SAPD: Officers asked to stay away from polling sites after claims of ‘possible voter intimidation'

Request comes after congressman's complaint about officers at early voting sites

By Mariah Medina - Digital Journalist

SAN ANTONIO - San Antonio police officers on Wednesday were asked to stay away from polling sites, two days after Rep. Joaquin Castro asked the public to report to him any sight of "uniformed law enforcement" at polling sites.

The Democratic congressman, who is in a contested race with libertarian candidate Jeffrey Blunt, said he went to Las Palmas on the first day of early voting and saw two police officers patrolling through the parking lot.

"San Antonians – while I was at the Las Palmas early voting site this morning two police officers patrolled through the parking lot. Please let me know if other uniformed law enforcement is present at any polls,” Castro's tweet stated.

Wednesday morning, San Antonio police Assistant Chief James Flavin sent an email asking officers to "refrain from patrolling through or parking in close proximity to polling locations in the City unless they receive a call for service to the address."

Flavin's email can be read in full below:

All, 

I have received information our officers have been observed patrolling through and remaining stationary in the parking lots at polling (early voting) locations around the City the last couple of days. While the officers have done nothing wrong in patrolling theses sites as part of their normal duties, we must consider the viewpoints of those citizens who may have concerns about the presence of authority figures such as police officers in close proximity to a location where voting is taking place. 

With this in mind, please instruct your officers to refrain from patrolling through or parking in close proximity to polling locations in the city unless they receive a call for service to the address. 

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Thank you

The San Antonio Police Officers Association sent out a news release Wednesday condemning Flavin's request to officers and Castro's tweet.

SAPOA officials suggested it could be dangerous to ask officers to stay away from polling sites "when we are seeing an increase in confrontations and assaults on public officials at restaurants and other public venues, and when suspicious packages are being mailed to media and others."

In a statement sent to KSAT late Wednesday night, Castro said his tweet was posted in light of President Donald Trump's Oct. 20 tweet, which Castro said "many viewed as an attempt at voter intimidation."

Days before early voting commenced, the president tweeted "all levels of government and Law Enforcement are watching carefully for VOTER FRAUD, including during EARLY VOTING. Cheat at your own peril. Violators will be subject to maximum penalties, both civil and criminal!"

Additionally, Castro said SAPOA has maintained "a strong and public support" for Trump, while pointing to a 2016 incident that resulted in disciplinary actions against 23 San Antonio police officers.

In the 2016 incident, officers were reprimanded for wearing "Make America Great Again" hats in a photo op with the president during a campaign stop. When asked for comment in the immediate aftermath, SAPOA president Mike Helle said "the officers were most likely caught up in the moment and did not consider the political nature of their actions."

Castro issued the following statement to KSAT:

"We want everyone to feel comfortable going to cast their vote. In light of President Trump’s statement on the eve of Early Voting — which many viewed as an attempt at voter intimidation — and the San Antonio Police Officers’ Association (SAPOA) strong and public support of Donald Trump, some voters reached out to me to express concern about the police presence at some polls," Castro said. "On behalf of those who reached out, I am troubled that increased police presence could be a result of the President’s comments.

“San Antonians—including myself—have a deep respect and appreciation for law enforcement. Voting is a basic right that all Americans must protect for the sake of our democracy. In light of the circumstances, I think Chief McManus has made the right call.”

SAPOA officials disagreed, saying that McManus should have "(stood) up for his officers."

McManus on Thursday released the following statement regarding the request:

"We received several calls about possible voter intimidation due to SAPD officers being present at various polling places. I’m confident our officers weren’t engaged in any of this behavior, but we took additional steps out of respect for the political process," he said.

District 6 Councilman Greg Brockhouse released the following statement Thursday on the matter:

“In today’s political climate, with pipe bombs being used for political terrorism, public officials being accosted in public venues, and poltical [sic] animosity running high nationally, police officers should be patrolling all areas to protect the public. That includes voting sites. We have seen huge crowds turning out to vote and their safety is a primary concern. I have asked the Chief of Police to revisit the directive to refrain from patrolling through or parking close to voting locations and to clarify the role of law enforcement in and around all polling sites. The men and women of SAPD are trusted and honorable public servants and they are here to protect and serve. They should not be used to further political agendas.”

What voters are saying: 

"They're here for a reason, and that's to protect us. They aren't doing anything wrong," said Jose Luis Oierbides.

"I like policemen. I like their security. I like everything about them, but not at all at a voting place," said Elida Siprian. 

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