Critics accuse San Antonio Councilman Manny Pelaez of U-turn on justice reform

click to enlarge Manny Pelaez was arrested and charged with misdemeanor theft in 2011, he told the San Antonio Report. - Jade Esteban Estrada

Jade Esteban Estrada

Manny Pelaez was arrested and charged with misdemeanor theft in 2011, he told the San Antonio Report.

District 8 Councilman and potential mayoral candidate Manny Pelaez is facing accusations of hypocrisy from online critics — including a council colleague — after telling the San Antonio Report he thinks the city should help petty criminals expunge their records.

Pelaez was arrested and charged with misdemeanor theft in 2011 on accusations he tried to steal goods from the H-E-B grocery in Leon Springs, he said in an interview with the online news site. The councilman said the DA’s office threw out the charge, which has since been expunged.

“In my case, the system worked as it was intended to work,” Pelaez told the Report, adding that the arrest was the result of a misunderstanding, not a malicious act. “But for too many San Antonians, the system has failed them.”

The story, which ran Sunday, couched Pelaez’s revelation of the arrest as an explanation why he and District 4 Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia recently filed a request for council to consider whether to set up a city program to help residents more easily expunge their criminal records.

“I know how damaging that kind of stigma is on people moving forward,” Pelaez told the Report. “So I wasn’t going to put up with bad information on my record.”

However, online critics, including District 2 City Councilman Jalen Mckee-Rodriguez, said Pelaez’s comments to the Report don’t pass the smell test.

Hours after the article was published, Mckee-Rodriguez wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that he hoped Pelaez’s decision to publicly share details of the arrest wasn’t “a slick way to get ahead of a critique a critique prior to running for mayor.”

Pelaez, who hinted in a recent constituent survey that he’s pondering a mayoral run, didn’t respond to the Current‘s request for a comment on the Report’s story and McKee-Rodriguez’s criticism.

In his tweet, McKee-Rodriguez also said he also plans to remind Pelaez of the arrest when the District 8 councilman “acts like rehabilitation, intervention, re-entry, and support are only for folk as privileged as he.”

The District 2 councilman’s unusually sharp critique of a colleague likely references Pelaez’s staunch opposition to Proposition A, a ballot proposal that failed to win voter approval during the May election. Also known as the Justice Charter, that measure would have expanded the use of cite-and-release for minor offenses along with decriminalizing low-level pot possession and abortion.

“The Justice Charter, if enacted, would prohibit police from arresting these criminals and only leave them with the option to issue a verbal warning or a ticket — an absurd and unacceptable result for the victims of these crimes,” Pelaez previously told the Report. “I urge all San Antonioians to reject this dangerous and poorly thought-out charter amendment.”

Former SA2020 CEO Molly Cox was also called out Pelaez for an apparent about-face on criminal justice reform.

“This statement from a dude ‘contemplating running for mayor’ about his own arrest and expungement lacks self-awareness and shows no trace of irony for opposing Prop. A,” Cox tweeted, referencing Pelaez’s quote about the “stigma” faced by people with criminal records.

Despite his repeated criticism of Prop A, Pelaez’s 2011 run-in with the law — as he explained it — would have resulted in officers issuing a ticket rather rather than arresting him, had it occurred in a reality where voters passed Prop A.

Per the version of events Pelaez relayed to the San Antonio Report, he was at the Leon Springs H-E-B around 9 a.m. on his mother’s birthday. Since Thanksgiving was the following day, he was shopping for the upcoming celebrations and had goods from the store with him.

Pelaez — a licensed attorney in Texas since 2000 — told the Report he wanted to buy wine but was unsure whether that was legal so early in the morning under state law. He reportedly asked a cashier, who told him they were unsure of the answer and directed the councilman to ask a manager standing beyond the checkout area.

“Just then, I got grabbed by some dude in a leather jacket and jeans,” Pelaez told the Report.

Ultimately, police charged Pelaez with misdemeanor theft of items costing no more than $500, according to the Report.

The Current couldn’t independently verify Pelaez’s version of the story since all records were destroyed following the expungement of his criminal record.

Despite Pelaez’s opposition to Prop A, he’s publicly urged leniency for a criminal offense before.

After Mayor Ron Nirenberg demanded the resignation of District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry following a DWI hit-and-run scandal last year, Pelaez called for “compassion” and instead urged council to censure Perry with a vote of no confidence.

“I believe in the power of redemption,” Pelaez later wrote in an Express-News op-ed. “I believe no matter how long a person travels the road of darkness, he or she can always take the exit ramp toward light and healing.”

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