A five-year veteran of the San Antonio Police Department has been terminated after allegedly attempting to feed a fecal sandwich to a homeless man earlier this year.
The San Antonio Express-News reports the alleged incident occurred in May, when SAPD officer Matthew Luckhurst boasted to another officer that “he had picked up some feces, placed it in a slice of bread, and put it in a Styrofoam container next to the unknown homeless male,” according to a police press release, which added that “the officer reported that he told Luckhurst to go back and throw it away. The officer said he saw Luckhurst go back and he assumed that Luckhurst discarded the container.”
The incident was subsequently reported to Internal Affairs in July. Officials have been unable to locate the homeless man. In a prepared statement, SAPD Chief William McManus said:
This was a vile and disgusting act that violates our guiding principles of ‘treating all with integrity, compassion, fairness and respect.’ The fact that his fellow officers were so disgusted with his actions that they reported him to Internal Affairs demonstrates that this type of behavior will never be tolerated. The action of this one former officer in no way reflects the actions of all the other good men and women who respectfully serve this community.
“Firing this officer was the right thing to do,” San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor told the Express-News. “His actions were a betrayal of every value we have in our community, and he is not representative of our great police force.”
Luckhurts’ attorney, Ben Sifuentes Jr., told the Express-News that his client was joking and that the alleged incident “didn’t happen.” Sifuentes also told KSAT that McManus has a history of wrongfully suspending officers. “There have been several arbitrations that I’ve had where what he alleges in the suspension turned out to be false. So let’s not assume that what he says is true,” he said. “Number two, 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. We’re going to show this didn’t happen the way the chief alleged.”
San Antonio, the second-largest city in Texas and seventh-largest in the United States, has been slammed by homeless advocates for what many critics call its criminalization of poverty. SAPD issued 12,000 citations to unhoused residents between January 2013 and October 2014, with many violators charged with offenses that discourage poor people from being in public spaces. Desperately poor people have been issued tickets ranging from $200-$500 for violations including soliciting donations, sitting or lying on sidewalks and camping in public. Those who are caught asking for money three or more times can be fined $2,000 and jailed for six months.
Chief McManus has even attempted to criminalize giving money to panhandlers. “A few people may need a buck to go buy a burger, but the vast majority of people are using that money to buy alcohol, drugs and cigarettes,” he told the San Antonio Current in 2014.
From Republican Congressman Don Young of Alaska proposing the use of wolves to control the homeless population to Silicon Valley tech billionaires sponsoring a ballot initiative to criminalize tent camping in San Francisco, criminalization and dehumanization of unhoused Americans has been increasing at the same time as the economic inequality that is a major factor in causing homelessness.
“Really what they’re doing is they’re trying to demonize the population,” Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the San Francisco-based Coalition on Homelessness, told KTVU. “They’re trying make everyone more and more scared of homeless people.”
Earlier this year, the US Department of Justice Civil Rights Division sent a letter to the nation’s courts warning of the consequences of criminalizing poverty. The DOJ letter urged courts to stop using fees and fines to raise revenue, and to stop jailing those who are too poor to pay.
“The harm caused by unlawful practices in these jurisdictions can be profound,” the letter states. “Individuals can confront escalating debt; face repeated, unnecessary incarceration for nonpayment despite posing no danger to the community; lose their jobs; and become trapped in cycles of poverty that can be nearly impossible to escape.”