An SAPD officer wants a federal judge to relieve him of wrongful death financial claims for killing an unarmed man. He uses ‘Hit and Talk’ as a defense.
SAN ANTONIO — Texas federal judge Jason Pulliam will decide whether a case against a San Antonio police officer who shot and killed an unarmed bystander should go to civil trial.
Officer Steve Casanova killed Charles Roundtree Jr while trying to shoot his friend Davantae Snowden. The shooting took place in October 2018 at 217 Roberts Street.
Casanova and two other officers were investigating a complaint of assault on a couple of soup vendors after 1 a.m. The central patrol officer entered the yard, recognized a man on the porch, fired at one door, and knocked on another door.
Five seconds after the door opened, the officer fired two shots into the living room of the house and took cover. Snowden injured his back and Taylor Singleton, who was in the same room, was uninjured. Unarmed Roundtree was killed.
“His actions were intentional, and they were also reckless,” Daryl Washington said.
The Dallas-based attorney is representing the family, Snowden and Singleton, in a wrongful death lawsuit filed against Casanova and San Antonio in 2018.
Snowden faced a felony weapons charge but was acquitted by a Bexar County jury. Police believed he had a gun in his belt, so Casanova feared for his life. The jury did not believe this story.
Casanova returned to the streets after a grand jury found he was not criminally responsible for Roundtree’s death.
Now he wants a judge to lift the financial threat of a civil lawsuit off his shoulders.
Attorney Patrick Bernal argued Casanova’s motion for summary judgment Thursday before Pulliam. The officer requests qualified immunity under a police investigative technique called “Knock and Talk”.
Bernal said that’s what his client’s behavior shows on the body camera video before Snowden waved the shoot.
Bernal maintained that Snowden forced the officer to fire his gun and unfortunately killed Roundtree.
Snowden and Singleton said the porch had no light, and Casanova pushed open the door after two knocks. According to previous interviews with KENS 5, the two said Casanova never identified himself as an officer.
Body camera video shows the officer knocking on the door. Two angles of the same action from his reserve officers, James Panah and Alexander Garza, support their claim. Pulliam even questioned entering the court.
Bernal said using “Knock and talk” does not require an officer to announce themselves.
Washington pointed out that in Texas, where owners are allowed to defend themselves and their castle, an unannounced person might encounter hostility upon entering someone’s home.
According to Bernal, their expert improved the scene on the porch. They think Snowden should have been able to identify Casanova as a policeman.
Washington said no with Snowden’s vision issues that require bifocals.
“In the context of qualified immunity, it’s viewed from the perspective of a reasonable officer,” Thad Spalding said.
Spalding also represents Roundtree in court. He said qualified immunity means looking at the facts from the perspective of a reasonable officer. And, he thinks it’s unreasonable to believe that “knock and talk” applies in this situation.
“I think it’s a distraction from the ultimate problem,” Spalding said. “And that’s how quickly that officer ran into that house and pulled out his gun and shot somebody.”
Inquiries about the use of “knock and talk” with the San Antonio police and the city attorney’s office yielded the following statement:
“Officers were responding to a call for duty and did not serve a ‘no knock warrant.’ “Furthermore, it is important for the public to be aware that a ‘knock and talk’ is a legally recognized practice which simply states that an officer can stand on a door and speak to the occupants if they respond. If the occupants do not respond , then the agent leaves.
Legal experts say police cannot use ‘knock and talk’ to avoid getting a search warrant for a crime, and the technique cannot be used to force entry or break into a home .
Casanova’s lawyers declined to comment for this story.
Pulliam’s decision is significant for both parties. The judge said that regardless of his position, the matter would end up on appeal.