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A San Antonio area 1st Amendment auditor Marcos Rios has sued the VIA Metropolitan Transit Police for alleged misconduct, violation of first amendment rights, and lack of de-escalation techniques. The lawsuit cites specific incidents of unlawful detainment, biased policing against “auditors”, and attempts to suspend Rios’ concealed carry license.
Lawsuit Against VIA Metropolitan Transit Police by Local Auditor
A San Antonio area 1st Amendment named Marcos Rios has recently filed a lawsuit against the VIA Metropolitan Transit Police. Mr. Rios, who runs a YouTube Channel callled sa210copwatch and can be found on Facebook at SA 210 Copwatch, has been actively documenting interactions between VIA Transit Police and members of his community. His aim is to shed light on the behavior of these police officers and hold them accountable for any misconduct or mistreatment of the public.
Living in the southern part of the downtown area, Mr. Rios has been a witness to numerous encounters between VIA Metropolitan Transit Police and innocent individuals in his community. He has grown tired of seeing these instances of alleged misconduct and harassment, and he is determined to put an end to it.
As an investigative journalist, Mr. Rios has captured these interactions on video. He prefers to keep his distance from the officers and never reveals his YouTube channel where he shares these encounters publicly. Despite his cautious approach, Mr. Rios has still come under the attention of the VIA Metropolitan Transit Police’s officers and security personnel.
On November 24, 2021, the day before Thanksgiving, a notable incident occurred. Mr. Rios, accompanied by his friend Daniel Tullos, was walking south on N. Medina Street in downtown. Both men were filming their walk, and Mr. Rios had his phone tucked into his shirt pocket. They were drinking cold cans of Cherry Coke Zero wrapped in napkins and a brown paper bag to keep them cool.
Suddenly, Mr. Rios and Mr. Tullos heard someone yelling, but considering the bustling atmosphere of the area, they initially dismissed it. However, Mr. Tullos alerted Mr. Rios that VIA’s police officers were approaching rapidly. In a light-hearted manner, Mr. Rios joked that his friend should run, teasingly referring to them as the “UFO guys” due to the peculiar architectural structure over N. Medina Street.
To their surprise, VIA Metropolitan Transit Police Officer Officer Lara (Badge #353) and VIA Security Guard, Flores (Badge #722), swiftly detained Mr. Rios, bringing an abrupt end to the jovial atmosphere.
Interaction between Rios and the VIA Metropolitan Transit Police
Per the filed lawsuit; Officer Lara, who had recently transitioned from working as a jailer to becoming a peace officer, encountered Marcos Rios and his friend Daniel Tullos while stationed at VIA’s Centro Plaza. It is important to note, per the lawsuit, that the VIA Police Department did not provide training on de-escalation techniques to their officers, despite being aware that they would regularly interact with members of the public.
Upon seeing Rios and Tullos walking on the public sidewalk, Officer Lara assumed, without conducting any investigation, that the men were attempting to conceal open containers of alcohol, which is prohibited by City Ordinance. She immediately took action, attempting to communicate with the men from a distance. When her commands went unanswered, she followed VIA Transit PD’s use-of-force policy and approached the men. Without properly identifying herself or informing Rios that he was being detained, she vaguely told him to come over.
Rios, requested that Officer Lara not touch him. However, instead of addressing his concerns, Officer Lara insisted on her assumption that he was publicly drinking alcohol. Additionally, she noticed that Tullos was recording the incident and making statements about sharing the information with the public. This led Officer Lara to identify Rios and Tullos as potential activists or “auditors,” as they are commonly referred to.
Due to the lack of training provided by VIA, Officer Lara and Security Officer Flores escalated the situation further. Within a span of approximately 10 seconds, without issuing any verbal commands, both officers forcefully brought Rios to the ground using a take-down maneuver. They held his arms behind his back, leaving him no way to break his fall, causing his face to hit the concrete sidewalk and resulting in a bruise on his right eye and a gash on his right eyebrow. Subsequently, they handcuffed him.
This unfortunate sequence of events was a direct consequence of the officers’ lack of de-escalation training, combined with VIA’s policy against auditors. The officers failed to recognize that Rios and Tullos were engaged in protected activity, and instead, their biased assumptions and actions led to an unnecessary and aggressive altercation.
Unlawful Detainment and Violation of First Amendment Rights by VIA Metropolitan Transit Police
Approximately four minutes after Rios was forcefully detained, Officer Sarinana arrived at the scene with his police cruiser, lights flashing. Instead of impartially assessing the situation, Officer Sarinana immediately sided with Officer Lara’s assessment that Rios was an auditor and that he was known to VIA for filming police officers. This biased assumption and labeling of individuals who film the police as auditors is a troubling practice that fails to recognize the importance of holding law enforcement officials accountable.
Officer Sarinana, relying on Lara’s assessment, followed VIA’s policy and called for an on-duty supervisor to inform them of the auditor’s presence. Despite Rios and his friend’s insistence that nothing had transpired, the officers ignored their statements. Rios requested a supervisor, but he was kept waiting, further exacerbating the unnecessary detainment.
During this time, Officer Sarinana failed to intervene or provide medical attention to Rios , who had sustained injuries to his face. Additionally, Officer Sarinana did not search Rios or remove his handcuffs, even though it was clear that no probable cause or reasonable suspicion existed to continue the detainment.
Several other officers, including Officer Solari and Officer Gonzalez, arrived at the scene but failed to take appropriate action. Instead, they engaged in conversations about charging Rios with disorderly conduct, disregarding the fact that speech alone cannot justify such a charge.
Finally, Corporal Perez entered the scene and engaged in a conversation with Rios without conducting a thorough investigation or considering Rios’s perspective. Corporal Perez accused Rios of attempting to provoke a reaction from the police and issued a criminal trespass warning, banning him from VIA’s property without providing him the opportunity to comply and leave peacefully as required by VIA’s own Standard Operating Procedures.
VIA Metropolitan Transit Police Training and Lack of De-Escalation Techniques
Prior to the incident in question, the VIA Metropolitan Transit Police Department lacked policies and training on de-escalation. Despite the recommendation by the International Association of Chiefs of Police for a de-escalation policy in the National Consensus Policy and Discussion Paper on Use of Force, VIA PD did not adopt such a policy until June 8, 2022, months after the events mentioned in the referenced lawsuit.
However, it’s important to note that Officer Lara, during her Basic Peace Officer Course less than a year prior, had received TCOLE training that already incorporated De-Escalation Techniques into the curriculum. She had also attended a continuing education course specifically focused on De-Escalation and Minimizing Use of Force little over five months prior to this incident, prior to starting her work for VIA.
Despite having received this training, Officer Lara did not attempt to utilize de-escalation techniques during the encounter. This was because VIA failed to provide her with the necessary training. Instead, she resorted to immediately using less-lethal force. It is worth mentioning that when Officer Lara first grabbed the Rios , he was not actively resisting arrest, but rather unaware of her presence and any requests she had given. Therefore, the use of force lacked sufficient justification.
Similarly, when Officers took the Rios to the ground, he was not actively resisting or exhibiting violent behavior, making the use of force excessive. In this situation, Officer Lara could have resolved the matter reasonably by approaching the Rios and Tullos, introducing herself as a peace officer, and initiating a conversation about their evening and the beverages they were carrying. By following this approach, she could have determined that they were in possession of Coke cans and lacked reasonable suspicion to detain them. Consequently, she would have been required to let them go.
However, instead of utilizing de-escalation techniques, Officer Lara assaulted and detained the Rios without investigating, based on VIA’s policy of removing auditors from their property. This policy assumed that individuals filming officers and posting videos online were auditors. Similarly, Security Officer Flores, despite having training as a security officer, did not receive de-escalation training from VIA and Allied (the company he is employed as a Security Guard). As a result, he assisted Officer Lara in forcefully bringing the Rios to the ground.
Furthermore, when the Rios was lying face down on the ground, he requested that Officer Lara and Flores not touch him. However, they ignored his pleas and deemed it justified to leave him lying face down, even though he had mentioned hitting his head on the pavement. Additionally, when he asked for his handcuffs to be loosened due to circulation issues, the officers ignored his request. Furthermore, both refused to identify themselves.
Lawsuit Against VIA Metropolitan Transit Police: Incident Occurring after Being Trespass Warned
In a disturbing turn of events following a previous encounter with the VIA Metropolitan Transit Police, Rios found himself entangled in a harrowing incident on March 8, 2022. After sharing his traumatic experience on his YouTube channel, Rios returned to Centro Plaza with the intention of documenting further interactions with VIA’s police officers and security guards.
As Rios approached Centro Plaza, he made sure to remain on the public sidewalks, fully aware of the previous trespass warning issued to him. However, to his surprise, he noticed several police officers hiding inside one of the buildings with the blinds down and lights off. Seizing the opportunity to film this peculiar sight, Rios began recording the officers.
Unfortunately, Officer Joann Gutierrez swiftly stepped outside and ordered Rios against the wall, citing the trespass warning. Despite Rios’s attempts to explain that he was on public property belonging to the city of San Antonio, not VIA, Officer Gutierrez refused to listen. In what appeared to be a blatant violation of Rios’s First Amendment right to film the police, Officer Gutierrez seized his recording device, turned it off, and proceeded to handcuff him.
Rios was then placed in the back of a patrol vehicle, where he overheard Officer Gutierrez discussing with other officers whether they had apprehended the right person. Another VIA Transit Police cruiser arrived, and an officer whispered something urgently to Officer Gutierrez. This led to Officer Gutierrez reopening the patrol car door and asking Rios if he was armed, to which Rios refused to answer.
Within minutes, Corporal Perez, the supervisor on duty, arrived at the scene. Rios was promptly removed from the vehicle for a pat-down search, during which the officers confiscated his lawfully concealed handgun and took his wallet. Corporal Perez used Rios’s driver’s license to identify him as “one of them,” indicating that Rios may have been targeted due to his status as an auditor or activist.
Defying common sense and evidence that Rios was on public property, VIA’s officers charged him with criminal trespass on private property. Rios endured 18 hours in the Bexar County Jail before being released on a PR bond, losing precious time due to this unjust arrest.
As if the trauma of the arrest was not enough, Rios’s wife, who went to pick up his vehicle near Centro Plaza while he was in jail, became the target of further harassment by VIA’s officers. Two patrol cars followed her, causing her great distress. She sought guidance from a family friend, who called VIA’s Emergency Safety and Security number to report the harassment. The supervisor assured them that there were no legitimate reasons for officers to be in the area and promised to remove them.
Upon Rios’s release from jail, he and his wife collected his belongings from VIA police, accompanied by the family friend. Rios learned that he was criminally trespassed from visiting Centro Plaza and The Grand within VIA Villa, while still allowed on other VIA properties and San Antonio’s public transportation system. This year-long criminal trespass severely impacted Rios’s freedom of movement, as well as his plumbing business.
Furthermore, Rios faced retaliatory prosecution following these incidents. falsely charged him with criminal trespass and forced him to report regularly to a bail bond officer and make court appearances. These limitations further infringed upon Rios’s ability to exercise his First Amendment rights.
In a continued campaign of harassment, VIA and its agents went so far as to submit a formal request to suspend Rios’s concealed carry license, citing the pending criminal trespass charge. This abuse of power was a clear attempt to punish Rios for exercising his rights and expose the officers’ mishandling of his weapon.
Only on May 19, 2022, did the retaliatory prosecution against Rios finally come to an end, marking a victory for him. However, the harm inflicted upon him and his family during this relentless harassment will not soon be forgotten.
This series of incidents reveals a troubling pattern of abuse of power and disregard for individual rights within the VIA Metropolitan Transit Police. As this lawsuit unfolds, it is crucial that accountability is achieved to ensure the protection of citizens’ constitutional rights and prevent further instances of misconduct.
The publishing discusses a lawsuit filed by local activist Marcos Rios against the VIA Metropolitan Transit Police. Rios, who runs the YouTube channel sa210copwatch, aims to expose alleged misconduct by the VIA Transit Police and hold them accountable.
The specific incident detailed in the lawsuit occurred when Rios and his friend were detained by Officer Lara and Security Guard Flores. The encounter escalated due to a lack of de-escalation training and bias against auditors. The lawsuit also highlights violations of first amendment rights, unlawful detainment, and the absence of de-escalation techniques in VIA Transit Police training.
The publishing further describes a subsequent incident where Rios was improperly arrested and charged with criminal trespass. The harassment continued against Rios, including an attempt to suspend Rios’ concealed carry license. These incidents shed light on alleged abuse of power and violation of individual rights within the VIA Metropolitan Transit Police.
The content provided in this publishing regarding the lawsuit against the VIA Metropolitan Transit Police is for informational and educational purposes only. It should not be taken as legal advice. The information presented here is based on court filings, and no guarantee is made regarding its accuracy, completeness, or currentness. Lawsuits can be complex, and it is essential to consult with a qualified attorney for proper legal guidance concerning specific legal issues.
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