Council briefing on police use of force turns tense

sapd mcmanus

A City Council briefing by Police Chief William McManus turned unusually tense on Wednesday when he broached the topic of Marquise Jones, who was fatally shot by an off-duty police officer in February 2014.

A Bexar County grand jury voted last month not to indict Officer Robert Encina in the shooting, a decision that came after more than a year of vigils and protests that began as a large-scale “die-in” at North Star Mall.

“I’ve not spoken out on this before, amidst all the rumors and chatter in the community about it, but I’m speaking out about it now,” McManus said.

On Feb. 28, 2014, Encina was working security at Chacho’s & Chalucci’s in the 8600 block of Perrin Beitel, when he shot and killed Jones in the restaurant’s drive-thru.

Jones, 23, was an African American. According to disciplinary records, Encina had showed animosity toward blacks during a previous off-duty incident.

“I have no use, zero use for bad cops,” McManus told council members on Wednesday. “Don’t tolerate them. Never have. Never will. Marquise Jones. If I thought that that shooting was a bad one, if I thought it was against policy, if I thought that there wasn’t a gun, if I thought that it wasn’t justified, I would have filed charges on that officer.”

Two cars collided in the restaurant’s parking lot, and Encina directed one of the drivers to turn off the vehicle. Jones then exited from the passenger side and displayed a handgun, according to police.

Encina fired at Jones, striking him in the torso.

“Mr. Jones had a gun,” McManus told council members. “The officer saw him with a gun. An independent witness saw him with a gun. The driver of the vehicle that Mr. Jones had been in prior to the shooting said in his statement to the investigator that when shots were being fired, he believed Mr. Jones was the one shooting.”

Jones’ relatives have disputed this account of the incident, claiming that Jones was trying to walk away when he was shot, and that a gun was planted near him.

Councilman Rey Saldaña hinted at this controversy at the Wednesday briefing.

“There are conflicting accounts from witness to witness about whether Mr. Jones had a weapon,” Saldaña said. “Either he had the weapon or he didn’t. We’re never going to know because nobody had a camera on the situation, no one was wearing a body camera. So we’re really relying on one witness’s testimony versus the officer’s testimony.”

Saldaña added, “There were no fingerprints (on the handgun) in that case.”

McManus responded, “Generally speaking, handguns, especially revolvers, especially depending upon the surface of the revolver, are very difficult to extract a print from, a full print. … It’s not unusual to not be able to draw a fingerprint from a revolver.”

Among those attending the public briefing, billed as a discussion on the Police Department’s “reform initiatives regarding use of force and the protection of citizens’ civil rights,” was U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio.

Castro has said he wants to scrutinize “stats on use of force and also the resolution of those … the complaints and then how they were resolved.”

He expressed concern that three San Antonio police officers received only five-day suspensions after severely beating a man by mistake while pursuing another man on the Northwest Side in May 2014.

Castro met last week with McManus and City Manager Sheryl Sculley to request the data on how the Police Department disciplines its officers who use excessive force.

“I’m encouraged that they’ve been very cooperative and forthcoming and understand the need for further reforms,” Castro told me before the council briefing.

But clearly, more work remains. McManus hinted as much when he began the hearing by promising council a more cautious approach to policing in San Antonio.

“We are looking at training that calls into question, ‘Is it really necessary (to use force)?’” he said. “And that’s what we’ll be looking at … how to switch that culture. And to be honest with you, it will be a very, very difficult one to make. … And the difficulty is police culture.”

bchasnoff@express-news.net

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