San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas
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August 21st, 2008
Mayor’s statement on dog’s death during traffic stop

Full text of Mayor Susan Narvaiz’s statement at a city hall press conference today:

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.

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9 thoughts on “Mayor’s statement on dog’s death during traffic stop

  1. I would like to thank Officer Stephens for making sure the highway is safe for me and my 7 month old baby. Officer Stephens kept this erratic driver from causing an accident that could have resulted in the death of humans. It is sad that the ALREADY SICK

  2. I’m sorry for the loss. But let’s move on. I saw the couple on TV and guess what she was holding another dog and look as happy as could be. There are much larger issues to deal with. I’m a pet lover and a dog and cat owner. “Missy” looked ill to begin with. I would not jeopardize the safety of myself as well as others as the couple has. Please lets move on.

  3. I too watched the video and that male passenger was downright frightening in his behavior. Did you notice how far back the officer stood from him? The passenger was a blubbering, incoherent, irrational mess, and who knows what someone in that condition might do? He was crying so hard, it’s a good thing that the officer DID pull him over. The guy could probably barely see to drive! Geez, what a girly-man!

    This. Was. A. Dog. There are thousands of unwanted dogs euthanized every year. These people can go adopt a new one!

  4. so the lives of the people the driver put in danger when swerving in and out of traffic at 95 miles an hour .. mean NOTHING? This is what our society has come to ? An animal’s life means more than my child’s life, who happened to be sitting in the seat behind me during one of the swerves? we love our animals too. we would cry for days if they passed … however, we would never presume that their life was so important that we would drive 100 miles an hour, swerving through traffic, to get it to a vet. I am appalled that officials have apologized for his comment, that he has to receive counseling and got a reprimand. This is why people have less respect for the police and authority in general. I am disgusted at the way authorities have decided to handle this matter. I am grateful that the couple was finally stopped. Saddened that their pet died, but glad his reckless behavior was stopped before a HUMAN was hurt.

  5. I love dogs, but 95 mph is over the top. Yes they may have thought of the dog as one of there kids, but reckless driving is still not an option. I disagree with his comment, but this is only a story because of the liberal media.

  6. Anyone who can view the dash cam video and still fault officer Stephens is a complete idot. The perp stopped and then RAN from the offecer at over 100 MPH for a couple of miles. He was swerving and almost hit a construction sign! It was fortunate he did not run into someone. He is very lucky he did not get an evading arrest charge or reckless driving charge. Then to top it off, the city did not have the stones to enfore the ticket and let him off! It is just a dog, get over it. At least it was not a family of 4 rear-ended and killed by an out of control driver going 100 mph trying to get their dead dog to the vet in the next city.

  7. I would like to commend Officer Stephens for DOING HIS JOB. Officer Stephens is sworn to protect and serve, and he did just that. He protected innocent drivers on a busy highway from a reckless, out of control driver. I think it is sickening that an apology was issued and Officer Stephens was reprimanded for doing his job. I love dogs as much as anyone else and was a K-9 officer for 5 years, so I understand the attachment and love someone feels for their dog. I don’t agree that Officer Stephens was wrong with his comments, insensitive MAYBE, but not wrong. I think Mr. Gonzales is lucky that he only received a citation for his ignorance and wasn’t ordered out of the car at gun point, especially after he chose to lead Officer Stephens on a 2 mile pursuit at excessive speeds. Officer Stephens, I think you did a fine job and should be commended for staying as calm as you did and for stopping an idiot before he could hurt himself or anyone else.

  8. It is very unfortunate when the public, the media, and especially the Police Chief and Mayor do not support their officers for stopping behavior which places human lives in danger. Officer Stephens was very lenient by only issuing a citation for speeding and not taking Gonzales to jail for Reckless Driving and Evading. That’s what he gets for being nice I guess.

    The part that bothers me the most is how the mayor called Officer Stephens’ behavior inappropriate and insensitive. You do not place peoples’ lives in danger because of a dying or dead dog and that was the message he was trying to convey. You can’t sugar coat it. It sounds like the mayor wanted him to give him a hug and send him on his way. My appreciation goes out to Officer Stephens for doing his job, although I do believe that Gonzales should’ve gone to jail. My sympathies also go out to the Officer for the grief that he is having to go through.

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