San Marcos Police Department Chief Howard Williams. Photo by Andy Sevilla.
By ANDY SEVILLA
San Marcos Police Department (SMPD) Chief Howard Williams said Tuesday night that he disagrees with a hearing officer who ruled in favor of an officer with a pattern of misbehavior, but admitted that he has no other choice than to allow Officer Paul Stephens back on the force.
Stephens regained employment with pay and gained back pay for a little more than eight months of missed work after independent hearing officer Richard Brann in Houston ruled on June 23 that Williams imposed an excessive suspension on Stephens.
Williams charged Stephens with using excessive force, insubordination, and dishonesty as grounds for removal following an internal investigation into an Aug. 18, 2009, disturbance outside of Dillinger’s on the Hays County Courthouse Square. Williams placed Stephens on indefinite suspension on Oct. 2, 2009.
“I don’t agree with the arbitrator’s decision,” Williams said. “But that doesn’t matter. The decision has been made. That’s the system. That’s the process.”
Brann determined that Stephens should be punished for insubordination, but found him not to be guilty of using excessive force or intentional deceit during SMPD’s internal investigation. Brann decided that Stephens should be suspended without pay for 15 days because of his record. Williams said the police civil service code stipulates that the 15-day suspension is the maximum allowed short of indefinite suspension.
Williams maintains that Stephens used excessive force when he pushed an unidentified woman with his expandable baton onto the ground without proper cause during the Aug. 18 incident. Brann dismissed that charge after reviewing the dash camera video several times, including in frame-by-frame time.
Brann stated that the unidentified woman was “… agitated, quarreling, and non-compliant before and after Stephens exited the vehicle … She seems to be moving in (Stephens) direction – not to assault Stephens – but to advance upon, challenge, or ‘go after’ someone who is off camera to the right,” therefore, “in the heat of the moment, Stephens would have been remiss in doing nothing.”
William took issue with Brann’s decision and stood by his choice to suspend Stephens. Williams said Stephens used excessive force when he pushed the unidentified woman with his baton, further saying that the woman had her back towards Stephens. Williams admitted that the injured woman was “running her mouth,” but was in no way a threat to anybody and didn’t deserve to be shoved.
“I don’t feel my decision (of indefinitely suspending Stephens) is wrong,” Williams said. “I feel my decision is right.”
Williams also charged Stephens with dishonesty and not following general order after Stephens was prohibited from speaking about the investigation into his actions on Aug 18. Less than two hours after being instructed to not speak on the matter, Stephens told two other officers that he was being investigated for pushing a woman.
During the internal investigation, SMPD Commander Terry Nichols asked Stephens if he had discussed the matter with anyone, and Stephens answered that he hadn’t. Williams said that episode proved Stephens to be insubordinate and dishonest, though Stephens claimed that he didn’t disclose the conversation to Nichols because he felt he did nothing wrong.
Stephens said during the hearing on his indefinite suspension that he didn’t discuss details or try to sway testimony in any way. As he merely alerted the other officers of the investigation without doing into details, Stephens said, he had not violated the “do not discuss” order.
Brann said Stephens was insubordinate, but added that the officer didn’t attempt to interfere with the investigation or attempt to intentionally deceive.
Stephens is back on the force and is filling the crime prevention and community service post of another officer currently on sick-leave while Williams decides his permanent assignment. Williams said he doesn’t foresee Stephens patrolling downtown “for a while” but said he’s looking into a good fit for Stephens.
“My role is to run a police department we call all be proud of,” Williams said. “I have high standards and I am not going to relax my standards … I’m not going to let officers lie, use excessive force or be insubordinate. This decision, or any decision, is not going to stop me from taking disciplinary action when necessary.”
Williams said he has laid the matter to rest and is moving forward.
“I don’t believe in holding grudges,” Williams said. “This is done. I have respect for the process. I have respect for the law. The decision is made.”
Stephens also was in the midst of nationally discussed matter 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 took 17 minutes from the beginning until the residents were released. Gonzales and Hernandez both said Missy had been alive, but died during the traffic stop.
Stephens’ actions were discussed on the national stage after he was taped saying, “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.
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.Email | Print