint with SAPD about Biegert only after the church president stated Biegert was an officer.
A character witness called to the stand Thursday afternoon said Biegert was a good officer and that, while working at a restaurant, she had been called words way worse than ‘Mexic--t.’ The woman did not elaborate on what those words were.
Biegert’s arbitration is scheduled to resume inside Plaza de Armas Wednesday at 9 a.m. SAPD Chief William McManus is set to testify next.
Biegert had worked for SAPD since 2006.