I am here today to respond to the national media attention that has been focused on a traffic stop that occurred August 5, 2008. My purpose is to discuss with you what happened and the corrective action that was taken—and why.
Here are the facts.
On August 5, 2008, Officer Paul Stephens stopped a vehicle traveling at 95 miles an hour and driving erratically on Interstate 35. The driver, Michael Gonzales, first pulled over on an overpass against the crash barrier. When the officer asked him through the public address system to pull off the bridge to where it was safe, the driver took off at a high rate of speed, despite the officer’s lights and siren.
After about two miles, the driver took an exit ramp at Center Point Road and stopped in the middle of the frontage road. Officer Stephens approached the car and told the driver to step out. As Mr. Gonzales stepped out of the car, he raised his hands and yelled at the officer, “she’s dead, she’s dead.”
Officer Stephens then learned what the problem was—that Mr. Gonzales and his passenger were taking their dog Missy who had choked on some food and was not breathing—to an emergency veterinary clinic in New Braunfels. At that point, Officer Stephens made inappropriate remarks to the distraught couple.
As Mr. Gonzales was exiting the car, a backup officer, Officer Joyce Bender, arrived and approached the passenger side of the car and started to speak to Krystal Hernandez, the passenger. Ms. Hernandez was holding Missy and pleading for help. Officer Bender took the dog in her hands, tried to clear its airway and tried to get it breathing again. She was unsuccessful and Officer Bender believed that the dog was already dead.
Officer Stephens issued a ticket to Mr. Gonzales for speeding and sent them on the way. The incident lasted 17 minutes, from the time Officers Stephens first attempted to pull them over until the officer released them. On August 6, 2008 Mr. Gonzales and Ms. Hernandez filed a complaint with the San Marcos Police Department about the actions of Officer Stephens.
Chief Howard Williams immediately conducted an internal investigation into the incident. On August 13, 2008 the department concluded its investigation and the chief issued a reprimand and ordered Officer Stephens to be counseled about his behavior.
Chief Williams conducted numerous media interviews about the incident and released the dashcam videos from officers patrol vehicles. Since that time, there has a been a storm of controversy nationwide and we have received thousands of emails and many phone calls from people who are extremely upset and dissatisfied with Officer Stephens’ performance and how the chief handled the issue.
Without question, the situation was not handled very well by Officer Stephens. But the characterization of the story has led to death threats against the officer and his family by telephone. Officer Stephens is a veteran of the Iraq war who joined the San Marcos Police Department in March 2007 after leaving the military. He has been with the department for 15 months. He has no previous history of complaints and has a good record of service with the department.
We do not condone what the officer said. It was inappropriate and insensitive. The purpose of discipline is to correct an employee’s behavior. When determining corrective action, our department considers all of the circumstances involved, the employee’s history and the chances for success in the disciplinary action. I believe the corrective action that has taken place was appropriate.
I am here today to express our support for the San Marcos Police Department and our police officers.
This unfortunate incident also brings to light the apparent lack of after-hours emergency veterinary care in San Marcos for pets that suffer a life-threatening emergency as Missy did. We are looking to see if we can address that issue in San Marcos.
I want to reiterate the following:
Officer Stephens was correct in stopping a car traveling at high rate of speed on one of the most dangerous roadways in the nation—I-35 between Austin and San Antonio. Imagine if your family had been killed or injured by a speeding driver—who hadn’t been stopped in a similar situation.
The officer made inappropriate remarks to Mr. Gonzales. The Police Chief has issued a letter of apology to Mr. Gonzales and has disciplined and counseled Officer Stephens for this incident.
We acknowledge the high emotion and concern that has prompted thousands of emails to be sent to our Police Department and to the City of San Marcos. The threats against the officer are also inappropriate and extremely unfortunate.
As Mayor of San Marcos I want to express our regret for this incident and trust we can use it to improve our service to our community. This is a sad situation for all concerned.Email | Print