SAN ANTONIO – UPDATE - This story now includes an official response from Elmendorf Police Department Chief Marco Pena
A fired San Antonio police officer caught on body-worn camera repeatedly punching a handcuffed pregnant woman is now working for the Elmendorf Police Department, Texas Commission on Law Enforcement records obtained by the KSAT 12 Defenders confirm.
The department for the small San Antonio suburb has held the commission of Officer Elizabeth Montoya since July, TCOLE records show.
The commission permits Montoya to serve as a reserve officer for the department and allows her to work off-duty law enforcement jobs such as directing traffic or providing security.
Elmendorf Police Department Chief Marco Pena defended his hiring of Montoya Thursday, calling her an asset to his agency.
Montoya was fired by SAPD in early 2019, months after her body camera and a camera worn by a second officer captured Montoya striking a handcuffed woman in the head while the suspect was being loaded into the back of an SAPD patrol vehicle.
The woman, Kimberly Esparza, was six months pregnant at the time of the incident.
Montoya’s indefinite suspension paperwork states that Esparza was left on the ground in the rain for 26 minutes, after Montoya had punched her once in the breast and seven times on her head during a drug arrest just west of downtown in early July 2018.
The documents state that Montoya did not treat Esparza humanely and also muted her body camera at the scene while not permitted to.
Less than 30 seconds after that clip began, as the two women struggled, Esparza told Montoya that she was hurting her baby.
Montoya then accused Esparza of stealing, taking drugs and not caring about the baby’s well-being.
After Esparza told Montoya she was hurting her arm, Montoya replied, “Good. Are you going to stop?”
Esparza, still struggling and yelling, was then placed on the ground on her stomach.
Montoya told Esparza that if she kicked her again the officer would break her arm.
Esparza was then picked up and, as Montoya attempted to secure her in the back of an SAPD patrol vehicle, another struggle between the two women ensued.
Footage from the body camera of Officer Joshua Vega, who was standing behind Montoya, showed Montoya reach into the vehicle and deliver a flurry of punches as Esparza screamed and struggled.
Esparza can be heard weeping throughout much of the footage.
Esparza was later charged with assault of a public servant, resisting arrest and possession of a controlled substance - penalty group III, typically used to charge someone who illegally possesses prescription drugs with common medical uses.
All charges were later dismissed, court records show.
Esparza was not the only suspect on the receiving end of on-duty violence from Montoya, SAPD records show.
Years earlier, in September 2015, Montoya was suspended five days after an internal investigation determined she kicked a handcuffed man in the stomach while he was lying on the ground and then placed her foot on his neck.
The man had been pulled from a patrol vehicle after kicking and damaging a rear window in it, records show.
Montoya was suspended for violating SAPD rules pertaining to responsibility to serve the public and for stopping her body camera while not permitted to.
Montoya was handed a proposed 10-day suspension, which was later shortened to five days by then-interim SAPD Police Chief Anthony Trevino.
An SAPD spokeswoman confirms Montoya was criminally investigated for the 2015 incident and the findings were forwarded to the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office.
The Defenders could find no record that Montoya was ever criminally charged.
The same week Montoya received her 2019 indefinite suspension, she was suspended 10 days for a separate incident in August 2018 involving her interactions with the public.
After encountering several people sleeping in the parking lot of a store in the 300 block of N. Zarzamora Street, Montoya told one of them, “Pick up all your (expletive) trash... I don’t want to (expletive) hear it... I’ll (expletive) Tase you,” her suspension paperwork states.
Chief Pena, reached by telephone Thursday morning, said Montoya works as a support officer riding with another officer around 24 hours per month.
Montoya also assists with city court proceedings in Elmendorf, Pena said.
“I think she’s an asset, if you will. I feel she can bring some good to the department,” Pena said via telephone.
Pena, who claimed he watched the entire footage from Montoya’s 2018 incident with Esparza after Montoya’s attorney provided it, said there are two sides to every story.
Pena said that Montoya was up front about what happened and that he was unable to get much information about civil or criminal investigations of the fired officer after his agency contacted both SAPD and the DA’s office.
Records related to Montoya’s issues interacting with the public have been readily available online for years.
Montoya was scheduled to go before a third-party arbitrator next week in an effort to get the indefinite suspension reversed, but those proceedings have been pushed to the end of January, San Antonio officials confirm.
Officials have not provided a reason for the delay in arbitration.
After Montoya’s termination from SAPD, the Leon Valley Police Department held her law enforcement commission until mid-April, when Leon Valley’s chief ended the arrangement.
Pena added that Montoya had no issues while working for more than two years with Leon Valley PD, which factored into his decision to bring her on board.