SAN ANTONIO – A San Antonio Police Department officer fired last year for directing a racist and sexist tirade toward a funeral home director has won back his job, city officials confirmed Friday.
Officer Lee Biegert, who had worked for SAPD since 2006, was reinstated to the department by a third-party arbitrator, a year after he was terminated for the expletive-filled barrage.
The arbitrator shortened Biegert’s indefinite suspension to 90 days, and concluded that the officer’s punishment was not in line with similar SAPD incidents.
San Antonio’s city attorney criticized the decision Friday, calling it the latest “example of how our efforts to set standards that meet community and leadership expectations are thwarted by arbitrators who substitute their judgment for that of the Chief.”
During an October 2020 phone call between Biegert and the funeral director in charge of Funeral Caring USA, 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 recording, first obtained by the KSAT 12 Defenders last year, included a heated exchange of words before Biegert appeared to hang up.
“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 funeral 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.
Powell testified last year 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,” Powell testified during the hearing.
An attorney for Biegert, Karl Brehm, argued that his client’s lapse in judgment during the call should not wipe out his more than 14 years of positive contributions to the department.
Brehm during the hearing also 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.
Brehm told the Defenders via telephone Friday that Biegert will be owed back pay and had already completed some of the steps to return to duty.
SAPD Chief William McManus testified during Biegert’s hearing that the call was an “unprovoked verbal assault,” the likes of which he had not heard in all of his years.
McManus issued Biegert an indefinite suspension in late February 2021 despite a recommendation from the department’s Complaint and Administrative Review Board to give the officer a lesser punishment.
McManus stated during the hearing that the board got it wrong.
McManus also testified 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 in that case ruled that Biegert’s actions were justified, but McManus said he did not feel that level of force was necessary.
In Chapdelaine’s ruling, he wrote that McManus took the incident personally.
“The decision to indefinitely suspend the Appellant was also a wide departure from recent suspensions the Chief had issued in similar cases,” wrote Chapdelaine.
“There was no dispute that Officer Biegert made vulgar comments with misogynistic and ethnic overtones to a member of the public that were captured on a recorded line. Behavior most employers in the community would not tolerate. This is yet another example of how our efforts to set standards that meet community and leadership expectations are thwarted by arbitrators who substitute their judgment for that of the Chief,” City Attorney Andy Segovia said in a written statement Friday afternoon.