The San Antonio police officer who killed a 13-year-old boy earlier this month should have been kicked off the police force months ago, said the sister of a man who was fatally shot by the same officer last year.
Debra Montez Felder, whose brother John Pena Montez, 57, was killed by officer Stephen Ramos in March 2021, said she has remained in touch with the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office over the past year, pushing them for more information about the internal investigation into her brother's death, to no avail.
“SAPD and the DA’s office were on notice that this guy was a hothead, trigger-happy,” she said. ”You were aware of it even before the killing of this 13-year-old kid.”
The San Antonio Police Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the Montez case.
In a statement, the Bexar County district attorney’s office said it “has not completed the review of this case so that it can be presented to a Grand Jury, which will determine whether there is sufficient probable cause to send the case to a trial court.”
“It would be inappropriate for our office to comment on the facts of that case at this time,” the office said.
Ramos is currently under investigation for the killing of Andre Hernandez Jr. The officer allegedly shot into a car Andre was driving on June 3 because he feared the boy would strike officers with it after he intentionally crashed into a police vehicle, police have said.
That account has been disputed by Lee Merritt, an attorney representing the boy’s family, who after watching two police dashcam videos and footage from Ramos’ bodycam called the police account “false” and “incorrect.”
He said the videos show Andre “bump” into a car while traveling at a low speed and called the shooting an unjustified use of force because the officers were not in imminent threat of death.
Police said Ramos has been with the department for three years and is currently on paid administrative duty.
Felder, who also disputes the police account of her brother’s death at the hands of Ramos, said the officer should have been fired after the 2021 incident or, at minimum, “gone through training and extensive counseling on dealing with the public and when not to use deadly force.”
Police have said Ramos shot and killed Montez after Montez threatened his estranged wife with a knife. Officers told him repeatedly to drop the knife but he did not comply, police said. After another officer on the scene unsuccessfully attempted to deploy a Taser on him, Montez swung a knife at him, prompting Ramos to fire his gun, police said.
But Felder said that story did not match the one-and-a-half minute police footage of the incident the department allowed her and her husband to watch.
“As soon as I saw it, I told them this was unjustified and unwarranted,” she said. “He was just standing there at the door. There was no reason for you to shoot him.”
She said her brother, a veteran, had a history of mental illness and was in the middle of a “mental health crisis” when he picked up a kitchen knife. Felder said Montez’s wife, who was separated from him at the time, called a hospital as well as police because she was more worried he would hurt himself.
“He threatened to kill himself almost a year before and went through another mental health crisis, and police at that time took him to a state hospital and then ultimately went to the VA hospital and was receiving treatment counseling there so his wife called them [police] because he was in a kind of a meltdown for a week or two or even before he was shot.”
Video of the shooting has not been released publicly.
In a statement to NBC News, the San Antonio Police Department said it does not release police bodycam videos when “domestic violence is involved or suspected” unless the department’s chief “determines it serves a law enforcement purpose.”
San Antonio police confirmed that Ramos killed both Montez and Andre. The department said he was placed on paid administrative leave and underwent an internal investigation in the earlier case, which found that the shooting was justified. He then returned to duty, San Antonio police Sgt. Washington Moscoso said, adding that that was “standard practice.”
Felder said she has been fighting the city over the last year to release the bodycam footage and that she still has not gotten an answer about the status of the police investigation into the incident. She said she had been calling the district attorney’s office on a weekly basis asking if Ramos is still on administrative duty. It was only because of Andre’s death that she learned that he had returned to regular law enforcement duties.
In its statement, the district attorney’s office said it has been in contact with Montez’s “next of kin and family members on numerous occasions since April of 2021 to review video evidence and to discuss the incident. They have been notified every time there has been an update in this case.”
In the video she viewed, Felder said Ramos appeared to her to be “loud, belligerent and disrespectful.”
“He should never have been given a gun after that, he needs mental help himself,” she said.
Merritt, the attorney for Andre’s family, said he intends to file a civil suit which, among other things, will allege that the department was negligent for retaining an “officer who has already proven themself too fast on the trigger for public safety.”
It will also allege a pattern of abuse by the city, in part, for inappropriately training officers to follow policies and procedures that “don’t emphasize the value of preserving human life,” he said.
Felder said she will continue to call the district attorney’s office for information on the investigation into her brother’s death and push them to release the video.
“I’m angry because this kid didn’t deserve that,” she said. “SAPD knew this guy emotionally can’t control himself, he cannot control himself, and it’s just unreal.”