SAINT ANTONY – After San Antonio police discovered more than 40 people dead in a tractor-trailer on the Southwest side Monday night, officials within hours turned the investigation over to federal immigration authorities and assumed a role support.

That decision differed wildly from SAPD’s response to a 2017 incident, in which 12 suspected migrants found in a tractor-trailer were interviewed at SAPD headquarters and then released.

The Defenders obtained body camera footage from the scene and hundreds of pages of court documents following an open records request to the Texas Attorney General’s Office made earlier this year.

The records shed new light on the actions of SAPD Chief William McManus during the Dec. 23, 2017 incident, but also raise serious questions about whether federal immigration authorities were properly equipped to take control of the scene.

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McManus’ decision to handle the 2017 case at the state level prompted Attorney General Ken Paxton to file two lawsuits against McManus. The former accused the chief and other city leaders of limiting the enforcement of federal immigration laws, while the latter sought to have McManus removed from office.

The San Antonio City Council this spring voted to approve a $300,000 settlement with the AG’s office. The city, without having to admit fault, agreed to clarify its written policies on cooperating with immigration authorities in exchange for the attorney general’s office dropping the first lawsuit and appealing the lawsuit that sought to unseat McManus.

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A district court judge dismissed the so-called “quo warranto claim” last year, but it was on appeal at the time of the settlement.

‘We are not involving ICE in this investigation’

SAPD body camera footage released to Advocates shows McManus at the 2017 scene, in civilian clothes, telling someone on the phone, “So, we’re not involving ICE in this investigation.”

Other video clips show Jonathan Ryan, the then president and CEO of the Center for Education and Legal Services for Refugees and Immigrants (RAICES), approaching the back of a transport van carrying several suspected migrants.

In the footage, Ryan tells the suspected migrants in Spanish that immigration is not coming, not to be afraid, and that SAPD needs their help in a criminal case against the truck driver.

“Your office does not work with immigration. He told immigration that immigration has nothing to do with this case,” Ryan said, as McManus stood next to him.

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City officials declined Tuesday to make anyone available for an interview.

City spokeswoman Laura Mayes repeated a longstanding city talking point that city officials cooperated with federal authorities during the 2017 incident.

“SAPD notified Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) shortly after the incident was reported. The two drivers were arrested for human trafficking and taken into custody by SAPD. The 12 people in the truck were taken to SAPD headquarters for questioning. The HSI agent was present at the SAPD headquarters and access was provided to all 12 individuals. At no time did SAPD restrict or prevent the HSI agent from taking custody of individuals. SAPD had no legal authority to hold the 12 people after they were questioned and the City could have faced legal liability if it had done so,” Mayes wrote.

But a 2021 statement from the HSI agent who responded to the scene painted a different picture.

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Agent Brian Johnson, who has since retired from HSI, testified under oath that McManus was uncooperative and at one point walked away from him.

Johnson testified that he was unable to pursue potential leads in the case, including whether crimes had been committed against a minor found in the back of the tractor trailer, due to lack of access.

He testified that he also did not feel comfortable trying to take control of the scene because he was not on the same level as McManus, the police chief of a major city.

But Johnson’s statement also revealed that he was late on the scene, first responding to police headquarters after being notified as an officer on duty.

Additionally, ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) personnel never appeared on the scene.

Johnson, according to his sworn testimony, hoped to move the immigrants to an HSI office in Jackson-Keller.

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He testified that although ERO never arrived at the scene, he was under the impression that SAPD would transfer the suspected migrants to the HSI office.

Instead, the 12 people were interviewed at SAPD headquarters and later released without ever being in federal custody.

Six of the suspected migrants went to a bus station and the other six were taken to a hotel, records show.

The documents also state that city and federal authorities began discussions about adjusting protocol for incidents like this within days of the suspected migrants being found.

Mayes issued the following statement Tuesday regarding changes in protocol for alerting HSI/ICE after suspicious migrant incidents:

“The City of San Antonio clarified in writing what the San Antonio Police Department already does in practice – cooperate with federal immigration authorities. San Antonio will remain a compassionate city as long as we continue to uphold the law, including individual civil rights.”

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Reference-www.ksat.com

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