by BRAD ROLLINS
A San Marcos police officer could face up to life in prison for allegedly injuring a young woman by slamming her to the ground on May 29 in the course of arresting her on trumped up charges.
Cpl. James Palermo, 40, was arrested on Tuesday and booked in the Hays County jail on a charge of aggravated assault by a public servant, a first degree felony punishable by five years to life in prison. On paid administrative leave since June 10, Palermo faces ”indefinite suspension” without pay following an internal investigation and a disciplinary hearing expected to be conducted next week, Chief Howard E. Williams told the Mercury this evening.
”I won’t prejudge the [internal] investigation. I have not heard what the officer has to say yet and I’ll reserve judgement until that happens,” Williams said. ”But there are standards and I think it’s fairly obvious what we think about his conduct that night in that we were the ones that went down and filed the criminal charges. … I believe what he did was criminal.”
While conducting a traffic stop in the parking lot of the Rooftop on the Square bar at 126 S. Guadalupe St. about 1:10 a.m. May 29, Palermo accosted 22-year-old Alexis Alpha as she walked by minding her own business, according to an affidavit used to secure an arrest warrant filed by San Marcos police Cmdr. Penny Dunn.
”Ms. Alpha made no contact with either the driver or Cpl. Palermo. She did not look at them as she walked by and made no suspicious movements, gestures or comments that would indicate she was anything more than a passerby [and] appeared unaware of the actions of either the driver or Cpl. Palermo,” according to Dunn’s account of the incident composed after watching dashboard video footage of the encounter and interviewing witnesses.
After being asked for identification, Alpha insisted she had done nothing wrong, told Palermo that he was obviously having a bad day and called him a “dick.”
At that point, Palermo grabbed Alpha and pushed her against the back of the Toyota Prius he had stopped then slammed her face-first on the concrete driveway and sat on her back. After she was treated at Central Texas Medical Center for injuries that included loss of two teeth and a concussion, Palermo took her to jail and charged her with obstruction, a third-degree felony; resisting arrest, a Class A misdemeanor; and public intoxication, a Class C misdemeanor.
Alpha was not guilty of any of those crimes, Dunn said, concluding, ”Cpl. Palermo had no reason to detain Ms. Alpha nor did he ever develop probable cause to arrest her for any offense.” Charges against Alpha have not been dropped, according to Hays County court records, and she is scheduled to be arraigned before County Court at Law Judge Robert Updegrove on Aug. 2.
Her injuries will likely require further treatment including possible surgeries, Dunn’s account states.
Palermo was hired as a street officer in January 2000 and promoted to corporal in 2011 through a civil service system that determines promotions by performance on a written test. If Williams decides to suspend Palermo indefinitely without pay, the officer can appeal to either the city’s Civil Service Commission, a district court or a third-party arbitrator. His employment would not be terminated, technically, until he has exhausted all avenues for appeals, Williams said.