I really hope this leaves a mark, because it should.
San Marcos police officers and professional staff must receive training on responding to political violence and voter intimidation and ways to develop community trust as part of a legal settlement approved Tuesday over a 2020 incident in which a caravan of Trump supporters were accused of harassing a Biden campaign bus as it drove on Interstate 35.
The city will also pay $175,000 to four individuals on the bus: former state Sen. Wendy Davis, who was running for Congress at the time; former Biden campaign staffer David Gins; campaign volunteer Eric Cervini; and bus driver Timothy Holloway. They accused San Marcos law enforcement in a 2021 lawsuit of ignoring multiple requests for a police escort as they traveled on I-35 from San Antonio to Austin days before the 2020 presidential election. They said they were surrounded by the Trump supporters who allegedly drove dangerously close to the bus while honking and shouting, forcing it to slow to a crawl.
The San Marcos City Council discussed the lawsuit behind closed doors Tuesday. San Marcos Mayor Jane Hughson later publicly stated during a council meeting that council members had “given staff direction,” on the lawsuit, but did not elaborate. City officials did not immediately respond to further questions Wednesday.
The Texas Tribune obtained a copy of the settlement Wednesday that was signed by the staff members named in the lawsuit and City Manager Stephanie Reyes. The officers named remain employed by the city. They are San Marcos police corporal Matthew Daenzer; Chase Stapp, San Marcos’ former director of public safety and current assistant city manager; and Brandon Winkenwerder, a an assistant police chief.
The lawsuit plaintiffs said law enforcement “turned a blind eye to the attack — despite pleas for help — and failed to provide the bus a police escort.” The lawsuit alleged that by refusing to help, law enforcement officers violated the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 because they were aware of “acts of violent political intimidation” but did not take appropriate steps to prevent the Trump supporters from intimidating eligible voters.
The Klan Act bars groups from joining together to obstruct free and fair federal elections by intimidating and injuring voters, or denying them the ability to engage in political speech.
“Our clients have achieved an important victory for free and fair elections by holding to account law enforcement who refuse to protect them from harassment,” said lawyer John Paredes, a lawyer for Protect Democracy who represented the plaintiffs, in a statement. “We must be able to rely on law enforcement to protect the fundamental right of every American regardless of political beliefs, to support and advocate for the candidate of their choice and engage in the peaceful process of democracy.”
According to the settlement, the city is also required to issue a public statement within three days.
“While the City of San Marcos continues to deny many of the allegations in the lawsuit, the City of San Marcos Police Department’s response did not reflect the Department’s high standards for conduct and attention to duty,” the statement reads, according to the settlement. “The City regrets that Mr. Cervini, Ms. Davis, Mr. Gins, and Mr. Holloway had this unfortunate experience while traveling through the City of San Marcos. Following this event, the City of San Marcos Police Department has been committed to improving its operations.”
According to the settlement, police training must start by July 20, 2024 and attendance is mandatory. Any police department staff hired within 18 months of the training must also participate.
The plaintiffs also filed a second lawsuit in 2021 against eight Trump supporters who they accused of participating in a “politically-motivated conspiracy” by closely following, honking at and slowing down the bus. Earlier this year, two of the eight defendants, Hannah Ceh and Kyle Kruger, settled in that case. The terms of that settlement were not made public, but Ceh and Kruger issued public apologies for their involvement in the incident.
The case against the other six remains pending.
See here, here, and here for some background on the lawsuit against the city of San Marcos; the article itself does a good job of recapping it all as well. Protect Democracy’s statement is here, and it includes a copy of the settlement agreement. I’m vindictive enough to have wanted more severe sanctions against everyone involved, but if the plaintiffs are happy with this, then I’ve no grounds to complain.
There is also that other lawsuit against individual plaintiffs, which survived a ruling to dismiss last year. Two of those defendants reached a settlement agreement in April. If the remaining six defendants ultimately get screwed to the wall, that should satiate my blood lust.