by SEAN KIMMONS
A San Marcos police officer, indefinitely suspended by the police chief in October when he shoved a woman to the ground and allegedly obstructed an internal investigation into the incident, has recently been reinstated.
Officer Paul Stephens was terminated after an internal police department investigation into the Aug. 18 incident outside Dillinger’s bar at 127 E. Hopkins Street revealed that Stephens used excessive force and violated rules of the investigation process. Stephens appealed the suspension.
A neutral hearing officer, Richard Brann, published a report saying that Stephens’ termination was not valid and downgraded it to a 15-day unpaid suspension. According to state civil service laws, San Marcos Police Department has to abide by the ruling.
“I still believe that my decision was the right decision,” San Marcos Police Chief Howard Williams said. “I don’t really agree with the decision but I have respect for the process.”
Stephens is set to receive roughly eight months of back pay from the department, Williams said.
The police dashboard footage on Stephen’s patrol car shows him getting out of the vehicle, approaching an unruly group in a confrontation as the bars closed around 2 a.m.
Issuing orders to disperse, Stephens whips out his baton and confronts the group. Some disperse, except a few including an unidentified female labeled as an “instigator” who still argues with another female out of camera view to the right.
Stephens steps in front of the female, who then makes a slight move toward the other female. He shoves her with his arm carrying the baton and the woman trips on a curb and falls to the ground.
When interviewed by his commander, Stephens said that his actions were reasonable.
“I didn’t tase her. I didn’t strike her with the baton. I simply pushed her, which it looks like I hit her with the baton, which I didn’t. … I don’t think she fell because I pushed her … I didn’t push her that hard, I think she fell because she was intoxicated,” he said.
Brann agreed, and issued the following statement.
“After watching the video numerous times, including many times in a frame-by-frame mode, it becomes clear that the unidentified female was agitated, quarrelling, and non-compliant before and after Stephens exited the vehicle,” Brann wrote in his report. “It also becomes clear that his push is made to appear shaper because he is stepping in her direction at the same time she is moving in his direction,” he adds.
Stephens also breached rules after he discussed the internal investigation and played the dashboard footage to other officers.
In his justification for terminating the officer, Chief Williams noted that within 14 months Stephens had received an oral warning for addressing an automobile driver stopped for speeding at 100 mph in “harsh and belittling terms.” The driver had a dying dog in the vehicle and was rushing it to a veterinary clinic. The dog eventually died.
On Oct. 23, 2008, Stephens also received a two-day suspension for telling his commander that he was tardy for a subpoenaed court appearance in Comal County because he had a death in the family when he actually overslept.
In Stephen’s latest plight, Brann reported that there was sufficient evidence that he had violated a general order not to discuss details of the investigation, but he did not do it intentionally.
Coupled with his prior disciplinary issues, Brann said that Stephens should be limited to a 15-day unpaid suspension. Williams said that Stephens is back on the force in a community services and crime prevention slot, away from patrolling duties.
“He’ll be there until I can figure out what I can do with him,” he said. “He’s not back on the streets.”
The cost of the hearing was about $6,400, which will be split by Stephens and the department.