San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

October 27th, 2009
Williams suspends 'just a dog' officer

San Marcos Police Chief Howard Williams. File photo.

By ANDY SEVILLA
Associate Editor

The San Marcos Police Department (SMPD) officer who made national news with his “just a dog” remark during a traffic stop last year now is under suspension without pay for a separate incident that took place in August.

SMPD Chief Howard Williams indefinitely suspended Officer Paul Stephens after the latter’s “history of not telling the truth,” unlawful use of force, and disobeying orders, according to a Letter of Indefinite Suspension that Williams wrote to Stephens. It’s the officer’s third disciplinary action against in 14 months. The suspension is being appealed through an independent third-party hearing examiner.

At approximately 2 a.m. on Aug. 18 at, a disturbance was reported near Dillinger’s Bar, 127 East Hopkins Street, where Stephens encountered a group of 10 to 12 people. Some of the people were arguing on the sidewalk, though none were physically fighting, according to Williams’ letter.

Stephens had his car camera on, but failed to synchronize his microphone with the video recorder that night, stated the letter. Therefore, no audio was available. Nine seconds from when Stephens exited his car, he shoved an unidentified female in the chest with his expandable baton, causing her to fall to the ground, according to the video recording cited in the letter.

Upon arriving at the scene, Stephens walked in to the verbally hostile group of people, stopped directly to the right of an unidentified female, then turned towards her and raised his baton before striking her after she turned towards him, according to the letter. A second unidentified female tried to help the other female off the floor and was finally successful in leading her away approximately 14 seconds after Stephens shoved her. Stephens made no attempt to identify or control the female he pushed, though the crowd dispersed quickly, and the unidentified females were seen a second time on the recording, within Stephens view, according to the letter.

As the scene cleared, Stephens advised dispatch he had struck someone with a baton, but did not know who.

SMPD policy required Stephens to complete a use of force form, for which he consulted Officer Don Lee, and he also advised Sergeant Brandon Winkenwerder that the incident looked worse on video than it was, according to the letter.

“On 8/18/09 at approx. 0210 hours I responded to 127 E. Hopkins (Dillingers) in reference to a fight in progress,” Stephens stated on the use of force form. “Two officers were already on scene. Had multiple subjects at taserpoint but subjects were still fighting. I observed approx. 10 subjects fighting and attempted to dispurse [sic] the group. Due to # of subjects I immediately chose to use my ASP baton. I opened the baton towards the ground in a show of force and gave repeated commands stop and get back. Female subject moved towards me attempting to get to another female. The female was approx. one foot away from me leaving little time to react. I moved my baton to a horizontal over hand grip and pushed the female back both to give myself more of a reactionary gap and to dispurse [sic] the crowd. Female stumbled backward and fell when she tripped on the curb, not from the impact of me using my baton to push her back. Female continued to fight others and was taken away by other friends before she could be identified.”

That same morning, Stephens viewed the tape with Officer Jesse Guerra and Corporal Lee Leonard, and later that night, at approximately 9:30 p.m. Stephens showed the video to Officer Brian Ellingson and Corporal Kye Kennedy. Winkenwerder submitted Stephens’ use of force form, after review, as IA Pro, stated the letter.

Sergeant Chris Tureaud served Stephens with a notice of administrative investigation on Aug. 22 at 9:15 p.m. Tureaud also advised Stephens not to discuss the matter with anyone, according to the letter. Stephens, however, discussed the allegations and investigation with Corporal Erik Spriegel and Guerra in the back parking lot of police headquarters, less than two hours after Tureaud advised him not to do so, stated the letter.

Commander Terry Nichols conducted the administrative investigation, finding several discrepancies in Stephens’s account of the events. Nichols had Stephens answer questions in writing and conducted a verbal interview regarding the incidents. According to the letter, Stephens told Nichols he couldn’t recall with certainty why he used force against the unidentified female, adding that “because she was non compliant, I escalated my use of force against her by pushing her back …” The letter also states that Stephens told Nichols that Winkenwerder and Lee saw the video, though, in his written response he completed the next day, Stephens said he couldn’t recall who saw the video. According to the letter, Stephens also told Nichols that he had spoken with Kennedy, Winkenwerder and Lee about the incident, though the written response said he had not spoken with anyone regarding the matter after being served with the notice of allegations.

In justifying the use of force charge against Stephens, Williams cited the Police Department General Orders, which state that, “In any individual event, the use of force is restricted to that force necessary to control and terminate unlawful resistance, to effect a lawful arrest, to prevent injury to any person or to prevent the escape of a person in custody.” Williams went on to say that the unidentified female didn’t fit any of the criteria necessary for use of force.

“From the video evidence, it is clear that the unidentified woman whom you pushed was being argumentative, but there is no evidence that she attempted to harm you or any other person,” William said in the letter. “At no point on the recording did she make an attempt to hit, grab or shove anyone. Her hands were at her side or behind her back from your arrival until you pushed her down. You were positioning you[sic] ASP (baton) to push her before she turned your direction. It is clear that she did not trip on the curb, but she fell from the push you administered. You could not articulate in your written statement or in your interview with Commander Nichols what made you believe that she was trying to harm or injure another person. Therefore, this use of force was not necessary to prevent injury to any person, and thus, was in compliance with this policy.”

Williams also said in the letter that Stephens violated paragraphs 8 and 12 of Section 10.01 of the Rules of the City of San Marcos Fire Fighters’ and Police Officers’ Civil Service Commission and Section 143.051(8) and (12) of the Texas Local Government Code when he spoke with Spriegel and Guerra after being served with the notice of allegations by Tureaud. Williams went on to charge Stephens with a third offense in the letter because Stephens wrote in the use of force form that the unidentified woman he shoved was fighting, though the video evidence shows otherwise, because Stephens didn’t identify that he had shown the video of the incident to Ellingson, Guerra, Kennedy and Leonard, and because he didn’t disclose his prohibited conversations with Spriegel and Guerra.

The code of conduct in the Police Department General Order states that “all reports and written communications from any member of the department will reflect the truth. Any statement or omission of pertinent information which intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly misrepresents fact or mislead others will be considered a false statement.” The code also states that, “Employees will not attempt to conceal, divert, or mitigate their true culpability in a situation, nor will they engage in efforts to thwart or interfere with an internal or criminal investigation.”

Williams said in the letter that, due to Stephens’ actions and previous suspensions for dishonesty, Hays County District Attorney Sherri Tibbe has said her office will notify defense attorneys of all cases in which Stephens is a witness of his disciplinary record, adding that Stephens is of “little use as a witness in any prosecution.”

Said Williams in the letter, “The chain of command cannot depend on an officer who has a history of not telling the truth. There is no assignment available within the San Marcos Police Department that permits an officer to avoid testifying in court or having to answer truthfully to the chain of command regarding his actions.”

Stephens had two previous disciplinary actions.

On Aug. 13, 2008, Stephens was given a written reprimand after violating the conduct beneficial to good order and violating the prohibited acts under individual responsibility when he addressed the driver of the vehicle and his passenger in harsh and belittling terms during a traffic stop.

On Oct. 23, 2008, Stephens was suspended for two days, effective Oct. 29, 2008, for violating the honesty subsection of the individual responsibilities under the code of conduct, when Stephens told Nichols he had driven to Dallas because of a death in the family, causing him to be late to court. Stephens later admitted there was not a death in his family, and that he had not driven to Dallas, but instead overslept.

Stephens was also in the midst of nationally discussed matter involving San Marcos on Aug. 5, 2008, when two San Marcos residents, Michael Gonzales and Krystal Hernandez, sped down Interstate-35 trying to rush their teacup poodle, Missy to a 24-hour veterinary clinic in New Braunfels. Stephens pulled them over for driving at high speed. The traffic stop that took 17 minutes from the beginning until the residents were released. Gonzales and Hernandez both said Missy was alive, but died during the traffic stop.

Officer Joyce Bender, who assisted Stephens with the stop, said Missy was not breathing and she believed Missy was already dead. Bender, at the time, did not have any veterinary training. Gonzales and Hernandez both complained that Stephens was insensitive after Gonzales said Stephens told him, “dude you need to chill out, it’s just a dog you can always get another one.” Stephens was ordered counseling for the incident, and Gonzales’ traffic violation was dropped.

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0 thoughts on “Williams suspends 'just a dog' officer

  1. A good cop is a boon to society. But a bad cop is worse than a criminal in many ways. If you’ve ever dealt with Stephens, you know that he’s a disservice to the badge. Kudos to the SMPD for taking a bad cop off the streets – I only wonder what took them so long. Due process, I suppose.

  2. I am truly sorry to read of this. It was certainly a hard call by SMPD,…but is something that certainly required administrative action.

    Professionalism on the job is your body armor, in situations such as these, SMPD.

    We are all human and we all make mistakes, but if that infraction occurs in the context of professionalism,…then everyone (both the community and its uniformed services) from the outset, are at an advantage.

    Without the shield of professionalism,…and thus by your own action, you most likely leave yourself without a leg to stand on, in a case such as this.

  3. Like I said elsewhere, the bad ones generally mistreat everyone equally, but those being abused by the offending officer undoubtedly feel singled out and persecuted.

    It is hard to calculate the negative impact that one such individual can have on how people perceive the police department, how students view the city, etc.

    It is good to see this situation being addressed.

  4. I’m sick and tired of hearing excuses made on behalf of police, as if they’re children who’ll make mistakes and everything will be A-OK. Consistency breeds contemptment. Whether you’ll accept reality or not, this is what the true nature of the average police officer looks like. I applaud the decision to remove him but I’m shocked at the thought that this was some sort of “hard call” to make. This is also the same officer who arrived at the scene of an accident between myself and a beautiful, young college female. Although the point of impact and all physical evidence at the scene pointed to the female, Stephens ordered me to leave the scene and return home while he finished taking care of this particularly voluptuous young lady. The report ended up blaming me for the accident. The report itself was fraudulently filled out by Officer Stephens. Just one of thousands of examples of everyday police criminality. There is very little respect left for these people… that’s one thing they have earned.

  5. Police work is top of the list of the hardest and most difficult jobs in America. The policy manual when I started as a cop in 1987 was less than 60 pages. Now the current policy manual copied from the Austin Police Department is over 600 pages. To be a cop you must first pass a written test, followed by a physical test, then a civil service oral board. If you pass that you must then pass a background, psychological, and medial test to include drug testing and another background into your finances.

    Officers Stephens served in Iraq so what is BIG S*** to most of us is small S*** to him. Understand that he has more experiences than most and has seen many threats. It is very difficult to be a cop in todays micro management’s Monday morning quarterback society.

    My hat is off to him and all law enforcement officers. Good luck to you Paul and I will always be your back up in whatever you do. I thank you for your service to San Marcos and in the armed forces in Iraq.

  6. TO CHRISTIAN:

    Did you file a complaint? Did you protest the ticket? Did you do anything other than complain on this media outlet? Did you seek a resolution? My guess is that you did not. You have no ground to stand on.

  7. Dan, with all due respect, having worked in several downtown bars, a drunk, argumentative, female is not what I would consider “BIG S***,” nor is being honest about my actions.

    I would be surprised to hear that many officers want to be judged by his actions.

  8. One of the first columns I wrote for this publication when I started here was a defense of Officer Stephens, and I used the same rationale that Dan did (i.e. – he just got back from a war). I saw him as being young and in need of guidance, rather than condemnation.

    However, I must repudiate that column now, and any defense of Stephens I offered. It’s obvious that over time, and multiple suspensions, his instability is a liability, and he’s clearly unfit to be a police officer. Dan, maybe if you put down the pom-poms, you’d see that too.

    Military service, while noble, is not an excuse for persistent bad behavior. What kind of man needs to use a folding baton on a drunk girl, then lie about it? Is that what you’re defending here Dan? Is that the object of your adoration? A cop who lied about the death of a family member so he could sleep in? A cop who disregarded procedure on a regular basis?

    You need better, more deserving heroes Dan. There are several good SMPD cops that deserve your support. Stephens isn’t one of them, and that’s not just me talking, but his boss as well.

  9. Some voters may be glad Paul Stephens won’t be canvassing our neighborhoods with the rest of the San Marcos Police Dept. this election season, asking voters to support certain candidates. Some of our citizens might construe it as intimidation.

  10. From what I’ve read on this comment section is all the chatter about what has been done to this man and how right it was. I do agree that just because you serve your country, it does not give one the right to use bad behavior. With the exception of Dan Misiaszek, I willing to bet most have no idea what Ofc. Stephens has been through (overseas and Policing in America) and what he is currently going through. It sounds like some have encountered him in an official capacity and were disappointed with the outcome. Oh well, sh*t isn’t always gonna go your way. Get over it. Chances are you were wrong anyway and you’re having trouble accepting it. Pick your vag*na off the ground, dust it off, and move on with your life. Use the experience as just that, experience. Your mommy and daddy probably brought you up telling you that you were the best thing ever. Guess what, you’re not. Nor I…and don’t claim to be. Until you’ve walked, humped, rucked a mile in Ofc. Stephens shoes, let it go and leave it alone. What’s done is done and it cannot be undone. Stop smearing this guy through the mud because you never know, you can or will be next.

  11. I wish we had these many comments about the 3 shootings and two home invasions. Oh wait, this is a “sleepy” college town right?

  12. BenD….

    I doubt I will be “next” as you put it, simply because I bother to make an effort to treat people with civility and respect. The same thankfully applies to most of the people who post here, even though you clearly don’t ascribe to that belief.

    Had Stephens done so, the responses here might have been far different. It doesn’t matter what you go through in your life – there’s no excuse for a mad dog mentality; certainly not in someone who is charged with keeping the public safe.

  13. Jeff, actually there were more than 100 comments on the shootings/home invasions.

    Wish granted.

  14. Checking the newstreamz articles “intruder shot in home invasion” and “two arrested in home invasion” comment logs are 6 and 8 comments respectfully. Don’t know if you are using stimulus math, but that equals 14 where I am from, not “more then 100″ Ted.

  15. Also, I said “more than 100,” not “more then 100.”

    If you are going to accuse me of not knowing basic math, please don’t misquote me and make it look like I don’t know basic grammar, either.

  16. “…I used the same rationale that Dan did (i.e. – he just got back from a war). I saw him as being young and in need of guidance, rather than condemnation.”

    this is just silly. Is San Marcos a war-zone? Do we feel that we need para-military and not police? What are we talking about here? People are stating that we must respect his services to our country and I will, but I just have to wonder how much civility he approached Iraqis with during his services overseas.
    This is the one area that every city should review constantly. Just as a country can become run by a Federal Reserve and/or a CIA, so can a city fall out of touch with what behaviors are correct and ill for conduct between a police officer and the public he/she serves. And yes I have had many engagements with the police of San Marcos, Tx. I respect my civil servants, I love to live here, but I do not love how across the board our police officers attitudes are. Certain officers are an absolute pleasure to deal with and it really makes you thankful feeling safe, yet others can be absolute tyrants of the badge. Just go to the square and you will see the tyrants who don’t think that politely asking someone to do something goes further than yelling while telling. My father was in law enforcement and so have been many of my friend’s fathers and the consensus is that gone are the days of empathy, and gone too are the days of innocence and respect.

  17. Pingback: PsiOp Radio » PsiOp Radio 95 – 091108

  18. Hey Sean, you know this was the officer who arrestd my roommate for DUI. I guess hes getting off now.

  19. Apparently our judicial system does work when all the facts are presented and reviewed (not just what the media publishes)…Officer Stephens will be getting his job back

  20. Officer Stephens will probably take a severance rather than come back to work for San Marcos–he knows the only reason he is avoiding termination is because of a procedural error. There is no way he steps back into a work environment where he is unable to effectively function as a peace officer due to past controversy.

  21. Captain A, let’s forget the past controversy, he lied to his boss. I’ve never worked at any job where that didn’t get you fired.

  22. Winchester: Exactly. The problem is that the city flubbed the disciplinary procedure regarding the most recent lying incident that accompanied the use-of-force issue. Use-of-force gets you suspended and “re-educated” when it isn’t too severe or a part of a larger pattern of problems, but lying will get a cop fired almost every time (especially if lying has occurred in the past). The very nature of police work requires honesty with superior officers and investigations into complaints.

  23. captain a-what was the procedural error? how did the city flub this one??

  24. Captain Anonymous: the city “flubbed” the procedure? Really? I’d love to hear your explanation of that belief. Hearing examiners, arbitrators, etc are human – they make mistakes also. I’d bet this one did, and the city will now have to deal with it. At the the SMPD tried to do the right thing. It looks like their hands are tied now.

  25. I’m just wondering what ever happened with the guy who owned the tea cup poodle that was involved with the first incident w/ Officer Stephens… don’t know for a fact but heard that he’s been arrested multiple times since then. Is it ironic that those reports haven’t been published? Definitely not saying that Officer Stephens comments made on his dash cam were appropriate regarding the dog, but maybe he had reason for concern for his safety when faced with a man who appears to have issues w/ the law.

  26. Here’s the funny thing.. Almost no one (besides SMPD employees and others who were smart enough to do research before judging) knows that Paul performed a traffic stop on the dog couple, then they TOOK OFF, causing a mini-pursuit. When they finally stopped again (after driving well over the speed limit), Paul didn’t know what kind of stop he had. If any of you say you wouldn’t be on edge about being in that situation, you’re a liar. Its unlawful to flee.. And stupid to flee for an already dead animal. And yes, it was already dead. Joyce was said to have attempted CPR on the dog.. probably just to appease those hard-working, law-abiding, tax-paying citizens. No, she isn’t/wasn’t a vet, but all officers go through CPR/first aid training.. They know when something is dead or not (also.. common sense? Hello?). The dog couple was speeding and driving recklessly on 35.. A highly populated highway on which many accidents, some fatalistic, have happened. A dog is not worth risking the lives of other humans. I would have said the same thing. To hell with the hippies who don’t care about the whole story. I can say this, because I have a dog. I have had several. I would never put the life of an animal on a higher pedestal than human’s life.

    That said, Paul lied to his boss. Yes, this is wrong not solely because of what it is, but because peace officers are held to higher standard, and being untruthful is (in my opinion) something that no cop should ever even consider being. A cop’s job is to uphold and enforce the law. They should do so, or find a less demanding career.. Which is what every employee at SMPD was hoping for Paul. If you reread the article, it names a handful of peace officers who were involved in the IA. I hope you all can appreciate that none of them did anything to “cover” Paul. Hats off to them for being honest.

    I commend Paul on his service overseas. I support the way he handled his traffic stop August 5. I DO NOT support the way his appeal turned out, basically forcing Chief to rehire him.

    On a happier note, he has kept his nose clean since being reinstated. Hopefully, he has learned his lesson(s), and will continue to be a good, upstanding peace officer in the community services division.

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