Friday, July 03, 2020

San Antonio can't fire cops who use the N-word or feed homeless people feces: Accountability systems in Texas civil-service cities broken

In San Antonio, recently, a fired police officer was reinstated by an arbitrator after repeatedly using the N-word to address a black suspect while handcuffing him. The head of the police union said it was no more offensive than the mayor publicly using the word, "goddamn." I suspect that's a minority viewpoint.

San Antonio has emerged as the premier case study demonstrating that Texas' civil-service system is broken: 70% of police officers fired by the chief end up back on the force. The city's union-friendly police contract is being touted nationally as an example not to be followed.

The city thought it'd gotten a monkey off its back when it finally was able to fire Matthew Luckhurst and make it stick. They'd done so once after he fed dog feces in between two pieces of bread to a homeless man, but an arbitrator let him back on the force. Later, he was fired again for shit-themed misconduct after spreading a brown substance around a women's restroom to harass a pregnant colleague. This time, just last month, the arbitrator upheld his firing.

But no sooner was Luckhurst off the force than Officer Tim Garcia gets put back on after using the N-word. SAPD appears doomed to remain the state's poster child for the broken police disciplinary system in Chapter 143 of Texas Local Government Code. (See suggestions here for fixing that chapter.)

What's more, when SAPD does fire bad cops, they may still end up working at one of the smaller agencies in Bexar County. Reporter Emilie Eaton identified three fired SAPD officers (including Officer Garcia), who all ended up working as reserve officers at the Leon Valley PD.

Eaton noted that, under current law, "the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, the state agency tasked with licensing and training police officers, cannot revoke an officer’s license short of two dishonorable discharges, a criminal conviction or a probated sentence." The story described how Texas' laws letting cops fired for misconduct remain in the profession are especially lenient:
“Texas does not align with most other states that have decertification processes for police officers,” said Roger Goldman, a professor at the Saint Louis University School of Law who has studied police licensing for more than 30 years.

“Around two-thirds of states permit decertification, even if the officer hasn’t been convicted of anything,” Goldman said. “The action itself — the commission of the conduct, rather than the conviction for the conduct — would have led to an administrative hearing.”
Expanded decertification powers are something the 87th Texas Legislature could do something about. The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement is up for "Sunset" review next year and the agency could use some focused attention. In general, TCOLE needs more staff and more power: They're understaffed to perform their current duties and hamstrung by union-friendly statutes from holding bad cops accountable. They could do more if the Legislature empowered them to do so.

In the meantime, if you want to see how Texas police civil service code prevents departments from holding bad cops accountable, look no further than San Antonio. The stories may sound like satire - getting back on the force after feeding a homeless guy a shit sandwich; N-word-using officer reinstated - but this is really how the police department in Texas' second largest city is run.


Lee said...


Please describe why the union cares to defend the bad apples. What incentive is there for the union to go through so much effort to reinstate bad officers? Wouldn't the union benefit better or at least publicly from ushering these crooked cops out the door? Are they worried about losing that officer's membership dues?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Hey, Lee. IMO, there are 2 reasons why TX cops pay union dues.

1) Unions function as Misconduct Insurance, defending cops when they're accused of doing bad things, and
2) In some jurisdictions (including San Antonio), they collectively bargain.

As an historical matter, collective bargaining for police in Texas is relatively recent, 21st century phenomenon. But for decades before that, #1 was the main service unions provided. If you don't bargain, that's what there is to do.

Because of its historic, economic centrality to the union's business model, this Misconduct Insurance role came to define the culture, attitudes and approach of most police unions, certainly in Texas and arguably, everywhere. It's part of why every communication from them reads like Us-Against-The-World. Their organizational culture is rooted around defending pariah, wrapping them in the flag, and calling it a virtue. It's seen as their raison d'etre.

Lee said...

I still can't fathom what incentive the union has to keep the bad cops in the street.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

If your organizational history, personal identity and fundamental business model centers around selling Misconduct Insurance, you don't scorn officers who engage in misconduct.

Gadfly said...

Bexar County, nothing. Hell, small towns in small counties, especially if the small town has a tight budget, can have a shitload of bad cops. Just google "Marlin" on this one, Grits. (Or wait to see a blog post I'm working on.)

Steven Michael Seys said...

When it becomes known among the law enforcement community that bad cops are protected in a certain jurisdiction, good cops don't apply to work there and bad cops are attracted by the prospect of lifetime tenure. Unless Texas gets accountability for police misconduct that makes sense and doesn't place law enforcement officers above the law, Texas will continue to slide down the greased chute to bad-cop hell.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion: No body being paid by the people should be allowed to be in a Union. Union's have outlived their usefulness and are really no longer needed.

And as far as the "N-word": It is in the dictionary, it is also a slang used on other then black people and black's even call each other the "N-word". So what's the problem?

jimbobob8 said...

I found that interesting that facebook finds this article so offensive
that it is not shareable

Faith_No_More said...

I believe thw SAPD union contract came about during the early 1990's when being "tough on crime" led to the mass construction of prisons----another side effect was if one were a member of SAT City Council/Mayor back then, if they did not support the proposed police contract, they were afraid of getting voted out! Do a google search on Harold Flammia, the driving force behind the Alamo City's powerful Police union contract.

Anonymous said...

What puzzles me is why a smaller department / community would willingly take on liability-with-a-gun (Leon Valley PD, I'm talking to you) when a Google search would reveal that officer's history. IMO you're just asking for a budget-breaking lawsuit.

Anonymous said...

Not shareable on Facebook...!! Stupid ai screening words with no consideration made for context or something. When I read this story I thought to myself... everywhere you look these people entrusted by society to do the right thing are discovered to be abusing power. Every person in every position within every governmental organisation need to have real oversight, real accountability, real penalties for the real bullshit they have been flagrantly getting away with!!! When there are more drugs inside of the Texas prison system then there are outside of it. When the very people who are being paid to work in the units as guards are engaged in the drug trade within the prison what is the point!! What a joke! It seems to me that in the last 30 years so much has gone to hell in a hand basket. I am so over it.

Bad Wolf said...

Well maybe if these police officers were arrested instead of disciplined it would hit two birds with one stone.

gravyrug said...

Re: Facebook. I've had FB reject more than one Grits article. I don't think it's the specific articles, but the whole site. I have no idea why, unless some of Grits's detractors have repeatedly complained.