SAN ANTONIO – Arbitration for a San Antonio police officer fired earlier this year for directing a racist and sexist tirade toward a funeral home director wrapped up Wednesday, but not before nearly two hours of testimony from SAPD Chief William McManus.
“I was angry about that then and I’m angry about it now,” said McManus, who issued officer Lee Biegert an indefinite suspension in late February despite a recommendation from the department’s Complaint and Administrative Review Board to give the officer a lesser punishment.
McManus bluntly stated that the board got it wrong.
Biegert, who had worked for SAPD since 2006, was disciplined months after the department was provided a copy of a two-minute phone call, recorded in October 2020, between Biegert and the director of a San Antonio funeral home.
Biegert, who did not identify himself during the call, told the director 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 people that use that cemetery, that go to visit, they have just as much right there as somebody coming to a funeral,” Biegert said during the call.
After the funeral home director, Nancy 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.
McManus said the call amounted to an “unprovoked verbal assault,” the likes of which he had not heard in all of his years.
“San Antonio, being a predominantly Hispanic town and having someone, a police officer, say that to a woman is unacceptable and I will never accept that,” McManus said.
An attorney for Biegert, Karl Brehm, asserted during the two-day hearing that Biegert was still mourning the loss of his father and that one incident should not wipe out years of positive contributions to the department.
McManus, however, was not moved by those arguments.
“Karl, and not to be disrespectful to Biegert’s loss, but I lost my father too, I lost my mother and I didn’t run around calling anyone a (expletive) (expletive) or a Mexic--t,” said McManus, who repeated the vulgar phrases used by Biegert close to 20 times during his testimony.
McManus also said that he removed Biegert from the streets and reassigned him to SAPD’s intelligence unit after Biegert punched a handcuffed woman in the face.
McManus recalled that the woman suffered a broken nose, but had been struck by Biegert after kicking the officer.
The review board ruled that Biegert’s actions were justified but McManus said he did not feel that level of force was necessary.
McManus, who repeatedly mentioned that his wife and mother-in-law are Hispanic, said it would be really difficult to not personalize what Biegert said.
“It’s a blend of a ethnic and gender slur that under no circumstances would ever be accepted,” said McManus.
Biegert’s termination has some similarities to the case of Officer Timothy Garcia and that precedent could provide a pathway for Biegert to win reinstatement.
Garcia was terminated by McManus after he was caught on his own body-worn camera repeatedly using the N-word while arresting a Black man at a downtown mall in 2018.
A third-party arbitrator reinstated Garcia the following year and shortened his indefinite suspension to 10 months.
McManus provided general background on Garcia’s case Wednesday, before an attorney for the city objected to further questioning about Garcia’s case.
Biegert was briefly called back to the stand, for the second day in a row, after McManus was dismissed from the hearing.
Biegert testified that during his virtual meeting with McManus about the discipline case the chief told him to go to arbitration and get his job back. Biegert said the chief’s handling of his case felt political.
The hearing finished just after 11 a.m. Wednesday. Attorneys for both sides will now spend several weeks preparing briefs for arbitrator Paul Chapdelaine, of Houston. Chapdelaine will then issue a decision on whether or not to have Biegert reinstated.