San Antonio, TX – The San Antonio Police Officers’ Association (SAPOA) asked city officials to place San Antonio Police Chief William McManus on administrative leave on Monday, and requested that state or federal officials investigate the top cop’s decision to release 12 alleged illegal immigrants in December.
"Once the folks got here to police headquarters we have no jurisdiction to hold them, to detain them, so they were released to Catholic Charities and what Catholic Charities did with them I don't know,” Chief McManus said, according to Texas Public Radio.
The incident occurred on Dec. 23, 2017, after police received a call from a woman who said she witnessed people exiting the back of a tractor-trailer, and that two women were crying.
Police said that Herbert Nichols, 58, admitted that he smuggled the group from a Laredo warehouse, and that he was supposed to take them to an area near Splashtown, KTXS reported.
He was charged with third-degree felony smuggling of persons.
The 12 individuals were treated as witnesses. At least one was a juvenile, and one man said he was from Guatemala, Texas Public Radio reported.
The group was offered medical assistance, which they declined, before they were taken to the police station.
But when they arrived, the agents were told that Chief McManus had ordered the case to be handled at a state level instead of by federal investigators.
"Based on the information that I had on the scene and the situation on the scene, the number of police officers we had standing around, the number of people we had lined up on the curb, that was absolutely in my mind the right decision at the time,” Chief McManus said, according to KABB.
Catholic Charities president Antonio Fernandez said that Chief McManus contacted him for assistance, and that he sent two vans to transport the individuals found in the trailer, and a third van filled with food, Texas Public Radio reported.
Five of the suspected illegal immigrants walked into the community without accepting assistance, and seven others went with Catholic Charities to a hotel, Fernandez said.
Five of them left the hotel on Dec. 24, 2017, and the other two departed on Dec. 26, 2017, he said. At least two went to Tennessee.
On Monday, SOPOA President Michael Halle asked San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and the city council to launch an investigation into the incident, and said that Chief McManus’ decision to release the suspected illegal immigrants was illogical, KABB reported.
"You know I have never seen anything like it, ever, in my 28-year career." Halle said.
District 6 Councilman Greg Brockhouse issued a statement on Friday, and expressed outrage that the San Antonio City Council had not been made aware of the incident until 10 days after it occurred.
“That is totally unacceptable and a lapse in judgment by senior city leadership," he said, according to Texas Public Radio. "It appears that the reporting of this story in the evening news was the only reason the city council was notified about this incident."
Bexar County District Attorney Nico La Hood said that it may be difficult to investigate the case against Nichols, considering the fact that the witnesses’ whereabouts are unknown, KABB reported.
“Since I have been the DA, they have not turned a case over, a case on transport smuggling to us in the three years that I have been the DA, so this is a first," said LaHood.
Chief McManus said he will work with HSI to develop a new protocol to address similar situations, but would not specify what changes would be made, KABB reported.