San Antonio settles lawsuits alleging police violated state’s “sanctuary city” law

Attorney General Ken Paxton has announced a settlement with San Antonio in two sanctuary cities lawsuits his office filed against the city. (Shelby Tauber For The Texas Tribune, Shelby Tauber For The Texas Tribune)

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San Antonio must pay $300,000 to settle a pair of lawsuits brought by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton alleging the city violated the state’s controversial ban on so-called sanctuary cities in 2017 and prevented federal authorities from enforcing immigration law.

Paxton had sued the city over a December 2017 incident in which San Antonio police found a dozen undocumented immigrants in a tractor-trailer and released them without turning them over to federal immigration authorities — in apparent violation of Senate Bill 4, a 2017 law that outlawed “sanctuary cities” by requiring local police to cooperate with those authorities.

In one of the lawsuits, Paxton sought to oust San Antonio Police Chief William McManus over the incident.

Under a settlement agreement approved by the San Antonio City Council on Thursday, McManus will keep his job while the city pays $300,000 to end the two lawsuits without admitting fault.

“It is time for cities like San Antonio to wake up and realize their misguided approach to immigration is not only reckless, but it has also made the influx of dangerous narcotics and human trafficking much worse,” Paxton said in a statement. “I have fought relentlessly to secure our border and I will continue to take essential steps to protecting every city in our great state.”

San Antonio officials said Thursday that they believe they would have won at trial, but they risked a $150 million penalty if the state won. San Antonio already had racked up a $6.3 million tab defending itself in the two suits.

The settlement “ends an unnecessary and political lawsuit … one that the city believes and still believes that we would have won but at continued expense to the city and the taxpayers,” City Manager Erik Walsh told reporters Thursday.

Police arrested the driver of the tractor-trailer on a state smuggling charge but released the people they found in the trailer. City Attorney Andy Segovia said Thursday that the police department didn’t have the authority to detain them. A city memo says police contacted the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, but the agency “did not respond in a timely manner or with sufficient resources to transport or process” the immigrants.

If the feds had a problem with how the department handled the situation, they didn’t tell city officials, Segovia said.

“At no time did anybody with any authority at the federal government level come knocking on our door saying, ‘San Antonio, you are not cooperating with federal authorities,’” Segovia said.

Meanwhile, San Antonio is challenging Senate Bill 4’s constitutionality in federal court.

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