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Families of San Antonians who died in interactions with SAPD unveil mural

Loved ones of people who have died in interactions with SAPD standing in front of the mural.
Jia Chen
Loved ones of people who have died in interactions with SAPD stand in front of the mural. John Allison Vaughn (third from left) organized the mural's creation.

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John Allison Vaughn came up with the idea for creating a mural after his close friend, Baltasar Rodriguez III, died during a 2021 interaction with San Antonio police officers.

The medical examiner said his death was a result of an overdose, but the San Antonio Police Department (SAPD)’s refusal to hand over footage of the incident — paired with the autopsy report’s note that officers placed their knees on Rodriguez’s back — led Vaughn and others to suspect foul play.

When he unveiled it alongside activists and other families whose loved ones have died in interactions with SAPD on the two-year anniversary of Rodrigez’s death earlier this month, he said he wanted to make sure no one forgot his best friend’s name.

“I want the world to see,” Vaughn said. “I want everybody to see that my brother’s not forgotten about. Baltasar Rodriguez is not forgotten about. We loved him. He was a nice guy and we loved him.”

The mural also includes images of Rodriguez and the words “Rest in Peace” and “Murdered by SAPD.”

A close-up image of the center of the mural where the words "Rest in Peace" and "Murdered By SAPD" are centered.
Jia Chen
Texas Public Radio
A close-up image of the center of the mural. SAPD has denied allegations that Baltasar Rodriguez was "murdered" by officers.

SAPD denied the allegation that Rodriguez was killed by officers, and officials said an investigation into the incident found no wrongdoing.

Vaughn said he was glad to be among others dealing with the same pain. “It feels great because it lets me know I’m not alone, you know?” he said.

Rudy Rodriguez, another one of Baltasar’s friends, painted the mural.

“I went ahead and put some little memories of us playing when we were younger, silhouettes, and then of the cops killing my brother,” he said. “I’m tired of them killing us off like that and us not being able to do nothing about it. And it’s nice to see that more than a handful of people are together on it.”

John Allison Vaughn unveiling the mural by taking down a tarp covering it.
Jia Chen
Texas Public Radio
John Allison Vaughn unveils the mural.

Ananda Tomas, the executive director of police reform organization ACT4SA, said the mural was important to remember Rodriguez and the others who have died in interactions with SAPD.

“We’ve included some of the other victims to police violence here,” Tomas said. ”It’s not fully finished. We want to add their names in a more artistic way, but we wanted to make sure we did something on his death anniversary to keep his name alive, keep these folks names alive, and bring some of the families together, so they can all put in to what the second level of this looks like.”

Family members of people killed by SAPD or who died in interactions with SAPD sanding around a mural painted on the side of a shipping container.
Jia Chen
Texas Public Radio
Activists and loved ones of people who died in interactions with SAPD standing in front of the unveiled mural.

Vaughn has independently filed a lawsuit against the city over his friend’s death, which he said he hopes can lead to the truth about what happened to Rodriguez.

The mural sits facing North Zarzamora St. on the West Side, where everyone can see the names of Rodriguez and other San Antonians who have died in interactions with SAPD.

SAPD did not respond to TPR's request for comment on the mural.

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Jia Chen is a freelance journalist and photographer for Texas Public Radio. She began with TPR working as the Bexar County selected Summer Arts Intern in 2021. Her coverage includes arts & culture, technology, politics, and more. She holds a BA in Communication from University of Texas at San Antonio and has lived in San Antonio for over 20 years.