The San Antonio police officer responsible for accidentally shooting a drag performer who was being robbed at gunpoint has been cleared of charges of criminal conduct.
Early Sunday morning, Officer William Karmen stepped in to stop a robbery in progress against 45-year-old James Lee Whitehead. According to the Associated Press, three men had jumped out of a car, demanded money from Whitehead, and then began pistol-whipping him. When Karmen demanded that the attackers stop, suspect Jesse Ramon, 22, allegedly pointed his gun at the officer. Karmen fired his gun five times, with four bullets hitting Ramon. One of the bullets struck Whitehead in the chest, fatally wounding him. Ramon survived the spray of bullets.
Whitehead, also known as Niki Hunter, was a performer at the Saint, a club near the site of the attack. Whitehead was not in drag at the time of the attack.
"This is absolutely, totally a clean case of justification of an officer's actions," Bexar County district attorney Susan Reed said. "The officer was doing what he was hired to do, which is protect the public."
Ramon and the other two men, 21-year-olds Michael Martinez and Fernando Rodriguez, are being charged with capital murder. They will not be charged with a hate crime. Police spokesman Sgt. Gabe Trevino said witnesses don't recall the attackers voicing any derogatory slurs when attacking Whitehead.
Jim Kane, a friend of the victim, told Advocate.com that the police and district attorney's office had been improving relations with the gay community after years of tension between local law enforcement and LGBT people. In 2007, police chief William McManus received backlash from conservatives when he participated in the local pride parade as its grand marshal. There was even more uproar when Mayor Julian Castro aligned himself with the celebration this year.
However, sentiments were not helped when the police department came under fire for arresting two lesbians for kissing at a local mall last December. According to QSanAntonio, Shanenn Yvonne Johnson and Jessica Louise Garcia were arrested for trespassing and other charges when they were kissing at the Rolling Oaks Mall. They were escorted out of the building by a security guard and Bexar County deputy sheriff Fernando Luna, who was on duty at the mall.