The Field Review - Local

VIA Metropolitan Transit Police Releases Discipline Records

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VIA Metropolitan Transit Releases Police Discipline Records

The documents released through the Texas Public Information Act are from the year 2021 through July 23, 2023. VIA Metropolitan Transit is a regional multimodal transportation option operating in Bexar County.

VIA Transit Police officers serve a population of more than 1 million residents and cover more than 1,200 square miles in San Antonio and Bexar county.

VIA Transit Police officers are certified by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, are trained in de-escalation and mental health crisis intervention.

The VIA Metropolitan Transit Police Department was created in November 1999 by a vote of the local Transit Authority Board.  The first Transit Police officers were hired in early 2000 as total authorized strength for the department was established at 3 sworn officers.

The department has grown in size and stature during the past 20 years as the department now carries 42 sworn positions, 4 telecommunicators and civilian support staff.

Information received from VIA Metropolitan Transit, VIA Transit Police webpage on August 28, 2023.

2022 Annual Use of Force Report

VIA Transit Police identified sixty-three (63) use of force instances by its officers in 2022. Of those instances twenty-six (26) involved displaying a taser, seventeen (17) involved physical force , twelve (12) involved deploying a taser, six (6) involved displaying a firearm, one (1) involved displaying a baton, and one (1) involved using a firearm.

VIA Transit Police stated there were no improper or excessive use of force cases in 2022.

2021 Annual Use of Force Report Misses July 29, 2021 Incident

In 2021, VIA Transit Police indicated it had one hundred and nine (109) use of force incidents. Forty (40) involved the deployment of a taser. Thirty (30) instances involved displaying or aiming a taser. They claimed twenty-seven (27) instances of physical force, eleven (11) where a firearm was displayed by an officer, and one (1) instance where a firearm was used by an officer.

VIA Transit Police claimed there were no improper or excessive use of force incidents in 2021.

However, VIA Transit Officer JoAnn Gutierrez was reprimanded on November 9, 2021, for improper discharge of her taser on July 29, 2021. Specifically, the reprimand states Gutierrez “negligently discharged [her] X-2 Taser striking [her] prisoner, who [she] stated was complying to verbal commands.”

Mark E. Witherell, Chief of Police and System Security issued the reprimanded.

Officer Terminated for Use of Force Violation in 2023

Although 2021 and 2022 state no excessive use of force occur, VIA Transit Officer Guiterrez received discipline for excessive use of force. VIA Transit Police Officer Joann Gutierrez was terminated on July 3, 2023, for violation of the agencies use of force policy. Interestingly enough, the specifics of the violation were not released for this 2023 incident.

Officer Suspended for Running Potential Renter in TCIC

VIA Transit Officer Juan Diego Almanza was suspended for only one day for running an Allied guard in TCIC after discussing the possibility of renting a residence to the guard. Almanza declined to rent the property to the guard because he found out the guard had an active warrant. VIA Transit indicated the running of the warrant check was not job related. The incident happened on May 24, 2022.

Mark E. Witherell, Chief of Police and System Security issued the suspension document on June 27, 2022.

Officer Reminded to Report Allegations of Abuse

VIA Transit Officer Juan Diego Almanza was reminded to report instances where he is accused of excessive force. An incident occured on April 9, 2022 where he was accused of excessive use of force. The body worn camera shows that to be inaccurate, but Almanza did not report the allegation to his supervisor.

Sergeant D. Martinez reminded Almanza on April 19, 2022.

Officer Reprimanded for Treating a Dead Person as a Burden

VIA Transit Officer Christopher Caballero was reprimanded for a March 17, 2023 incident. During the incident, Caballero was flagged down and informed of a dead body near the 900 block of W. Houston. He failed to go to the scene against his duty to take effective police actions on matters involving public safety; as well as, to take immediate action to protect life and property from imminent harm. It was stated that Caballero should have treated the person like a patient rather than a burden.

Mark E. Witherell, Chief of Police and System Security for VIA Transit issued the reprimand.

Officer Reminded of Search Procedures

VIA Officer Joann Gutierrez was provided a verbal reminder to properly search people. On October 7, 2022, the detention staff at the San Antonio Central Magistrate Office located contraband on the person Gutierrez brought to the facility.

Sergeant D. Martinez provided the reminder on November 3, 2022.

Officer Suspended for Making a Traffic Stop in Personal Vehicle

VIA Transit Officer Fernando Paloma was suspended for two days for stopping someone in his personal vehicle on August 4, 2021. He requested on-duty assistance for an incident where he followed a citizen, ultimately completing a traffic stop with his personal vehicle.

The suspension was issued by Mark E. Witherell, Chief of Police and System Security for the VIA Transit Police.

Supervisor Reprimanded for Failing to Stop Pursuit

VIA Transport Sergeant Joel Contreras was reprimanded on October 17, 2022, for a January 11, 2022 incident where he did not stop a VIA Transit Officer from engaging in a traffic stop that reflected a pursuit. The officer began calling out locations, directions, and speed. The officer was told by Contreras to disengage and head to the call he was assigned. However, Contreras did not order the officer to cancel the traffic incident and proceed to the call assigned.

Mark E. Witherell issued the reprimand.

Officer Reprimanded for Posting to Facebook about an “Auditor”

VIA Transit Officer Brenda Torres was reprimanded on April 7, 2022, for an incident two days before. It was claimed she posted a video on her personal Facebook page during working hours that showed someone VIA Transit Police identify as an “auditor.” The video also showed this “auditor” recording Torres. The reprimand indicates comments were made to the Facebook page too; however, the video was taken down when recommended by a police supervisor of VIA Transit.

The reprimand was issued by Mark E. Witherell, Chief of Police and System Security for the VIA Transit Police.

Officer Reprimanded for Losing Laptop

VIA Transit Officer John Esquivel was reprimanded on April 25, 2022, for losing a $589 laptop. Esquivel stated the last time he saw the laptop was when he put it down outside his apartment to unlock the door.

Mark E. Witherell, Chief of Police and System Security issued the reprimand.

Supervisor Counseled for Failing to Generate a Report

VIA Transit Corporal Jose Contreras was counseled on April 12, 2021 for failing to take a report where he authorized code-3 emergency response. The incident occurred on March 20, 2021.

Lieutenant George Aguilar issued the counseling.

Supervisor Reminded to be Professional

VIA Transit Sergeant Joel Contreras was reminded to be professional after he was involved in a minor accident on April 8, 2022. After the accident and during the week of April 25, 2022, he did not take responsibility for the accident, but placed blame on the department and VIA.

Lieutenant George Aguilar reissued the reminder on May 31, 2022.

Officer Disciplined for Failure to Identify Status and Failure to Properly Use Body Worn Camera

VIA Transit Officer Amanda Lane was counseled for an incident on November 24, 2021. In the incident she made contact with a male suspect for allegations of public intoxication. At the beginning of the encounter, Lane did not identify herself as a police officer. She did not initiate her body warn camera until halfway through the interaction. The agency stated this deprived the investigation of key evidence Lane claimed existed.

The counseling occurred on January 6, 2022, and was issued by Mark E. Witherell, Chief of Police and System Security for the VIA Transit Police.

Officer Reminded to Use Body Worn Camera

VIA Transit Officer John Martinez was reminded to keep his body worn camera running after an incident on November 14, 2021. He made contact with a suspect two times. The first time, the body worn camera was on. The second time, when he arrested the person for criminal trespass on private property, he failed to initiate his body worn camera. The matter stems from a December 28, 2021 complaint about the November 14, 2021 incident where a citizen complained of missing property.

Sergeant Daniel Martinez issued the reminder on February 17, 2022.

Officer Suspended for Providing Misleading Information About a Motor Vehicle Accident

VIA Transit Officer Angelica Morales’s was suspended for three days for an incident that occurred on December 2, 2020. She was operating a police vehicle on the access road of Interstate 10 East where she struck a deer and damaged the unit. She continued driving before notifying a supervisor. During the accident, Morales was on her personal cell phone talking about non-job related matters with a police dispatcher. Morales also provided erroneous and misleading information over the radio that did not match the facts of the incident.

The suspension was effective on February 24, 2021, and issued by Mark E. Witherell, Chief of Police and System Security for the VIA Transit Police.

Officer Suspended for Unauthorized Pursuit

VIA Transit Officer Matthew Redd was suspended three days for driving over 70 MPH on Babcock Rd in an unsafe manner with lights and sirens activated. He did not have permission to drive after a vehicle attempting to flee from him. The incident occurred on November 2, 2022.

Mark E. Witherell, Chief of Police and System Security issued the suspension on March 22, 2022

An Officer was Reminded of Property and Evidence Procedures

VIA Transit Officer Brandon Tamayo was reminded of standard operating procedures involving property and evidence on September 12, 2022. On August 13, 2022, Tamayo took two people into custody for possession of marijuana. During the search of one of the individuals, Tamayo located approximately $35. During the processing of the property, it was determined Tamayo did not properly account for the money as indicated in the standard operating procedures. There is no indication what “properly accounted for” means in this situation.

The reminder was provided by Sgt. J. Contreras.

An Officer was Reprimanded for Unsafe Motor Vehicle Operations

VIA Transit Officer Brandon Tamayo, after being reminded of standard operating procedures on September 12, 2022, was reprimanded for several violations of safe driving practices. The initial incident was before the August 13, 2022 reminder and occurred on or before May 9, 2022. Tamayo was reprimanded for speeding and waiting to activate his emergency lights to initiate a traffic stop. He was accused of driving in an unsafe manner to catch up to a speeding vehicle instead of continuing on a call.

Mark E. Witherell, Chief of Police and System Security issued the reprimand on October 15, 2022.

Officer Counseled for Cursing at Citizen

VIA Transit Officer Kevin Epps was counseled for cursing at a citizen during a traffic stop on March 5, 2021. Epps repeatedly told the citizen to stay in the car and eventually stated “stay in your f**king car.”

Corporal Joe Contreras issued the counseling on April 5, 2021.

Officer Suspended for a Third Preventable Accident

VIA Transit Officer John Esquivel was suspended for two days for an incident on August 13, 2021. He was involved in his third preventable accident within twenty-four months.

Mark E. Witherell, Chief of Police and System Security issued the suspension on September 13, 2021.

Officer Reminded of the Vehicle Operations Policy After a Vehicle Accident

VIA Transit Officer John Esquivel was reminded of the vehicle operations policy after he got into a minor traffic accident on December 3, 2020.

Sergeant Daniel Martinez provide the reminder on May 12, 2021.

Police Accountability and Transparency is a Major Social Issue

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