Brian Chasnoff

  • San Antonio police officer accused of digging up personal data of women while on duty

    Brian Chasnoff, reporter for the San Antonio Express-News
    Earlier this month, Express-News reporter Brian Chasnoff learned the San Antonio Police Department was investigating one of its own, officer Gabriel Villarreal, after a woman complained about the officer’s behavior. The woman worked at the Art of Shaving boutique at the Shops at La Cantera. She met Villarreal and his family and sold him $400 in shaving supplies. A day later, Villarreal showed up at her apartment — in uniform — claiming he was checking up on a 911 call from her home:

    “He just looked around and said, ‘Well, maybe your husband called,’” she said.

    She told him she was not married and no one could have called 911. The officer responded that sometimes fog can set off the 911 system, the woman said.

    “I think he asked to come in,” she said. “He came into my house. I let him in to see there was no emergency.”

    The officer then pointed out that the woman had sold him shaving supplies the previous day.

    “I said, ‘What a coincidence! You’re here!’” she said. “I didn’t get it.”

    Small talk ensued.

    “He wouldn’t leave, and he wouldn’t leave,” she said. “It kind of felt weird in my home.”

    The officer left after about 20 minutes. A friend later urged her to report the incident.

    Last week, Villarreal was indefinately suspended, which is tantamount to being fired. In such cases, an officer’s disciplinary records become public. Brian obtained the SAPD documents, which detailed a disturbing pattern of Villarreal using police equipment to look up personal data and joke about at least seven women:

    San Antonio police officer accused of digging up personal data on women while on duty by John Tedesco

    From today’s story:

    The violations involve at least seven women and occurred through October, November and December 2009, according to the city’s findings, which allege the following:

    For “personal” reasons, Villarreal researched the criminal history of an apartment manager in his patrol district. In conversations via car terminals, Villarreal and another officer referred to the woman by “nicknames for her breasts.”

    Villarreal and another officer also held an “extended” electronic conversation about two other women in which “a comment is passed back and forth about whether (Villarreal) ‘knocked’ or ‘knocked it out,’ referring to sex.”

    A few days later, Villarreal ran the registration of a Mercedes-Benz owned by another woman and sent it to a fellow officer. The pair then discussed her “personal physical attributes, her breasts and her attractiveness.”

    From the registration information, Villarreal then pulled more of that woman’s personal data, including calls for police service to her home address, her social security number and her municipal court files.

    The investigation showed that Villarreal was on duty when he knocked on the door of the woman from the Art of Shaving. He had been dispatched to an assist-the-public call, handled it quickly, then drove to the woman’s house without notifying dispatchers.

    At some point Villarreal’s wife learned what the police investigation found — she returned the $400 in shaving supplies.

  • Good read: ‘Telling True Stories’


    Brian Chasnoff, one of the best writers at the San Antonio Express-News, started a new blog about the craft of reporting and writing, and it reminded me of a fantastic book for anyone who cares about long-form journalism.

    Telling True Stories” is a collection of essays by the most thoughtful and talented people in the business. It’s essentially a how-to book written by giants like Tom Wolfe, who wrote the “The Right Stuff;” David Halberstam, who wrote “The Best and the Brightest;” and Gay Talese, who wrote legendary celebrity profiles such as “Frank Sinatra has a Cold.

    There are chapters by Katherine Boo, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her stories “Invisible Lives,” which combined investigative and narrative journalism to reveal shocking abuses of people with mental retardation who were trapped in Washington D.C.’s privately run group-home system. Here’s how her first story started in the Washington Post:

    Elroy lives here. Tiny, half-blind, mentally retarded, 39-year-old Elroy. To find him, go past the counselor flirting on the phone. Past the broken chairs, the roach-dappled kitchen and the housemates whose neglect in this group home has been chronicled for a decade in the files of city agencies. Head upstairs to Elroy’s single bed.

    “You’re in good hands,” reads the Allstate Insurance poster tacked above his mattress — the mattress where the sexual predator would catch him sleeping. Catch him easily: The door between their rooms had fallen from its hinges. Catch him relentlessly — so relentlessly that Elroy tried to commit suicide by running blindly into a busy Southeast Washington street.

    How do reporters find stories like this? Well, in the book, Boo tells you:

    A friend once told me that I find my stories because I never learned to drive. It’s true. I take the bus. I walk around. By being out there — not the driver of my story but the literal and figurative rider — I have the opportunity to see things that I would never otherwise see.

    I found the group home story because I missed a bus in a housing project. Someone gave me a ride home. He had to stop at a group home because he was having some disagreement with the staff there. I entered the group at eight in the evening. What I saw there led to my story.

    “Telling True Stories” is full of gems like that one.