STREAMING NOW: Watch Now
CLOSINGS: View Closings

San Antonio top cop under fire after releasing immigrants to charity

The San Antonio, Texas, police chief's decision to release a dozen undocumented immigrants discovered in a tractor tr...

Posted: Jan 10, 2018 2:40 PM
Updated: Jan 10, 2018 2:40 PM

The San Antonio, Texas, police chief's decision to release a dozen undocumented immigrants discovered in a tractor trailer has spurred demands by the local police association that the chief be put on leave while his actions are investigated.

At least one expert, however, says that though there are unusual aspects to the case, it doesn't appear Chief Bill McManus did anything inappropriate by releasing the immigrants last month to the local Catholic Charities.

Police chief defends his decision last month to release 12 immigrants to a nonprofit

But police officers group says federal agents should have led the case

"He did nothing unlawful under federal law or state law," said Denise Gilman, a University of Texas law professor and co-director of the law school's Immigration Clinic.

It is the second-such incident in fewer than six months in San Antonio. In July, police arrived at a Walmart parking lot to find dozens of immigrants in a trailer. Eight were dead; two more died later. Driver James Bradley Jr., 61, pleaded guilty to two federal charges and now faces possible life in prison.

In last month's case, none of the immigrants was injured. Police have charged the 58-year-old tractor driver from Houston with smuggling of persons. A woman, who McManus has reportedly classified as a driver, also was taken into custody.

Landstar, the global transportation company whose logo is on the side of the trailer, told CNN it had no affiliation with the driver and was unaware "a trailer with Landstar markings" was involved in the incident until recent news reports. The company has contacted police and is cooperating in the investigation, according to a statement.

The decision to bring state charges in the latest case -- rather than involve federal authorities -- has prompted criticism. A local police officers group says McManus deviated from normal procedures and told a federal officer he wasn't needed at the scene; the chief has said the city may have faced legal liability if it held the truck occupants.

McManus declined CNN's requests for an interview, but his department released a statement saying, "To clarify, Homeland Security was never told that their services were not needed. SAPD handled this investigation utilizing the state smuggling statute. Unfortunately, this is the second incident in the last year. Fortunately, this time citizen interaction and a quick police response prevented another tragedy."

Victims or parties to the crime?

McManus has referred to the 12 immigrants as victims -- and said he treated them accordingly -- but Michael Helle, president of the San Antonio Police Officers Association, contends they were not victims, but "a party to the offense committed."

In a Monday letter to Mayor Ron Nirenberg and the City Council, Helle demands to know why the immigrants were not identified, why the Houston man is being prosecuted on a state charge rather than a more serious federal offense and why McManus did not let Homeland Security Investigations, a component of US Immigration Customs Enforcement, handle the case.

Helle wants McManus placed on administrative leave until an outside investigation can determine whether the chief broke any laws, "in addition to the obvious violations of the general (police) manual," he wrote in his letter.

McManus has defended his handling of the case, saying at a news conference last week, "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."

He continued, "Based on the information that I had on the scene and the situation at the scene, the number of police officers that we had standing around, the number of people who were lined up on the curb, that was absolutely, in my mind, the right decision at the time."

'There's no authority to detain them'

The University of Texas' Gilman said that, based on her understanding of the case, the chief is correct.

"It's absolutely common that victims of crime, even if they're undocumented immigrants, would be released," she said. "There's no authority to detain them."

Things might have been different had a federal agency requested local police detain the immigrants, but there's no indication that's the case, she said.

US Customs and Immigration Services officials in Texas did not return CNN's calls seeking to determine whether the feds requested they be detained. San Antonio police, too, declined to return emails on the matter, despite providing other information on the case.

In a statement to CNN affiliate KSAT, McManus said it was his prerogative to handle the case under the state's anti-smuggling law and denied assertions he ordered anyone to disregard protocol. He said fingerprinting or running background checks on the 12 immigrants would have violated department procedure and may have resulted in a lawsuit against the city.

"SAPD had no legal authority to hold the 12 individuals after they were questioned; the City may have faced legal liability if SAPD had done so," he said in his statement to the station.

Gilman concurred with this statement.

As for the Homeland Security Investigations agent who arrived on the scene, McManus said, the agent was provided access to the immigrants at police headquarters and his department never prevented the agent from taking them into custody.

The background

On December 23, one of McManus' officers was conducting a traffic stop when a resident approached him and said there was a trailer near a water park "with some individuals in it and that two females were right outside crying," according to a police report.

The officer followed the resident to the scene, and found the driver "pacing around," the report said. One of the trailer doors was open, and several immigrants were sitting inside the trailer.

The driver told the officer that the trailer was not his, but he owned the tractor. The driver further said he "might have grabbed the wrong trailer and stated that his dispatcher was trying to figure it out," the report said.

Asked about the people in the trailer, the driver said, "Oh, they were going to help me move the stuff," according to the police report.

The officer asked one of the people in the trailer where he was traveling from, and the man replied Guatemala. He had been picked up "somewhere in the woods," he said, according to the report.

The officer contacted Homeland Security Investigations, but when McManus arrived on the scene, he requested that his detectives handle the call, the report said.

Where did they go?

At police headquarters, the report stated, the driver told police he had picked up the immigrants at a warehouse 160 miles away in Laredo, on the Mexican border, and driven them to San Antonio, where they were scheduled to be picked up.

"All witnesses stated that they were all placed in the trailer, picked up in Laredo, TX and transported to San Antonio, TX. All witnesses were released," the report said.

Where the immigrants are now is unclear. McManus said he doesn't know what happened to them after he handed them over to the charity group.

Antonio Fernandez, the local Catholic Charities' president, told CNN via email Tuesday he did not know the immigrants' whereabouts.

In an interview with Texas Public Radio, Fernandez said that five of the migrants declined his organization's assistance, and his staff took the other seven to a hotel.

Five left the hotel December 24, and two left Christmas Day, headed to Tennessee, he told the station.

"If it happens again and we are being called -- unless I'm being told legally that I cannot do it -- I will be helping everybody regardless," he said.

Fernandez told CNN only that his organization provided the immigrants "basic human assistance" such as food, clothing and transportation on December 23, 24 and 25.

Smuggling or trafficking?

Helle said in his City Council letter that by referring to the immigrants as victims, McManus is confusing the crimes of human trafficking and human smuggling.

Where trafficking has victims -- such as people forced or coerced to perform labor or commercial sex acts -- those involved in human smuggling are party to the crime, he wrote.

"Human smuggling is defined as the importation of people into the United States involving deliberate evasion of immigration. ... Human trafficking and human smuggling are not interchangeable terms," he wrote.

Helle also said, "Never in my 28-year tenure working for the San Antonio Police Department have we witnessed such actions, taken by a chief, as were done on Dec. 23."

Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood conceded the move was unusual and said during a news conference last week that San Antonio police have not brought his office a transport smuggling case since he took office three years ago. The July incident is being federally prosecuted.

"It's a state smuggling charge, trafficking charge," he said. "We're working with our federal partners. There's people that might have information about other cases, so we're going to go through our reviewing process and work with whoever we think has information that will help us."

While Fernandez's group regularly helps immigrants, he said the police chief had never called him before December 23.

"This is the first time I get a call directly from the chief of police," he said in his email.

Texas is embroiled in a legal fight over its Senate Bill 4, which demands local police and governments comply with immigration laws and federal detention requests. Civil rights groups have called the bill an assault on so-called "sanctuary cities."

Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill last year after Travis County passed a law restricting law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration officials. He also cut the county off from $1.5 million in criminal justice defense grants.

A panel of the US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit allowed Texas to enforce key provisions of the bill until a final ruling is made. Attorney General Ken Paxton promised in October to continue his defense of SB4.

"Senate Bill 4 is a common-sense measure that prevents governments in Texas from standing in the way of federal enforcement of immigration law," he said.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 276500

Reported Deaths: 3321
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin590031089
Ramsey24988472
Anoka19724213
Dakota19215176
Washington12538106
Stearns1226689
Scott753854
St. Louis740897
Wright663436
Olmsted610130
Sherburne512539
Clay445155
Carver409712
Blue Earth373511
Rice361431
Kandiyohi348215
Crow Wing316130
Nobles296028
Chisago28398
Otter Tail266615
Benton261940
Winona246128
Mower236722
Polk228621
Douglas219829
Morrison211621
Lyon193711
McLeod18879
Beltrami184615
Goodhue177626
Becker17559
Itasca168924
Steele16756
Todd165312
Isanti165015
Carlton153610
Nicollet146523
Freeborn13935
Mille Lacs132830
Le Sueur13219
Waseca129710
Cass12018
Pine11926
Brown117510
Meeker10797
Roseau9923
Martin98220
Hubbard97022
Wabasha9121
Dodge7850
Redwood78018
Watonwan7754
Chippewa7697
Sibley7094
Renville70818
Cottonwood7060
Wadena7006
Aitkin68923
Pipestone67018
Rock6439
Houston6152
Fillmore6050
Yellow Medicine56611
Pennington5356
Kanabec52911
Murray5283
Swift4976
Pope4820
Faribault4750
Stevens4442
Clearwater4356
Marshall4277
Jackson4091
Lake3584
Unassigned34356
Koochiching3325
Wilkin3275
Lac qui Parle3203
Lincoln3141
Norman3096
Big Stone2771
Mahnomen2494
Grant2346
Red Lake1903
Kittson1856
Traverse1330
Lake of the Woods871
Cook580

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 213603

Reported Deaths: 2193
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk31707324
Linn13442161
Scott1040375
Black Hawk10393127
Woodbury9932114
Johnson911635
Dubuque879290
Story647619
Dallas602856
Pottawattamie585166
Sioux351925
Webster335930
Marshall332942
Cerro Gordo326541
Clinton307737
Buena Vista291114
Muscatine270366
Des Moines270116
Plymouth259537
Warren258510
Wapello242871
Jones222212
Jasper206639
Marion194418
Carroll190920
Lee190315
Bremer182612
Henry17087
Crawford170615
Benton160315
Tama146340
Jackson13758
Delaware136221
Washington131313
Boone128811
Dickinson127510
Mahaska121327
Wright11625
Buchanan11009
Page10834
Hardin107510
Clay10624
Clayton10234
Harrison102328
Hamilton10157
Cedar101413
Calhoun10047
Mills9886
Fayette9768
Floyd96914
Lyon9668
Kossuth9464
Poweshiek93712
Butler9134
Winneshiek90310
Iowa88011
Winnebago87523
Louisa81316
Hancock8067
Grundy79710
Chickasaw7893
Sac7817
Cherokee7624
Cass75419
Appanoose7426
Shelby7265
Allamakee72411
Mitchell7184
Union7096
Guthrie70815
Emmet70623
Franklin68419
Humboldt6645
Madison6474
Jefferson6351
Palo Alto6064
Unassigned5950
Keokuk5397
Pocahontas5192
Howard5069
Greene4980
Osceola4941
Clarke4614
Davis4405
Ida43910
Montgomery43210
Taylor4312
Monroe42912
Adair4157
Monona3932
Fremont3463
Van Buren3364
Worth3360
Lucas3076
Decatur3000
Wayne2876
Audubon2831
Ringgold1892
Adams1551
Rochester
Overcast
33° wxIcon
Hi: 35° Lo: 28°
Feels Like: 26°
Mason City
Overcast
34° wxIcon
Hi: 37° Lo: 27°
Feels Like: 25°
Albert Lea
36° wxIcon
Hi: 36° Lo: 28°
Feels Like: 29°
Austin
34° wxIcon
Hi: 37° Lo: 28°
Feels Like: 27°
Charles City
Overcast
34° wxIcon
Hi: 38° Lo: 27°
Feels Like: 25°
Cloudy for Wednesday
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Community Events