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3 San Antonio policemen indicted in the murder of a woman with mental health issues

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The repercussions of a confrontation earlier this year between police in San Antonio and a woman suffering mental health issues are still playing out. Melissa Perez was shot to death by officers there. And her death has prompted calls for reform, as well as a federal civil rights lawsuit from the family. And this week, three now-former San Antonio police officers were indicted. Texas Public Radio's Paul Flahive joins us now. Paul, thanks so much for being with us.

PAUL FLAHIVE, BYLINE: Thank you.

SIMON: And what was this confrontation that led to the death of Melissa Perez?

FLAHIVE: Yeah. Perez was having a schizophrenic episode early in the morning on June 23. She was cutting the wires on exterior fire alarms at her apartment complex when the police arrived. So when they did, she fled. She barricaded herself in her apartment. They chased her. And when they tried to get into her apartment, she started throwing things across the room. A glass candlestick finally hit one of the officers. And then Nathaniel Villalobos, Eleazar Alejandro and Sergeant Alfred Flores opened fire. And bullets from Alejandro and Flores struck and killed her.

The men were quickly terminated by the department, who said that they violated policy and protocol. And videos do show that they never really attempted to de-escalate the situation, that they continued to pursue the woman who was clearly in crisis. And on Thursday, a grand jury indicted the three men. And Villalobos faces an aggravated assault charge, while Flores and Alejandro both faced murder one charges. Villalobos says he's innocent and he'll fight the charge. The others did not respond.

SIMON: Paul, how unusual is it to have officers, or former officers now, indicted on charges like this?

FLAHIVE: It's very unusual. Police prosecutions are highly contentious and political. And nationwide, you don't see it very often. Researchers at Bowling Green State University found under 2% of on-duty officers who shoot and kill someone are charged with murder or manslaughter. And this district attorney has secured three other indictments - four cops - in the last two years for shootings. And one of those he immediately dropped, saying just didn't think he could win.

SIMON: What's been the reaction to the indictments?

FLAHIVE: It's been mixed, because, you know, the family and mental health advocates and police reform advocates, they're grateful that they're being held accountable. But they say the city's backsliding on efforts to prevent a future tragedy. And Doug Beach with the National Alliance on Mental Illness says the city's misusing specialized police mental health units designed to deal with the city's 30,000 crisis calls each year. Instead, he says, the city's using these units as backup and trainers for unrelated issues, and uniformed patrolmen continue to respond. Here's Beach.

DOUG BEACH: Melissa Perez paid for this lack of protocol with her life. And it's also ruined the lives of the police officers that were involved, who should not have been sent to the scene to handle this type of call.

FLAHIVE: In the meantime, the DA expects to go to trial the second half of next year.

SIMON: Paul Flahive is the accountability reporter for Texas Public Radio in San Antonio. Paul, thanks so much.

FLAHIVE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Paul Flahive is the technology and entrepreneurship reporter for Texas Public Radio. He has worked in public media across the country, from Iowa City and Chicago to Anchorage and San Antonio.