Javier Salazar has bounced between scandals since he took over the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office in 2017. During his first year, the department drew national attention after deputies gunned down a woman wielding a metal pipe they’d mistaken for a gun, killing a 6-year-old bystander in the process.
The ensuing years have been similarly rocky for Salazar. In 2018, police arrested 23 of the sheriff’s deputies and jailers, more than twice the number arrested the previous year, and charged many with violent crimes. Inmates at the county lockup, which was recently flagged for violating state standards, continue to allege serious misconduct. A lawsuit filed in March accuses guards of organizing a fight club among inmates and betting on the matches. The same month, Salazar announced the unrelated firings of seven employees, most of them for criminal misconduct.
Salazar has held up such firings as proof that he’s committed to reform. The local deputy’s union, however, called his crackdown “blatant political pandering” ahead of Salazar’s re-election bid in 2020. In late April, the Deputy Sheriff’s Association of Bexar County accused Salazar of violating the union’s collective bargaining agreement, which contains protections for deputies facing disciplinary action. The spat demonstrates how law enforcement unions pit reforms against protections for officers, and why reformers have focused on changing union contracts that make it hard to fire bad apples.
The union focused its complaint on Ryan Ferrell, a six-year veteran of the sheriff’s office. San Antonio police officers arrested the off-duty jailer the night of St. Patrick’s Day after they saw him swerving on the highway and speeding up to 97 mph. A police report says officers followed Ferrell and shouted over the intercom several times before he finally pulled to the side of the road. The report says Ferrell flashed his sheriff’s office credentials and that his breath smelled of alcohol and mints.
The next day Salazar announced his intent to fire Ferrell, who had previously been suspended over a hazing incident. In a statement sent to reporters less than 24 hours after the arrest, Salazar called the incident part of a pattern of misbehavior that “makes a mockery of public trust.”
Juan Contreras, president of the Deputy Sheriff’s Association of Bexar County, claims that in the Ferrell case and others, Salazar ignored the strict process in the union’s contract for meting out discipline, which includes a “full and fair investigation” with set timelines for officers to respond to allegations and review the evidence against them. “At the end of the day, we’re just telling him to treat our people right and be fair,” Contreras told the Observer. Salazar’s office didn’t respond to repeated requests for an interview.
In May, police arrested another Bexar County detention officer on a DWI charge. Salazar transferred the jailer to desk duty, but kept him on staff. Contreras, a 22-year veteran of the department, was pleased with the outcome, but says the union will continue to pursue its grievance related to Ferrell. Salazar “has to understand that this is our home, not his,” Contreras said. “Our people are going to be around way longer than he is, and we understand this beast in a way that he doesn’t.”