(This story was updated at 10:05 a.m., June 7)
The double standards and duplicity are piling up on the desk of San Antonio Police Chief William McManus.
With the city’s top lawman under state investigation over the release of a truckload of illegal aliens, the Police Officers Association wants McManus to stand down. The department’s policy may back up the union’s position.
A mandatory reassignment provision in SAPD’s general manual requires temporary leave or reassignment of an officer who is “charged with a criminal offense or is under criminal investigation.”
McManus has been under investigation by the Texas Attorney General’s Office since 12 smuggled illegal aliens were freed last December. The chief’s actions in the incident are being reviewed as a possible violation of SB 4, the state’s anti-sanctuary law.
The state probe was confirmed in a May 25 letter from Steve Pier, the AG’s director of intergovernmental relations. Pier did disclose if the investigation was civil, criminal or both.
“By not adhering to official policy, the chief is telling both his fellow officers and the community, ‘do as I say, not as I do.’ He’s saying the rules don’t apply to him – that there’s one standard for people like him and another for the rest of us,” said Mike Helle, president of the San Antonio Police Officers Association.
“This is a terrible message to send to officers under his command. It’s a particularly bad one to send during a time when people in minority communities sometimes feel that they are treated by a different standard. As police officers work to build bonds of trust with those in minority communities, the chief’s actions undermine our efforts.”
Helle said McManus ordered the release of all 12 individuals and put the order in writing because officers handling the investigation disagreed with his directive.
McManus – a vocal critic of SB4 – has asserted that his department has no authority to enforce federal immigration laws. City officials say the chief “did not have jurisdiction to detain” the illegals.
Helle countered: “SAPD most certainly had jurisdiction to detain everyone as a criminal offense was occurring in their presence. To state that SAPD had no jurisdiction is a sound bite the chief has been using to avoid ridicule for his actions.”
The state investigation was spurred by complaints that McManus failed to comply with SB4. As a Texas peace officer, the chief is sworn to uphold the laws of the state. By extension, that includes cooperating with federal agents on immigration cases within his jurisdiction.
With 12 potential witnesses in the wind, no case could be made against truck driver Herbert Alan Nichols. Nichols was subsequently released from jail, with no charges filed.
Upset by the politicized chief’s double-dealing, members of the SAPD union delivered a decisive vote of no-confidence against McManus earlier this year. Though the percentages were lopsidedly against him — 97-3 – the chief blithely waved off the vote as “ridiculous.”
McManus’s City Hall masters are equally determined to marginalize the union’s concerns.
“It’s important to note that [the union] first complained to the AG, then tried to pressure the AG by sending numerous letters from the same SAPOA email address, and now they are calling for Chief McManus to be placed on leave,” the city said in a statement.
Amid the ongoing state probe, SAPD policy questions and restlessness in the ranks, Mayor Ron Nirenberg and City Manager Sheryl Sculley stand by their police chief.
“Calling for the chief’s leave almost six months after the event is a tired attempt to keep a false narrative going,” Sculley said in an email statement. “The chief broke no rules, policy or laws on Dec. 23. Saying the chief is under criminal investigation is unfair and inaccurate. Clearly the union has an agenda they are trying to further.”
Helle, a 27-year police detective, noted that the union never claimed McManus was under criminal investigation, but maintains that the chief “violated SB4, as well as federal laws pertaining to the handling of illegal immigrant juveniles.”
“Given the severity of the chief’s violation of state law, which could lead to removal from office, he should be placed on administrative duty or, better yet, leave,” Helle said.
The union said it brought its concerns to the mayor and council in early January. “When they refused to act, I went to the governor and lieutenant governor to report the incident,” Helle related.
“The city manager refused to make an attempt to verify any of the allegations made by officers on the scene. She relied solely on the word of her appointed chief and outright dismissed the request for an investigation,” Helle said.
Opening the state investigation, Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office ordered the city and police department to preserve all evidence and records from the incident – an order with which the city says it has complied.
In a March 28 memo to the City’s Charter Review Commission, Nirenberg declared: “I have stated many times that the City of San Antonio should be the ‘gold standard’ of ethics in governance.”
“If Mayor Nirenberg truly believes that, then we shouldn’t have one standard for political elites and another for the rest of us,” Helle responded. “When it comes to the law, the police chief should be treated no differently than the cop on the beat.”
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