What can you do about nightmare neighbors? Apparently, not much

Deadly dog attack was preceded by more than 100 calls to police, 12 to ACS

SAN ANTONIO – A West Side neighborhood’s struggle with one home that made life a “nightmare” has raised questions about what -- if anything -- can be done about nuisance homes.

The deadly dog attack of an elderly man in the 2800 block of Depla Street was preceded by more then 100 calls to police and 12 to Animal Care Services to the owners’ home in a two-year span. A Development Services Department spokeswoman said there had also been some code enforcement issues, though not any serious ones.

READ MORE: ‘Horrific scene’: Dog owner arrested after elderly man killed, 3 others injured in dog attack, officials say

The 112 calls to police between March 4, 2021 and March 3, 2023 - two days after the second arrest for the Feb. 24 dog attack - included different types of disturbances, a report of shots fired and a call involving Child Protective Services.

Asked on Tuesday night what action the city can take in that kind of situation, Mayor Ron Nirenberg told KSAT “those are the same questions I’m asking.”

As KSAT followed up with individual city departments on Wednesday, though, answers were in short supply.

A San Antonio police spokesman refused KSAT’s request for an interview about what options are available when a house is getting that many calls for service. Instead, the spokesman emailed a statement encouraging people to report crimes to the police and to reach out to their local SAFFE officers about neighborhood problems.

Similarly, SAPD spokeswoman Lt. Michelle Ramos would not speak directly to the calls for service at the house during an interview later in the day. However, she did say what had happened in the neighborhood was part of a “larger conversation” beyond just a police response.

“And looking at those calls, there’s a number of other departments. Once again, we’re going to have to collaborate and see what we can do to address the issue,” Ramos said.

The 12 calls to ACS through 311 were what preceded the deadly dog attack on Feb. 24. ACS Director Shannon Sims said that call volume is not unique.

“There are thousands of properties that have ...10 to 12 calls in ... a span of two years. Much of that is neighbor disputes,” Sims said.

While ACS can choose to pursue criminal charges rather than civil citations when repeatedly dealing with the same person, there aren’t proactive actions the department can take if complaints keep rolling in.

There are situations in which ACS can remove animals, but only a judge can deny someone the ability to own more animals in the future. Even then, that’s only an option in felony animal cruelty cases, , Sims said.

The City Attorney’s Office also coordinates a “Dangerous Assessment Response Team,” made up of several city departments, meant to tackle the “worst of the worst nuisance properties” that have at least two years of documented issues.

READ MORE: 3 arrested after East Side bust by San Antonio’s Dangerous Assessment Response Team leads to guns, drugs

Despite neighbors’ distress over the Depla Street home, though, a city spokeswoman said it would not have qualified for a DART inspection since the documented calls don’t meet what’s required in state law.

The DART unit addresses nuisance properties which have a documented history of habitual violations and/or arrests. These include violations such as murder, aggravated assaults, prostitution, narcotics, robbery and firearm violations, or other egregious violations.

San Antonio’s DART program is unique in that we also address habitual violations of code enforcement, health, TABC, and animal codes – typically related to documented cruel confinement of large numbers of animals and hoarding situations that threaten the lives of the animals and any occupants. The Depla property did not have a documented history of criminal activities under our DART criteria. In short, the service calls related to animals are not sufficient to serve as a basis for a DART inspection. However, the other enforcement mechanisms, such as “dangerous dog” designations, are available.

Laura Mayes, City of San Antonio spokeswoman

So the options for neighbors facing situations like that on Depla Street appear limited to continuing to call 911 and 311.

About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

Sal Salazar is a photojournalist at KSAT 12. Before coming to KSAT in 1998, he worked at the Fox affiliate in San Antonio. Sal started off his career back in 1995 for the ABC Affiliate in Lubbock and has covered many high-profile news events since. In his free time, he enjoys spending time at home, gaming and loves traveling with his wife.