Texas Police Chief Hampers Human Smuggling Prosecution by Releasing Migrant Witnesses

San Antonio police chief Chief William P. McManus
AP File Photo: Eric Gay

The San Antonio chief of police admitted to reporters on Friday that he released 12 alleged illegal aliens who were smuggled in the back of a tractor-trailer. He did so without allowing the federal government to properly vet them for criminal or immigration records. He also made the decision to charge the driver under Texas human smuggling statutes, despite releasing the purported witnesses to the alleged crime.

“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,” San Antonio Police Chief William McManus told reporters.

San Antonio police officers responded to a call on December 23, 2017, about a suspicious tractor-trailer. When officers arrived, they witnessed people getting out of the back, KTXS ABC12 reported on Friday. The first officer on the scene called Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sent agents to the scene, the local ABC affiliate reported. The agents were told the chief had decided to refer the case to the local DA instead of federal investigators.

“It could have gone federal, it could have gone state,” McManus told reporters during a press conference. “So because we had 12 people sitting on the corner, we had all of our officers queued up waiting to see how we were going to handle this, I made the call to handle it at the state level.”

Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood told reporters this was highly unusual.

“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,” LaHood told ABC12.

The DA is now faced with the task of prosecuting a case where the witnesses have all been released and apparently fled. “Prosecuting this case will be challenging if the witnesses cannot be found,” LaHood told Breitbart Texas on Friday.

Had federal investigators become involved, the migrants could have received protection from deportation as witnesses to a federal human smuggling case.

Breitbart Texas reached out to the Office of the Texas Attorney General to see if this incident could be a violation of the State’s new anti-sanctuary city law (SB4). While the officials said they could not comment on whether or not they were investigating a particular case, the did comment on the current status of SB4.

“Nearly all of SB 4 is currently enforceable. The Office of the Attorney General is accepting citizen complaints against government entities that violate SB 4 and will take appropriate action after investigation.” Director of Communications Marc Rylander told Breitbart Texas in a written statement. He said his office expects the case file by the end of the month and he will see what evidence is available.

Officials said that no complaints about the San Antonio incident have been received by the AG’s office.

The office accepts complaints from any citizen about possible violations of SB-4 on its website. The website explains the procedures for filing the complaint and an online form for use by citizens wishing to file a complaint.

Section 752.053(a)(1) states that a local entity or campus police department may not “adopt, enforce, or endorse a policy under which the entity or department prohibits or materially limits the enforcement of immigration laws,” according to a previously published opinion from the Texas AG.

“Our interpretation of the injunction is that only the word ‘endorse’ was enjoined, and continuing in place was SB 4’s prohibitions on adopting or enforcing such policies that prohibit the enforcement of these laws,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton wrote in the opinion.

It is not clear at this point if the police chief’s decision to release the illegal aliens prior to their being questioned, identified, and vetted by HSI would constitute a violation of SB4.

Breitbart Texas also reached out to ICE to determine if the agency can or will take over the investigation of the human smuggling case. A response was not immediately available.

The Archdiocese of San Antonio and Catholic Charities told the Express-News that they “assisted seven individuals with food, clothing and providing hotel rooms.” The groups confirmed that all seven left the city by December 25.

Prosecutors in San Antonio charged Herbert Alan Nichols, a 58-year-old resident of Houston, with the Texas Trafficking of Persons statute. Because one of the people being smuggled was a minor, Nichols could face up to 20 years in state prison if he is convicted.

Breitbart Texas reached out to the San Antonio Police Department to find out if the minor was turned over to Children’s Protective Services.

The president of the union which represents San Antonio police officers, Mike Helle, told the Express-News,  “This case should have been handled by Homeland. They’re the ones that should be handling human smuggling cases. Somehow McManus gets ahold of this, interjects himself into the situation, and basically starts calling Catholic Charities and all the people he can get ahold of to basically get rid of all these illegals before the feds get there.”

Helle said officers at headquarters were told not to check the witnesses’ names against federal and state criminal databases. He said this is a violation of standard procedure. Because of this order, police had no way to know if any of the people being smuggled had criminal histories or active warrants, he explained.

“The guys that were not in the room could not believe it. If any one of our guys did this, any one of them, they’d probably be put on administrative duty and terminated from the Police Department,” Helle told the local newspaper. “They’re actually in (police headquarters) and the people from the Catholic churches, God bless them, they’re already making arrangements for people to escape.”

The move by Chief McManus comes in the wake of a similar smuggling incident in July that left 10 migrants dead. The driver of that truck was charged in federal court and later convicted. The sentencing hearing for the driver, James Matthew Bradley Jr., is scheduled for later this month. He faces up to life in prison under current sentencing guidelines.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated with additional information.

Bob Price serves as associate editor and senior political news contributor for Breitbart Texas. He is a founding member of the Breitbart Texas team. Follow him on Twitter @BobPriceBBTXGAB, and Facebook.


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