SAPD officer accused of smashing ex fiancee's face with rock asks to be returned to force

Justin Ayars fired in August 2018

By Mariah Medina - Digital Journalist, Dillon Collier - Investigative Reporter

SAN ANTONIO - A fired San Antonio Police Department officer accused of smashing his then-fiancee’s face with a rock continued his fight to win back his job Tuesday.

The arbitration hearing for fired officer Justin Ayars, which featured testimony from Police Chief William McManus; Officer Samuel Cortez, who was with Ayars the night of the incident; and Cortez’s wife, concluded Tuesday inside a city meeting room downtown.

A grand jury in November declined to indict Ayars, who is accused of fracturing Krista Cooper-Nurse's orbital wall and sinus wall by striking her face with a rock. Cooper-Nurse had to undergo reconstructive surgery after the incident, which occurred in the early hours of May 26, 2018 at an apartment complex on the far North Side.

RELATED: SAPD fires officer accused of beating girlfriend with rock

Officer Cortez testified that he, his wife, Cooper-Nurse and Ayars had gone to a concert and then to a country dance hall the night of May 25, 2018, and afterward, they had all gone back to the apartment Ayars shared with Cooper-Nurse.

Cortez’s wife alleged that while they were at the apartment, Cooper-Nurse got into an argument with Ayars after she overheard a conversation Ayars was having with Cortez in the bathroom.

"I just remember the door (to the bathroom) busted open, and yelling -- I don't know what (Cooper-Nurse) said," Ayars would later testify. "I just remember yelling."

Cortez's wife said Cooper-Nurse threw an engagement ring at Ayars and told him to leave the apartment. Cortez’s wife said she’d asked her husband if they could leave at that point, but Cortez said he had to help Ayars.

READ MORE: No indictment for fired SAPD officer accused of beating girlfriend with rock 

Ayars said Cooper-Nurse followed him into the kitchen and threw a bottle of liquor in his direction and the bottle shattered on the ground. Cortez’s wife said a shard of glass cut her on the forehead and that prompted her to leave the apartment in a hurry.

As the Cortezes drove off, Cortez’s wife said that they encountered a shirtless and bloodied Ayars, who told them, “She hit me with a rock. She went crazy.” The trio left to report the incident at a police substation, leaving Cooper-Nurse behind at the scene. 

The Cortezes said they didn’t learn of Cooper-Nurse’s injuries until later. 

***WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES***

Witness tells police Ayars hit Cooper-Nurse in the face

What happened outside the apartment shared by Cooper-Nurse and Ayars in the early hours of May 26, 2018 remains a point of dispute between Ayars and Cooper-Nurse.

Ayars contends Cooper-Nurse was the aggressor and that he was defending himself.

Ayars testified Tuesday that, after the glass bottle shattered, cutting Cortez's wife, he told the Cortezes he was leaving with them. He said that, as he tried to catch up with the couple, Cooper-Nurse hit him in the back of the head outside their apartment.

Ayars said that he fell on the ground and rolled onto a grassy slope, landing on his back, and a struggle ensued in which he claims Cooper-Nurse hit him in the head with something.

He said he grabbed her by the throat at least twice to try to push her off of him.

"I was just trying to get her off me so I could get the hell out of there," Ayars said.

Ayars maintained he didn't know Cooper-Nurse was injured when he left the scene with the Cortezes and could only speculate as to how Cooper-Nurse suffered the fractures to her face.

Ayars' testimony is contrary to what a neighbor who witnessed the attack from his window and Cooper-Nurse allege happened.

The neighbor told investigators that Ayars attacked Cooper-Nurse and repeatedly punched her in the face. Cooper-Nurse said Ayars knocked her unconscious with a rock and hit her several more times when she regained consciousness. She said Ayars also bit her fingers -- Ayars denies all of her statements, but could only speculate as to how she suffered the extensive injuries.

Photos provided to the Defenders by Cooper-Nurse last year showed bite marks and 

McManus stands by decision, doesn't believe Ayars acted in self-defense

McManus said Tuesday Ayars’ version of events didn’t add up, remarking that the injury Ayars suffered didn’t align with someone who had been hit while lying on his back. He said that, given Cooper-Nurse's small stature, the circumstances further refuted Ayars' story.

"This makes absolutely no sense -- the way it was described by Mr. Ayars versus the way it was described by Ms. Nurse-Cooper (sic) and an independent witness," McManus said. "You have a guy his size beating up on a little, small in stature female. It just doesn't make sense to me."

McManus also pointed out that, while Cooper-Nurse's story had remained the same throughout the questioning, Ayars had given varying accounts, particularly regarding the object he said he was hit with.

Ayars testified Tuesday that he was frustrated because he felt he had done everything asked of him by the agency when involved in an argument with a significant other: leave the situation.

But McManus said he advises cadets on their last day of training to avoid a short list of things that, if followed, would have prevented Ayars from ending up in the situation.

“I tell cadets four or five different things to avoid, to keep your job,” McManus said. “One of them is alcohol. The other is assaulting your significant other. In this case, those two in particular pertain to this incident.”

What's next?

The arbitrator will make a decision in Ayars' case in the coming months. 

Should Ayars be reinstated to the police force, he will get back pay and benefits.

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