SAN ANTONIO — From allegations an officer put his knee on the head and neck of a handcuffed man, to claims officers beat a man causing him "severe and unnecessary bodily injury," four San Antonio police officers were indefinitely suspended within weeks of each other amid allegations they used excessive force, records obtained Wednesday by Eyewitness Wants to Know revealed.
Officers Michael Brewer, Carlos Castro, Thomas Villarreal and Andre Vargas were all issued indefinite suspensions, which is the department's equivalent of termination. Castro and Villarreal were suspended for the same incident while Brewer and Vargas were suspended for a separate incident.
Records: Officers kicked in door over misdemeanor, repeatedly punched man causing him 'severe and unnecessary bodily injury'
Police records state Castro and Villarreal pulled over Eric Dwight Wilson on the city's East Side on the night of January 16 when they said they saw him speeding and failing to use a turn signal.
A police report states Wilson pulled into the driveway of a home in the 1900 block of Lamar Street before walking into the home and trying to close the door on officers. Police wrote in a report they smelled marijuana on Wilson, adding that in light of the "active pursuit," Villarreal decided to kick down Wilson's door to arrest him in connection with the traffic stop.
After multiple kicks, Castro, a report states, placed a chair in the door so Wilson could not close it. After that, the pair instructed Wilson to exit his home while showing his hands. The report states Villarreal deployed his Taser on Wilson because he was "actively resisting arrest" but the Taser did not connect. The report states it was enough to distract Wilson to allow officers to force their way into the home.
Police wrote that they began repeatedly punching Wilson on his head, shoulder, back and torso, because they feared he could be reaching for a weapon. The force was enough to draw blood. Castro wrote Villarreal sustained a bruised hand while he suffered a "minor abrasion" on his forehead.
Police found approximately 30 grams of marijuana and 6 grams of MDMA in the car Wilson was driving.
Wilson was taken to Brooke Army Medical Center and was booked by proxy for possession of a controlled substance, as well as an elevated charge of evading arrest. Online records show he was released on bond for those charges days later, but picked up additional charges including being a felon in possession of a firearm and criminal mischief.
KENS 5 reached out to Wilson's attorney for the January charges for comment who said he would have to talk to Wilson before releasing any information relating to his injuries or the case.
Villarreal and Castro were both accused of violating the San Antonio Police Department's use of force policy, as well as its policy on warrantless arrests. Suspension documents state the pair used "unreasonable force" which resulted in "severe and unnecessary bodily injury" to Wilson. The documents also state the pair "entered a private residence without consent, without a warrant, and without exigent circumstances, for the purpose of effecting a misdemeanor arrest."
Both officers have appealed their terminations to an independent arbiter who could overturn San Antonio Police Chief William McManus' decision to terminate the officers.
Officer put knee on handcuffed prisoner's head and neck, suspension document says
Officers Brewer and Vargas were issued indefinite suspensions relating to the treatment of a man who was arrested on November 26, 2019, on a charge of evading arrest.
San Antonio police said they were unable to release the incident report because the incident involved a minor, but sent a synopsis of the report, which stated that Matthew Anthony Garza attempted to evade police. The synopsis states police were able to block Garza in a parking lot and one officer approached him with his gun drawn, telling him to exit the vehicle and get on the ground.
Garza exited his car with his hands up but did not comply with the order to get on the ground and instead "started to approach and raised his hands." Officers told Garza to put his hands behind his back, prompting another officer to deploy his Taser on Garza.
After being Tased, Garza told the officers he needed to catch his breath before being put into handcuffs and was taken into custody. Officers said he began yelling and acting aggressively, which prompted officers to push him against the patrol car. During a search of Garza's car, officers located "a green leafy substance," a marijuana grinder and pipe.
Garza filed an internal affairs complaint against the officers and officers found that Brewer subject Garza to "unnecessary physical violence" and had placed his left knee on Garza's head and neck despite Garza being handcuffed.
A request from Garza's attorney was not returned as of this publication.
Disciplinary documents state Vargas "used unnecessary force when he lifted Garza off the ground in handcuffs by his arms causing him unnecessary and warranted pain." Further, suspension records state Vargas used profane and offensive language during Garza's arrest.
In a presentation to City Council last month, McManus said there was a downward trend in use of force complaints received and investigated. Last year, 19 use of force complaints were received and investigated, according to the department.
Both officers have appealed their firings, which will be heard by an independent arbiter who could potentially reverse McManus' decision to fire the officers.
The department said Wednesday night that no one would be available for an interview about the firings, but sent the following statement from McManus, which revealed the two incidents are under investigation by the FBI:
“Excessive use of force will not be tolerated within this department. The actions that these four officers showed on two separate incidents are indefensible and do not align with our use of force policy, de-escalation tactics, and our guiding principles. SAPD will continue to hold its officers to the highest standard of conduct and impose discipline when warranted in order to maintain the trust and confidence of our community. I have asked the FBI to conduct an independent review of these two incidents and we are fully cooperating and providing all the information that we have to them.”
San Antonio Police Officers Association President Mike Helle said Wednesday night that the arbitration process protects officers from political bias or other discriminatory methods.
"They will have an opportunity to appeal their terminations to an independent arbitrator, who will review all the documents, witness statements, and testimony given at the hearing," Helle said. "The arbitrator will then render a decision based on the totality of facts. That is the system we have to review terminations to ensure that no political bias or other discriminatory methods were used to terminate an employee."
Over the last decade, 24 cases have reached an independent arbiter and of those 24 cases, 10 officers have won back their jobs, putting the city at a 58% rate of success. Records for the same time period show McManus has brought back 20 officers which he himself had initially fired.
The arbitration process can take several months -- sometimes years. And if an arbitrator decides to go against McManus' decision, the city, in some cases, stands to lose tens of thousands of dollars in back pay and benefits for the time which the officer spent fighting their termination.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg said Wednesday he hopes the firings of the four officers "stick," noting arbitration has taken power from McManus.