Officer Down: Detective Mario Moreno
By Graeme Zielinski, Moises Mendoza, and Nancy Marti
San Antonio Express-News
SAN ANTONIO, Texas — A newly minted San Antonio police detective who was part of an operation to ensnare a man sought in a shooting was gunned down by the suspect at a Northwest Side apartment complex Friday.
The tragedy left the department shaken from its chief to its rank-and-file.
Mario Moreno, an 11-year SAPD veteran and father of two who was promoted to detective in June, gave chase during the daylight sting at the Villas of St. Moritz in the 7200 block of Lamb Road. He was felled by a shotgun blast fired by the suspect, who had fled after he saw a convergence of cops, authorities said.
Police said the shooter taunted officers as they removed the mortally wounded detective from the scene at about 2 p.m. The shooter then was gunned down when he emerged from an apartment, armed with the shotgun used to kill Moreno — and possibly from Thursday night's shooting.
According to a news release, in his last moments the shooter yelled from the apartment that "I can see you, are you ready?" He was shot after he "engaged the officers."
Chief William McManus looked severe during a news conference at the scene.
"I'm heartbroken right now," he said.
According to the news release, the gunman, whose identity wasn't immediately released, was believed to have been involved in the shotgun shooting of a 29-year-old woman Thursday night.
A woman then helped arrange for a meeting Friday in the complex parking lot with the suspect, McManus said, without specifying who the woman was.
Moreno left behind his wife, Alena; son, Nicholas, 11; and daughter, Elizabeth, 3.
At the family's Schertz residence Friday night, neighbors and friends could be seen gathering.
Moreno, Badge No. 909, had been pronounced dead, at 2:26 p.m. at University Hospital. There, a tearful tableau played out.
A group of 10 uniformed officers was seen being ushered into the emergency room. They emerged 15 minutes later, faces full of tears. Two officers braced themselves against a hospital wall and wept.
"Fortunately it doesn't happen very often," one sobbing female officer said, "but when it does. ..."
Father Jimmy Drennan, a police chaplain, was at the hospital, consoling family and officers. He had administered Catholic rites for Moreno.
"We are completely devastated," Drennan said. "He loved his life, his wife, his children and he loved being a police officer. It was his dream to be a police officer. He had a great desire to make this city a safer place."
Drennan said the family told him to communicate that they were proud of Moreno.
"There's normally the idea that when an officer is down, the department is weaker," Drennan said. "But we are stronger. This is renewing our commitment about what we are and what we need to be."
Moreno, who had been assigned to the department's Repeat Offender Program, was the 48th SAPD officer killed in the line of duty and the 11th killed since 1990. He was the first killed by gunfire since March 29, 2001, when Hector Garza was shot at the scene of a domestic disturbance.
The police report from the Thursday evening shooting said a man lured the 29-year-old woman inside an apartment in the 4600 block of Gardendale Street and said he "had something for her," before shooting her with a shotgun and fleeing the scene.
McManus gave assurances that the subsequent Friday operation to nab the suspect was well-planned and well-staffed.
"It just goes to show that in some instances, you can plan everything, you can have plenty of people and there's nothing you can do," said Teddy Stewart, the police union chief.
Late Friday, the upscale apartment complex that was the scene of the shootings was cordoned as the investigation unfolded. Detectives streamed in and out. Police cruisers and motorcycles flanked the perimeter.
One resident, 19-year-old Joseph Austin Cummings, said he was leaving his apartment to go on a date when he saw police converging on the complex. He then heard two or three gunshots and went back inside.
"It's always seemed safe here," Cummings said. "It's a gated community. You would never expect anything like this to happen here."
Criminal justice experts said the SAPD owed it to itself to do an unsparing evaluation of Friday's events.
"If they sit there and try to rationalize or glorify something where it cost someone's life, that's not going to do any officers any favors," said John L. Sullivan, retired chief of detectives for the Las Vegas Police Department.
He said pursuits are inherently dangerous: "When you're chasing an individual, he's got the advantage on you. He knows where he's going. You don't."
According to police records, since 1998, Moreno submitted nearly 20 use-of-force reports. Several of them described incidents in which he had to subdue suspects who were trying to evade arrest or were combative.
Friday was not the first time Moreno had been involved in dangerous pursuit.
In October 2000, Moreno was on patrol at Barclay Street and Castroville Road. The officer tried to stop a young man he suspected of "possible drug activity" and the man darted, according to a use-of-force-report describing the incident that Moreno filed with his supervisors.
As Moreno chased him, the man "pulled out a handgun from his pocket and pointed it at me," Moreno wrote in his report. "I drew my service pistol and fired once."
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