SAN ANTONIO – A San Antonio police officer fired in October 2016 after he allegedly gave a homeless man a sandwich with dog feces had his dismissal overturned by an arbitrator earlier this month.
Bike patrol Officer Matthew Luckhurst won his appeal due to a provision in the local government code that prevents law enforcement from disciplining an officer for conduct that occurred more than 180 days before they are disciplined.
Arbitration documents state that Luckhurst testified the incident occurred on May 6, 2016, when he and two other officers on bike patrol were clearing transients from a parking lot near Houston Street and Interstate 35.
As the officers asked the individuals to leave the area, which was marked with “no trespassing” signs, Luckhurst said he noticed dog feces, condoms, vomit, personal hygiene products and a discarded slice of bread. He said that he grabbed the dog feces with the piece of bread to avoid stepping on it and placed the feces, wrapped in the bread, into a nearby food container which he said he viewed as trash.
He said he left the container “in close proximity” to a transient who did not clear the area and that the person picked up the container containing the feces and threw it on the ground after smelling it.
Another bike patrol officer who was on patrol with Luckhurst told him, “You can’t be doing that. You have to go pick that up,” arbitration paperwork states. The officer told authorities Luckhurst biked back to the area, returned and said he had disposed of the container, the documents state.
Luckhurst was subsequently notified of his dismissal on Oct. 28, 2016 — within the 180-day window if the incident occurred May 6, 2016, as initially thought.
Arbitration documents state that later, Luckhurst reviewed his medical records and found that the incident could not have occurred on May 6, 2016, because he had injured himself during a martial arts class and was on light duty from April 6, 2016, to June 14, 2016, preventing him from riding a bike, as his peers had testified.
The paperwork states that after interviewing witnesses and others who had heard about the incident — all of whom gave varying dates — it was determined that the incident may have occurred outside the 180-day window to discipline Luckhurst, effectively voiding his dismissal.
The arbitrator overturned Luckhurst’s indefinite suspension due to a violation of the 180-day provision, noting that Internal Affairs investigators “had (the) ability to corroborate testimony by means of having the video tape preserved and reviewed” but did not.
The arbitrator added that San Antonio police Sgt. Michael Riggs, the individual assigned to the internal affairs investigation, did not investigate the timeline of events after the incident was reported to him July 31, 2016. The paperwork states that Riggs also later testified that he “did not research whether there was any video recording of Luckhurst encountering a homeless person between February 1st and May 6th.”
Riggs did not find body-worn camera video of the incident, nor could authorities locate the individual whom Luckhurst said had picked up the container with the fecal sandwich, further muddying the timeline on when the incident occurred.
Luckhurst’s attorney, Ben Sifuentes, foreshadowed the arbitrator’s March 10 outcome in a 2016 statement to KSAT, saying, in part, “There’s no eyewitness. No video camera showing what he alleges in fact happened. I think when it comes to arbitration, we’re going to prevail.”
In the October 2016 suspension paperwork, Luckhurst was also reprimanded for an incident on July 8, 2016, in which he failed to take someone with an active warrant into custody. The arbitrator stated that this was the only rule violation which Luckhurst was able to be disciplined was for. The discipline for that incident is a five-day suspension.
Luckhurst’s woes are not yet over, as he must still overcome a second indefinite suspension issued to him in December 2016 for a separate incident on June 12, 2016, also involving feces.
In that incident, suspension paperwork states that Luckhust and another male officer defecated in the women’s restroom at the bike patrol office and intentionally didn’t flush the toilet. Luckhurst and the other officer then spread a brown substance over the toilet seat, “giving the appearance that there was fecal matter on the seat,” the disciplinary documents state.
It’s unclear when Luckhurst will learn his fate in that dismissal.