SAN ANTONIO - The president of the San Antonio Police Officers Association wants Police Chief William McManus placed on administrative leave over his handling of a human smuggling case.
"Our outcry to you is to place him on administrative leave pending the full investigation of a state or federal agency best equipped in understanding the complexities of this situation, and to investigate if any state or federal laws have been violated, in addition to the obvious violations of the general manual. This action would eliminate any appearance of special treatment or the fear of possible retaliation," SAPOA President Michael Helle said in a letter addressed to Mayor Ron Nirenberg and members of the San Antonio City Council.
A police spokeswoman on Tuesday said the department had no comment on Helle's letter, but City Manager Sheryl Sculley released the following statement:
"The chief of police reports to the city manager. I fully support Chief McManus' handling of the smuggling case and have no intention of placing him on administrative leave," Sculley said. "No rule, directive, regulation or law was broken or circumvented. The chief acted within his jurisdiction, and as acknowledged by federal law enforcement, had no real authority to hold the 12 individuals after they were questioned.
"On Dec. 23, Homeland Security Investigations was notified early in the SAPD investigation. One HSI agent responded to the scene, was present at SAPD headquarters and was provided access to the 12 individuals. At no time did SAPD restrict or prevent HSI from taking custody of the individuals."
McManus has been questioned and criticized over his decision to investigate the Dec. 23 incident involving the release of 12 immigrants found in a tractor-trailer, despite a Homeland Security Investigations agent present at the scene. The chief said he "managed the investigation, as is my prerogative, under the state's anti-smuggling law."
He said the agent was at Public Safety Headquarters and was given access to the immigrants, who were released to Catholic Charities.
"At no time did SAPD restrict or prevent the HSI agent from taking custody of the individuals," McManus said Friday.
In the letter, Helle said that human smuggling cases are "technical and very difficult and require the proper technical training and field experience to manage a positive outcome."
Helle said that several SAPD detectives are deputized federal agents who work with HSI to investigate and prosecute cases. He said the department has a "working protocol" for such cases and officers who arrive at the scene have been trained to call the proper authorities, "hold down the scene" until they arrive, and provide transportation and medical attention if needed.
"That was exactly what was happening until our chief of police, unrequested, showed up at the scene," Helle said in the letter.
Helle questioned why McManus didn't allow HSI to investigate the case and why the immigrants were released without properly identifying them. He also criticized the chief's decision to prosecute the case on a state level instead of a federal level.
Officials with the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services said they were pleased with McManus' actions.
"Chief McManus demonstrated what victim-centered policing looks like in practice. Our clients had immediate access to social services and legal representation ensuring that, as crime victims, they could focus on providing accurate, essential information to law enforcement officials as they gathered the information necessary to protect public safety," RAICES executive director Jonathan Ryan said.
"Each individual survivor provided witness testimony to law enforcement officials directly following the incident in support of the investigation and prosecution of Mr. Nichols (suspect). RAICES is in communication with the survivors, the San Antonio Police Department and the Bexar County District Attorney. Our clients will cooperate fully with any reasonable requests for assistance in this investigation and prosecution."
City Council members Clayton Perry and Greg Brockhouse have questioned McManus' handling of the case. Councilman Rey Saldana said he supported the chief in in his handling of human smuggling and human trafficking cases.
Two people were arrested on charges of human smuggling.
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