San Antonio police mistake photographer for fleeing drug suspect, beat him silly

Ah, another glorious moment in America’s drug war.

Three San Antonio Police officers are being investigated for possibly using excessive force, after a May 20 incident in west San Antonio left a man with injuries to his face, skull and neck.

Roger Carlos was in the 10600 block of Westover Hills Boulevard taking photos of a building that will soon be home to his wife’s medical practice, when he was approached by three officers around 2:30 p.m.

The officers were identified as an undercover drug task force officer and two SAPD SWAT members.

According to an SAPD incident report released to the I-Team, the officers had been pursuing a suspect nearby who was wanted on a felony warrant.

Josue Gonzalez, 27, fled from police away from Loop 410 along the Highway 151 access road before he exited at Westover Hills and ditched his car in the parking lot of a restaurant. The restaurant is a few hundred feet from where Carlos was standing.

“All three of them started beating me on the head,” said Carlos, who still showed visible signs of the beating when he spoke with KENS 5 weeks after the incident.

“It was unbelievable. I couldn’t believe it was happening to me.”

Carlos said he was struck about 50 times, even though he complied with the officers’ instructions and did not fight back.

Shortly after being handcuffed and explaining to officers that he owned the property, a fourth officer approached and said the suspect was in custody nearby.

Serves him right for standing there looking all Hispanic and stuff.

San Antonio Police Chief William McManus says it was a case of “mistaken identity,” which I suppose is pretty obvious. But what if they’d had the right guy? Would that have justified 50 blows to a suspect who wasn’t fighting back? McManus told KENS TV, “From the report that I’ve read, from the photo that I saw and from your description, I’ve not seen anything at this point that would indicate to me that anything out of order happened.”

McManus said the blows were necessary because upon being tackled, Carlos laid on his hands, which made the officers unable to determine if he was clutching a weapon. McManus is right. When unexpectedly and unjustly tackled and beaten by the police, all innocent people have the presence of mind to fall flat on their face, arms and legs splayed wide open. As he was getting beaten, Carlos should have been considerate enough to see the police point of view here. What about their safety? Obviously, only guilty people attempt to break the fall with their hands, or clutch at the places on their bodies that have just been struck with blows.

Sure, the police made a mistake. But Carlos’ suspicious behavior — being Hispanic, standing near where a drug dealer fled, breaking his fall, curling up to protect his vital organs from the fists and feet that were striking him — clearly makes him a good 80-90 percent culpable for his beating.

Radley Balko blogs about criminal justice, the drug war and civil liberties for The Washington Post. He is the author of the book "Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces."
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