Fort Worth police officer knocked man unconscious outside West 7th-area bar, lawsuit says

A former Fort Worth police officer was accused of excessive force and unlawful arrest in a lawsuit filed Friday.

Jose Salazar, a 15-year veteran with the department assigned to the Dignitary Protection Unit, was off duty and working as a security officer at Texas Republic bar when he knocked a man unconscious, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Fort Worth Division. The suit also names SS Hospitality Group, which owns Texas Republic in the West 7th area, as a defendant, alleging the bar had negligent hiring practices.

On July 22, 2022, at about 11 p.m., Salazar was working security at Texas Republic. Gustavo Santander was leaving Texas Republic with his wife and tried to walk down a set of stairs near the bar. According to the lawsuit, Santander had a “verbal conversation” with some of the Texas Republic staff, and they blocked Santander from going down the stairs.

Santander turned to walk to a different set of stairs. According to the suit, Salazar — “suddenly and without provocation” — “violently shoved” Santander in the back and Santander fell face first onto the concrete.

Santander stood back up and confronted Salazar. Salazar grabbed Santander’s arm, the suit says, and tried to trip him. Salazar tried to “take (Santander) down” and punched Santander several times in the face and head, he said. According to the suit, Santander lost consciousness as he lay on the ground.

As Santander regained consciousness, Salazar forced Santander into a sitting position and put Santander into handcuffs as another Fort Worth police officer came to assist with the arrest, according to the suit.

Surveillance video of the encounter released by Fort Worth police shows Santander walking away from Salazar when Salazar shoved him, sending him to the ground. Santander stands up, turns around, and appears to strike Salazar before the two end up exchanging blows outside Shot Cellar on Foch Street, next to Texas Republic. It appears in the video that Salazar hits Santander multiple times in the head before Santander falls to the ground and Salazar begins putting him in handcuffs as another officer runs up to the scene.

Salazar had Santander arrested on a charge of public intoxication. According to the lawsuit, Santander had not had any alcohol that night. Santander spent the night in jail. The charges were later dismissed.

Santander filed an internal affairs complaint with Fort Worth police against Salazar. Police began a use-of-force review and found the video of the incident, which the department said contradicted what Salazar told investigators about what happened.

Salazar was placed on restrictive duty and stripped of all police powers immediately as the internal affairs unit began an investigation into his use of force, according to a police department news release. Salazar’s supervisors determined Salazar had falsified Santander’s arrest affidavit and used excessive force. On Jan. 13, Fort Worth police issued a press release saying Santander had been fired.

The lawsuit also alleges Texas Republic failed to investigate, screen, properly train or supervise Salazar in his role as a security officer.

In the suit against Salazar and SS Hospitality Group, Santander is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.