Attorney: Officer fired for repeatedly punching handcuffed pregnant woman was following rules for gaining compliance

Officer Elizabeth Montoya attempting to get 2019 indefinite suspension overturned by an arbitrator

SAN ANTONIO – A San Antonio police officer fired after body-worn camera footage showed her repeatedly punching a handcuffed, pregnant woman formally began her bid Wednesday to be reinstated to the department.

An attorney for officer Elizabeth Montoya argued before a third-party arbitrator that his client used proper techniques to try to gain compliance from the handcuffed woman, Kimberly Esparza, during a search near downtown in July 2018 and that Montoya was subjected to disparate treatment from the department after it completed its investigation of her.

Montoya, who sat quietly during the proceedings while wearing a surgical mask, was terminated in January 2019 and saw her arbitration hearing delayed several times.

Attorneys for the city described the decision to keep Montoya’s termination in place as a “simple” one since an “overwhelmingly amount” of body camera footage exists of the incident.

Esparza, described as 5′1″ and 130 pounds, was barefoot and six months pregnant while Montoya attempted to search her for drugs in the 1200 block of San Luis Street, just west of downtown.

Esparza would not comply with many of Montoya’s instructions during the search before the incident escalated inside the back of an SAPD patrol vehicle.

Footage from the body camera of Officer Joshua Vega, who was standing behind Montoya, shows Montoya reach into the vehicle and deliver a flurry of punches as Esparza screams and struggles.

SAPD Officer Elizabeth Montoya was fired for her actions during the July 2018 arrest of Kimberly Esparza. (KSAT)

A former internal affairs investigator who handled Montoya’s case, SAPD Lt. Matthew Murray, testified Wednesday that Montoya claimed she punched Esparza four times in the face.

The footage, however, showed Montoya punching Esparza seven times in the head with a closed fist and once in her side.

Montoya’s attorney got Murray to concede that Montoya corrected her narrative after a review of the footage. Murray confirmed his investigation uncovered no allegations of untruthfulness by Montoya.

Suspension paperwork states that Esparza was left on the ground in the rain for 26 minutes.

Montoya can also be heard in the footage telling other officers that Esparza was faking her injuries and that she punched Esparza in the face because she could not punch Esparza in her side.

Attorneys for the city played a short clip of footage in which they described Montoya as “smiling” at an area hospital while the pregnant Esparza was being checked out by medical personnel just a few feet away.

Montoya’s attorney, Robert Leonard, peppered Murray with questions about why he never questioned some officers at the scene of the incident. Leonard also played several clips of footage that appeared to show other SAPD officers at the scene employing compliance techniques on Esparza.

Leonard pointed out that no other officers reported Montoya’s actions that night as possible misconduct.

Esparza was 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.

While the drug possession charge was rejected at the time of Esparza’s booking, she was held in jail on the resisting arrest and assault charges, as well as for outstanding warrants from a previous burglary case.

All charges were later dismissed, court records show, but not before Esparza spent 46 days in jail.

Esparza’s attorney was able to get her client released from jail prior to Esparza delivering the baby.

Esparza eventually delivered a healthy baby girl, who turned three years old last year, her attorney said.

Montoya’s arbitration hearing is scheduled to continue Thursday.

About the Author:

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined KSAT Investigates in September 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat and on the Six O'Clock News. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.