Interview with Arthur G. Cárdenas

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People and Organizations 
  •  Hamilton, Greg (Sheriff) 
  •  Bailey, Doyne (Sheriff) 
  •  Ruíz, Keith George (Deputy) 
  •  Cárdenas, Gilbert  
  •  Poole, William 
  •  "Elena the Assassin" 
  •  Braddock, James J. ("The Cinderella Man") 
  •  Holyfield, Evander 
  •  Louis, Joe 
Table of Contents 
  •  FEATURED SECTION: Deputy Keith Ruíz in SWAT School 
  •   Introduction and consent 
  •   Personal and educational background of Captain Arthur Cárdenas 
  •  Thank you and closing 
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  •  VIRGNIA RAYMOND: Good morning  
  •  ARTHUR CÁRDENAS: Good morning.  
  •  RAYMOND: We are here in the Keith George Ruiz Building of the Travis County Sheriff's office and I am here with Captain Art Cárdenas.   
  •  ARTHUR CÁRDENAS:    Yes Ma'am.  
  •  RAYMOND:   My name is Virginia Raymond interviewing and this is Gabriel Solis behind the tape, behind the camera, and it is July twenty-third, 2008.  And so Captain Cardenas could you tell us your name and spell it for us.   
  •  ARTHUR CÁRDENAS:    Okay. Actually my first name is Arthur, but they call me Art.  Middle name is—middle initial is G., Gerard.  Last name is Cardenas. They call me Cardenas or some other variations of that and you spell that C-A-R-D-E-N-A-S.  
  •  RAYMOND:   Okay, great. And tell us what your position is with the Travis County Sheriff's Department.  
  •  ARTHUR CÁRDENAS:    I'm a captain in our administration support bureau, which—I oversee our training academy, our critical incident team, our transportation unit, courthouse security unit, community services outreach unit and some other units along with that.  
  •  RAYMOND:   Before I ask you a little bit more about your background, I just want to put on the tape—I explained what we're going to use this interview for—  
  •  ARTHUR CÁRDENAS:   Yes, Ma'am.  
  •  RAYMOND:   —and I just explained to you the risks of it— 
  •  ARTHUR CÁRDENAS:  Yes, Ma'am. 
  •  RAYMOND: —and you just signed the consent form a little bit ago.  
  •  ARTHUR CARDENAS:   Yes Ma'am, I did.  
  •  RAYMOND:   Do you have any other questions about it?  
  •  ARTHUR CÁRDENAS:   No, Ma'am, I don't.  
  •  RAYMOND:   Okay.  Thank you.  Well, Captain Cardenas can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Where you grew up?  
  •  ARTHUR CÁRDENAS:   Yes, ma'am. I grew up in San Antonio, Texas—born and raised in San Antonio, Texas and I attended seminary—Catholic seminary for four years and two years into college. 
  •  CÁRDENAS:  I made my way to Austin in 1980 after receiving a scholarship to University of Texas and I was also, at that time, studying for the priesthood at that time in the—at the college level.  
  •  CÁRDENAS: But two years into my college career I fell in love in—with a young woman and left the seminary and started a family and started working with the Sheriff's Department in 1984. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: Been working here—this will be almost—sorry—my twenty-fifth year next month—starting my twenty-fifth year with the Sheriff's office. I've worked almost everywhere with the Sheriff's office; started out as a corrections officer back in 1984.  
  •  CÁRDENAS:  And then I went to patrol. I really enjoyed working patrol. Worked that for several years and then I was recruited into the Internal Affairs unit when I was a young officer. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And I stayed there for five years and then I became the very first SWAT sergeant when we developed our SWAT team here at the Travis County Sheriff's office. I was promoted to sergeant and they assigned me to the SWAT team. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And I was the first SWAT sergeant of the Sheriff's office and I did that for a few years. And then went back to patrol and then in the year 2000 I got promoted to lieutenant and I was patrol lieutenant for about a year and a half.  
  •  CÁRDENAS: And then I got moved over to our homicide unit and I worked there for three years and when Sheriff Greg Hamilton got elected as sheriff in two thousand and five—was it 2005? 
  •  CÁRDENAS:  He promoted me to captain and asked that I become warden at the Travis County Correctional Complex, the big jail down in Del Valle, and did that for two and a half years and I got transferred over here to admin support earlier this year.  
  •  CÁRDENAS: So we're in 2008 now, so January 2008—I 've been in the administration support bureau since then.  
  •  RAYMOND:   And almost twenty-five years, congratulations.    
  •  ARTHUR CÁRDENAS:   Thank you.  
  •  RAYMOND:   You kind of laughed a little bit when you said you were recruited into Internal Affairs—  
  •  ARTHUR CÁRDENAS:    Yeah, Internal Affairs.  If you know anything about the unit, it's a—we investigate our own; we police the police so to speak.  
  •  CÁRDENAS:  And I really never thought I'd be an Internal Affairs officer. And then—back then Sheriff Doyne Bailey would pick who he wanted to go into the unit, and for some reason he picked me after interviewing me and liked me.  
  •  CÁRDENAS: And I stayed in that unit for several years. And it was very challenging and rewarding to a lot of degree. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: But I chuckle at that because Internal Affairs is something that not every cop wants to work. So that's why I chuckle at that. Yeah.  
  •  RAYMOND:    Do you have any reason—idea why he chose you?  
  •  ARTHUR CÁRDENAS:   No, I don't. Back in the day was—he would ask the captains of the different bureaus; we had two bureaus back in those days. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: We had a law enforcement bureau and a corrections bureau and he would ask each of the captains to select two or three people they thought would be good. 
  •  CÁRDNAS: So my captain at the time obviously thought I was doing a good job on the street as a patrol officer and selected my name, which was kind of bittersweet for me because I'd wanted to become a DARE officer. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: I wanted to be a DARE officer, and I had gone to school to—specialized training to become a DARE officer, but he recruited me and asked me to come work with him in Internal Affairs unit. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And I did that, but I still got to teach DARE on a part time basis because of the county. We're always short-staffed and stuff.  We have to rob Peter to pay Paul so to speak.   
  •  CÁRDENAS: And they asked me, when we were short-staffed because we had more schools than officers to teach them—they asked me to teach a couple schools. So I was able to teach on a part-time basis DARE.  
  •  RAYMOND:   For future generations who may not know what DARE is—  
  •  ARTHUR CÁRDENAS:    Okay, that's right. DARE stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education and it's a curriculum where a police officer in uniform will go every week to the fifth grade and teaches them about how to say no to drugs and techniques about how to say no to drugs, violence and some other things, too. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And the program is still—I mean it went over some controversy over the years but I think it's still—it's still being taught in some schools. We don't at the Sheriff's office teach it anymore.  
  •  CÁRDENAS: We have a program called the S.R.O., School Resource Officers, where our officers are on the campus twenty-four—not twenty-four, but they are there when the school's in session.  
  •  CÁRDENAS: And they—and in addition to providing law enforcement services, they also teach on some levels to different grade levels about saying no to drugs and different coping skills that they're gonna need—that kids need when they grow up.  
  •  RAYMOND:   Excuse me a second. I am pitched so high on this chair. (readjusts chair) Sorry.  [inaudible] Okay, I'm better.  
  •  RAYMOND:   Thank you. You knew Keith Ruiz. 
  •  ARTHUR CÁRDENAS:   I did. I knew Keith Ruiz. He is a special person in my life for a lot of different reasons. I met Keith Ruiz in my work in SWAT. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And the way I met Keith was: back in the day—as I said earlier I was the first SWAT sergeant. We would have to have—in order for an officer to come on our SWAT, they'd have to make application and then they would have to go through our SWAT school and pass our SWAT school successfully. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And then we would put them on the team if there was an opening.  So Keith wanted to become a SWAT officer. He was a preferral officer; he was a corrections officer first, then a patrol officer and then he wanted to become SWAT officer. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And so he made application and put in and we put him into the SWAT school. Now I tell this story not to diminish him in any way but show that he has perseverance, and he had perseverance and—and that second effort that you really need. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: To be a SWAT officer, you need to be in excellent shape.  You have to be because of the nature of the work and the endurance that you need. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: So our SWAT school is geared towards that to test the endurance of an individual. So people need to come to that SWAT school in shape. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And if they don't, it becomes very apparent the first or second day they're not gonna be able to do it. So the first day Keith showed up, I could tell that he was not in shape. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: Okay. Keith showed up and we took the team out on a run just to show—kind of test the endurance. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: My job as a sergeant was to fall toward the back and pick up the ones that weren't performing as well as they should be. On this particular day, Keith was one of those individuals that was having trouble finishing the run. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And I went back towards the back to encourage him to pick him up and kind of get on him to pick it up. That's what SWAT officers do, and we do kind of paramilitary organization.  
  •  CÁRDENAS: And he was having a hard time finishing the run and I remember running up a head of him just a little back and I felt a shoulder—or a hand on my shoulder pull me back, and I looked back and Keith had turned pale and his eyes had rolled back in his head, and I said, Oh, my God. This is bad. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And so I stopped the run and took him back to the academy to let him cool down. One of the most distasteful things I had to do as a sergeant, is to—as a SWAT sergeant, as for individuals coming to the SWAT school, was to tell them that, I'm sorry, but right now this is not for you. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: So I had to break the bad news to Keith—tell him, Sorry, Keith. I love you and everything, but you're not in shape for this. You're not gonna be able to complete the class. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And he was saddened by that I could tell— and hurt. But that's business and we have to conduct business like that. And I told him you also need to not give up. We're gonna have another SWAT school in a couple of months. Dedicate yourself to being in shape and come back. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: So a few months later Keith Ruiz showed back up in great shape and was one of the top performers in that second SWAT school that he attended. And I was very proud of him because we all fall down at different times in our lives, and it's not so much the falling down, but the hard part is getting up. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: Kinda easy to fall down, but to get up and clean yourself off and keep going is the essence of what a police officer—what a SWAT officer, especially a SWAT officer should be. And so he showed to me a lot of integrity and a lot of second effort, which I really admired in him. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: So Keith became one of my snipers. And a sniper is of course, for those that don't know—it's kind of a lonely position on a SWAT team. They get deployed almost before anybody else. They have remote position away from the team. And they have a long rifle in case they have to take a shot at a suspect or somebody that deadly force is required. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: It takes a lot of discipline and training to be a good sniper. And Keith had all those qualities. He was a good sniper, excellent shot, in great shape, and we deployed him in many missions to be a sniper. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And I remember one particular mission that we deployed him on, and I just felt very comfortable on this one because it was a very static type of incident where a gentleman had become distraught and he had—and he was holding a gun to his head. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And they found him driving his vehicle on Manchaca Road in the part of the county. And our patrol officer pulled him over and he had—soon they told me he was holding the gun to his head.  And I heard this thing come over the radio so I sent my team out to the scene. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And when I got to the scene, they were negotiating with him face to face, which is very, very dangerous. So me, as a SWAT sergeant, had to deploy different officers in different locations and I told Keith where I needed him at. And then once I deployed him, I knew that we were gonna be okay. I just had that feeling.  
  •  CÁRDENAS: He was disciplined, he was a good shot, he was well-trained.  I knew that we were gonna be safe if anything happened. The incident resolved itself well. We got the gentleman into custody, even though he was shooting rounds off in close proximity to me and to another deputy who were trying to get him out of the car.  
  •  CÁRDENAS: But we knew, when we were dragging him out, that Keith was there with his rifle—we were gonna be okay. So it resolved itself well, thank God. We got through without anybody being injured and we saved lives that day. So I was very proud of my whole team, but especially of Keith because he was out there in a remote area watching with his long rifle. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And there's many, many other incidents like that where we had him doing that. So that's how I got to know Keith, in that capacity.  
  •  RAYMOND:    And I should have asked you what does SWAT stand for?  
  •  CÁRDENAS:    SWAT is an old term for Special Weapons and Tactics. Each—most the police departments in the United States have a specialized group of individuals that train together for barricaded subjects, suicidal subjects, hostage situations, things that a normal police officer does not have the tools and capability to do. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And they work together as a team—different components, different training techniques—to resolve those types of issues. So the old adage is—the old terminology is that if you called SWAT out there, then something really bad has happened. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And they used our team quite a bit. And I'm sure they still do. And I was very proud that Keith was part of our team back then.  
  •  RAYMOND:   And you joined the SWAT team in what year?  
  •  CÁRDENAS:    Well, we had a part-time SWAT team to begin with. In 1990, we formulated the part-time SWAT team. And it took full-time form back in ninety-three—ninety-two or ninety-three—around in there. Became a full time team. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: That's when they promoted me to sergeant. And I became the sergeant of that team about that time. So Keith was a member of that team at that time—between ninety-two and ninety-four, around there.  
  •  RAYMOND: You said—it sounds like when Keith came to SWAT school, or SWAT training, you already had known him.  
  •  ARTHUR CÁRDENAS: I knew him on a limited basis in my dealings with—in patrol. I never had worked with him one on one until he came into SWAT. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And in SWAT we got—I was his sergeant so I needed to know him. And I would going out and ride with him periodically. And when the SWAT officers are not doing SWAT stuff, they are serving felony warrants all day long. And I would go ride with all my officers just to get to know them and to see what type of work they did. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And I would ride with Keith on occasion. I'd pick a different officer everyday and go ride with them. And I got to ride with Keith a couple times and got to know him. And he was a good man—a man of integrity; loved his family—all these things.  
  •  CÁRDENAS: And like all—everybody—everybody has trials and tribulations that happen in their lives. Nobody's immune from that and he, of course, had those things happen, just like every human being does. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: So when you ride with somebody in patrol—when you're in that two-man unit, you get to talk about things and family issues and just different things, and we'd share. And that's how we gain that camaraderie. So I got to know all my officers that way. And also Keith.   
  •  RAYMOND:    How long was Keith with the SWAT team, and how long were you close to him before the tragedy—before he died in Del Valle?  
  •  CÁRDENAS:    He died—let me see.  He was on the SWAT team for several years—I think for six years—for quite a period of time before he passed away. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: So I knew him for about two years when I was SWAT sergeant. I was on there for three years—two and a half—three years.  And I knew him for all those two years and then I went into patrol and got promoted and stuff like that. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And so we kinda grew apart as far as not seeing each other every day, but I still—I admired him nonetheless. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And I remember the day that the tragedy happened, February fifteenth 2000—two thousand I believe it was.  Two thousand one?  Two thousand one.  
  •  CÁRDENAS: And I was, at that time, in Sam Houston State University going through the Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas and my brother Gilbert, who works for the Austin Police Department, had called me that day and said, "Y'all had an officer killed in the line of duty."  
  •  CÁRDENAS: And I go, "Who was it?"  He said he didn't know.  So I called the Sheriff's office. I was in Huntsville at the time. And that—that had just happened. And they told me that Keith had got killed in the line of duty. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And so I immediately contacted my instructors at Sam Houston, said, "I need to go back to Austin for the funeral." And they dismissed me for a couple days for me to come to the funeral and pay my respects to him and his family.  
  •  CÁRDENAS: So, it was a helpless feeling for me ‘cause, of course, any time one of our officers gets killed in the line of duty—anywhere you want to be, you want to be close to the organization, you want to be close to the family and stuff and offer whatever support you can. And I wasn't able to do that, really. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And so as soon as I could, I went over there and did that. So, February sixteenth, I came into town and spent the next two days trying to help as much as I could. And to go spend time with my family and then went to the funeral home and spent time with his family. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And I'd known his wife for several years in her work in the correction bureau as a jail nurse, and I knew her and did whatever I could to help the family.  
  •  RAYMOND: What is the impact on people who work together when something like this happens—when you lose an officer?  
  •  ARTHUR CÁRDENAS: I think to answer that question you need to realize what type of work that police officers do. We put our lives on the line everyday. That's why we have to wear a vest because you just never know when something like that is going to happen. It's dangerous work, but it's also kinda monotonous work at times. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: You can go for hours without getting a serious call and then all of the sudden something big happens and you gotta run and take care of business.  And sometimes it's all night long that stuff happens.  People are victimized all day long and you have to just go to call to call to call to do that.  
  •  CÁRDENAS: So you build a camaraderie with other officers, especially when you see tragedies happen on a work basis.  Working on the homicide unit, I know that we would have to go and witness stuff that the human—that the normal human being should not have to see or smell. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: So you gain a sense of brotherhood or camaraderie along with that. So when—you become a family.  That's the word I'm looking for.  You become a family, and you rely on each other for a lot of different things. So when a family member dies, the grief is overwhelming. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And especially when an officer is killed in the line of duty, it's almost a violation of our organization, of us, because we're taught how to fight; we're taught how to take care of ourselves and how to resolve. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And when someone gets the better of us, it's shocking, and it's almost demeaning to us. And if you look at the tragedy that happened to Keith, he was—he was in his—he was at the front of the door when this thing happened and a shot came and struck him in through his vest, and just in a manner that was just like unheard of.  
  •  CÁRDENAS: He wore a vest, and one portion where it's not protected, it goes through and it's just a terrible, horrible tragedy. And to me the real impact is that Keith, who we've taught how to be a SWAT officer, how to fight back—didn't get a chance to fight back. And to me that's the real significant impact. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: I think a lot of us police officers can maybe stomach a little bit  better the fact that, if we're one on one—if we're trying to save somebody's life, and if we're fighting for somebody, and we have a fighting chance to survive, then maybe it's worthwhile to some degree. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: But when you don't have a fighting chance, it's just harder to take. So, it had an impact not only on the whole department, but I think especially our SWAT officers. They really took it seriously, again, because of the work they do. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And they train all the time together. They live together. I remember, me being a SWAT officer, being alone out on call-outs, sleeping next to my SWAT officers, my brothers, and waking up almost hugging each other ‘cause we don't know where we're at.  We think we're with our wives or whatever; we wake up and some guy is holding you.  
  •  CÁRDENAS: And it's living together and eating together and being out in the field together.  It's just a different type of police work.  So if anybody was affected in the organization, it's probably the SWAT officers that were there when it happened and that knew Keith. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And I think that—I heard a reading at a funeral I went to this weekend.  A little girl died of cancer, six-years-old. And they had a nice reading from a Rabbi—I wish I remembered the Rabbi's name.  But he—they asked him the question, "Does the sadness ever end?  Does the grief ever end?" 
  •  CÁRDENAS:  It never ends. You always remember. You come to terms with it as life goes on and the pain becomes bearable, but you're always sad. So every morning I walk into my office, which is right there, and I see the plaque that's been dedicated to Keith and I remember him. And the sadness is there. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: But I want to remember him, not the way he died, but the way he lived. He was always, like I said, a disciplined, jovial, always happy individual.  
  •  CÁRDENAS: And I remember a time when I—today, mixed martial arts—I don't know if you know what it is—the cage fighting?  
  •  RAYMOND:    No, tell me about it. 
  •  CÁRDENAS:    The cage fighting is popular now. You know, fighting on the ground and submission holds and things like that.  
  •  CÁRDENAS: I was kind of innovative back when I was a sergeant. I knew the importance of what happens to an officer if they get taken to the ground. So, I brought in a special martial artist that knew how to grapple to come teach my SWAT team how to do that. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And I remember he was teaching us how to do this and it was time for us to spar with each other and so somebody had Keith in a hold and he was like all tied-up.  
  •  CÁRDENAS: And we made the joke telling Keith, "Come on Keith, you got him now." And he's all—he couldn't do anything. He's all wrapped up.  He goes, "Yeah, I'm luring him into my trap. I'm luring him into my trap.  I got him where I want him now." It was just hilarious to hear him say that.  
  •  CÁRDENAS: But that's the type of individual he usually was.  But when the sadness comes over me, I remember his life. And I want everybody to do that, too.  In anybody's life when they die tragically, whatever, we want to remember the good things that happened in their life.  He died with honor. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: I mean, I kind of alluded to the fact that he didn't have a chance to fight back. That's true, but nonetheless he was part of our SWAT team trying to serve a legally issued warrant and he was doing his job of protecting the community and he died with honor.  
  •  CÁRDENAS: And I think any police officer, if you don't retire and if you have to die in the line of duty, you want to die with honor.  And he did that. He did that. And I think that's all we can say about anybody that we live well—live honorably and then we die honorably and with dignity.  I hope he died with dignity.  
  •  CÁRDENAS: I think that he died in a shocking way, no doubt. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: But I think it was reassuring to him maybe that his SWAT brothers were around him when the injury happened. And were comforting him and trying to be with him. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: I think one of the saddest things I ever had to experience, I think in my life as a police officer, is being a homicide investigator supervising the unit and going out to scenes where people die alone 
  •  CÁRDENAS and nobody knows that they're dead and the body's decomposed and not knowing that they're dead nor do they care sometimes that they're dead. That's sad. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: But to know that when I die or you die, or anybody dies, that your family is around you. Somebody that cares about you is around you is—brings comfort and solace to know that when we pass through violent means or through peaceful means, that the passing can be a little bit easier when we have somebody that loves us close to us. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: So, I get comfort in that. Yeah, yeah. 
  •  RAYMOND:   Are there—and I don't know whether this is relevant to you or not, so if it's not just forget it.  But the person who shot, shot and killed Keith Ruiz went to trial.  Did you or your fellow officers follow that? I mean, I know some people must have.  
  •  ARTHUR CÁRDENAS: They had to follow—especially the ones that were at the scene. They had to be there and follow it. And I know that's hard for them to do that. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: One of the officers that was there is a gentleman by the name of William Poole, Billy Poole, who is now—who now works for me as our training coordinator. He's in our training academy and a very excellent young man.  Decorated Marine when he went to Desert Storm and just an excellent, excellent young man. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: But I know it affected him and he had to go and testify again. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And people have different ways of coming to terms with that. And so a lot of people will go to the trials and when the—they're a witness or they're involved in it or their loved ones have to follow it to get—for it to bring closure—or I don't even know if you can ever have closure.  
  •  CÁRDENAS: But it becomes part of their healing process, I think, to see all of that happen—to follow that.  And to see that justice is meted out to the individual that did that. I don't know if that really happened.  
  •  CÁRDENAS: I mean, I think we tried to take care of the officers that were involved in that to the best of our ability.  I don't know if we did a good job or not. But in their own ways I think maybe they found, maybe, some solace or some coming-to-terms or some closure with all that at the end. Hopefully they did.  
  •  RAYMOND:    And the young man was sentenced to life, is that right?  
  •  CÁRDENAS:    Yes.  
  •  RAYMOND:    So it's perhaps—I don't want to put words in your mouth—what closure they got, are you saying came from the process or from— 
  •  ARTHUR CÁRDENAS:    Again, I don't think they'll ever come—they'll ever have closure on this.  Again, I'll allude to the reading that I heard at the funeral last weekend. The sadness will always be there. The memories will always be there. They just become easier to bear with the years. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And every once in a while I think we remember Keith and the wounds are opened up just a little a bit. It's like I got scars all over my body from boxing and stuff like that, and I still get hit in some places when I'm sparring with some of my students and I'm—‘cause I still have the same bad habit of not putting my hand up like I should. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And I get nailed there a couple times and it reminds me again of when I got cut. And so things happen, I think, in our lives to remember Keith, whether it's going to a trial, or passing by his plaque that open up the wounds again. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: So I think it's really important that when we do remember him, again, that we really focus on his life and the service that he did to the community. And how he served the community well, and how he served with honor and with dignity in the agency. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And so I hope that the officers that were involved in that do that. And they don't hold it too close to their heart where it becomes a point of holding a grudge or not doing their job well.  I don't think that will ever happen, but you know everybody acts differently. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And I hope that through their prayer life or through their lives as police officers, they have learned something from this and learned that, more than anything, that we need to persevere and take care of each other. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And let justice work out its course.  And when it doesn't to the way we want it to—‘cause I think a lot of people wanted the death penalty.  I was just talking with a friend about this this morning.  People wanted the death penalty on this individual, but he got life. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: Whether that's fair or not, whether people agree with that or not, but that's our justice and we have to accept that—the laws of our land and abide by those. So a lot of different facets are involved in all of this.   
  •  RAYMOND:    I did not know until we started talking this morning that you had trained to be a priest.  Can I ask you about that?  
  •  ARTHUR CÁRDENAS:    Surely. Yeah.  
  •  RAYMOND:    Where were you in seminary?  
  •  ARTHUR CÁRDENAS:    I actually went to high school seminary at St. Anthony's High School Seminary in San Antonio, which is on McCullough Avenue. I went and my brothers went, too.  And I was very fortunate that I'm a very good writer—so they tell me.  I'm a technical writer.  Maybe one day I'll write a book. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: But I got a scholarship to the University of Texas because I scored well on my SATs and I was the valedictorian of my school and some other things. So they had a headhunter looking, I guess, at the college level for individuals like me and I—they offered me a four-year scholarship. And so it was a shock to me because I never thought I was anything all that.  
  •  CÁRDENAS: I was an athlete, but nothing great.  Nothing like to get a full scholarship.  So they gave me an academic scholarship and I went to the University of Texas. So the order that I was with, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, they encouraged me to continue my discernment process in the college level.  
  •  CÁRDENAS: So I came to Austin and lived at Saint Edward's at the Oblate Hall, which is a dorm over there, and I went to school at U.T. in the morning and went there and did my apostolic service during the weekends and stuff, or go to the churches and help the poor. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And so I have an affinity to helping the poor. I really do that. People know I like to box and stuff like that; I like to fight.  If you can imagine that. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: So they were thinking about having a charity like mixed martial arts contest involving police officers and the Sheriff asked me if I would do that. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: I said I'll only do it if I can—if I'm gonna put my body through that and get into—I'm a forty-five-year-old man. I'm an old man now so I'll be fighting against somebody that's older—or younger, excuse me—in better shape. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: If I have to go through all that process and get my body in shape and then go into a cage and fight somebody, I get to choose the charity that I want and it has to be somebody that—it has to be a charitable organization that helps the poor. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: So I have an affinity to the poor and I think the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, they preach to the poor. In fact their motto was, "He has sent me to preach the gospel to the poor. The poor have the gospel preach to them."  That was their motto. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And so I align myself with those men and they raised me to what I am now. So I still have an affinity to the poor. So I studied theology and things of this nature at the high school level and at the college level, too.  
  •  CÁRDENAS: The real experience comes from that experience helping and working with the poor. I was fortunate to go to Mexico—to Oaxaca—to the missions when I was a junior in high school for six months and work over there with the poor over there—the indigenous people of Oaxaca over there, and I got to do that and it was very, very rewarding.  
  •  CÁRDENAS: And I hope to, one day, be able to go back there and do it again when I finish my career here with the Sheriff's Office.  
  •  CÁRDENAS: So, God had other plans for me. I think that He knew that maybe I wasn't cut out to be a priest maybe. That's what a discernment process is for, to think about things and to pray about it. And that stoic life, the celibacy, the chastity, the poverty, the vows of obedience, those were just—I could not live up to them at that point in my life. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: So I had to make a decision to do that. And after much prayer and thought, I left. And about the same time I met my wife and we fell in love and got married and I got hired with the Sheriff's Department shortly thereafter. So that's how that all came about.  
  •  CÁRDENAS: So I'm not sure what other specific questions you have about the seminary other than that.  
  •  ARTHUR RAYMOND:    No, I just wondered how it—As you talk, I hear some cadences, priestly cadences, and what seems to me to be some continuing influence.  But I didn't know how you see this.  
  •  CÁRDENAS:  Yeah, it is. In my life recently I've been kind of a vagabond. I've kind of questioned the Catholic teachings a little bit. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: So after many, many years of serving with the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Austin at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church—they've left. They're no longer there in the parish so the carism of the Oblates I felt was gone. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And I didn't find—I'm still looking for that type of carism, so I've been going to different churches for the last year trying to find that again. So I'm in the desert right now so to speak. I'm wandering right now. I'm a vagabond so to speak. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: But I still try to go to church and maintain my prayer life every day and try to help the poor in some capacity every week. I still do that. And in my work with the Sheriff's office, I try to combine that into everything that I do.  
  •  RAYMOND:    I know that you work with the immigrant community some.  
  •  RAYMOND:  Could you tell us a little bit about that?  
  •  ARTHUR CÁRDENAS: Well, my antepasados—my ancestors—were from Mexico and Spain and so by my birthright, I have always—because there's not too many Hispanics when I first started with the Sheriff's Office.  
  •  CÁRDENAS: There's not too many Hispanics with the Sheriff's Office and I'm bilingual and by my birthright and by the fact that I'm bilingual, we—they would use me quite a bit for translation, and stuff like this, so I got to work a lot with the immigrant population. And a few years ago, before the ICE controversy—  
  •  RAYMOND:    ICE being?  
  •  ARTHUR CÁRDENAS:    The Immigration and Custom Enforcement and our involvement with them in their capacity that they work in our jails and do their investigations in our jails. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: But before even that happened, I was asked to sit on the Immigrant Assessment Forums and Committees that was put on through Travis County Health and Human Services. And I was—and I worked under that as part of their committee for two years. 
  •  CÁRDENAS:  And we did a study on the immigrant population here in Travis County and where they're located at and what services do they need. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: Since I'm a law enforcement officer and I was the warden at the time at Del Valle, I had a desire to help those that were incarcerated to make sure that the recidivism rate didn't apply to them. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: In other words, when they got out of jail that they didn't come back to us. We don't want them back.  
  •  CÁRDENAS: So I was speaking out on their behalf regarding their education levels, regarding their legal issues—make sure we got those type of resources for them while they're incarcerated. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: This happened way before the ICE controversy started again. So now in my work with them, it's more of trying to ride the fence so to speak. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: I have to—I am with the Sheriff's Office and we have to—I have to abide by what the Sheriff's office mandates are that we collaborate well with all law enforcement agencies—federal, local, state, and ICE is one of those agencies. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: So we collaborate with them and they help us, we help them. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: But I can also be an advocate for the rights of immigrants and make sure that our mandate to serve all citizens, make sure everybody is safe and secure, is fulfilled. And so that's the role that I take in my work with them.  
  •  RAYMOND:    When you—recently boxed—was that recently that you were in boxing?  
  •  ARTHUR CÁRDENAS:    I started—I boxed a lot when I was a young man—a young—a child. I'm small. I'm a small man. I'm only five foot five—five foot six on a good day, but I was smaller. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: I was only five foot one—five foot two when I was growing up and get beat up quite a bit. Kids when they're—when the kids are kids—and they would—I loved to read and write and I was kind of a nerd. They'd pick on me ‘cause I was a nerd.  
  •  CÁRDENAS: One day I came home, my nose all busted up and my father couldn't take it anymore. So he found an old man that taught boxing down the street and I would—I trained under his tutelage for years and years and years. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And in his garage I learned how to fight and I went to Golden Gloves and all those things and became proficient. My self-confidence came up. Then I stopped and went to seminary and stopped boxing ‘cause they didn't have a boxing program there.    
  •  RAYMOND: How come?  
  •  ARTHUR CÁRDENAS: Well, I'd fight myself.  We had football, so I started playing football.  So I started playing football and basketball—those things that kept myself occupied. But I always loved boxing. I always watched it and admired the sport ‘cause it's part of my life. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And I was going to the Police Olympics one year to go power lift.  I like to weight lift a lot. In fact, I've got several state records in power lifting. Texas Police Olympics. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And I was driving to Lubbock to the Police Olympics and in Cedar Park, I was driving down 183 by Cedar Park, past Cedar Park, and there was a boxing gym there and I went, wow. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: So at the age of thirty, I started boxing again. I got myself in shape again, and I got in tournaments again. And I had a lackluster career, but I fought like fifty more times between the time I was thirty to thirty-two, when I retired on the amateur level. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: Got myself in shape, got my nose busted. Busted out a tooth. But to me it was all worthwhile because it was fun to do. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: They did a story on me in San Antonio ‘cause I was the oldest registered fighter fighting. And everybody I fought was a young man—nineteen—twenty, or from the military. 
  •  CÁRDENAS:  And I never got knocked out. I never had a standing eight-count. I went there to fight. I just got out-pointed every time ‘cause the guys are faster than me. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: But I think the highest compliment that any boxer can get is that you fight with heart. And I would get standing ovations because people would see me fight. Old man up there fighting and they enjoyed that, so I got—to me it was worthwhile to get in shape. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: So after I retired, I became a trainer and trained professional fighters and trained amateurs. And then as the gym I went to closed after some financial difficulties—had to close the gym and I was saddened by that. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: So I started working out at the Y.M.C.A. on Town Lake ‘cause it's close to my office and stuff like that. And I was doing my boxing workout one day and the director came and says, "Do you know how to box?" I say, "Yeah."  "Do you think you can teach it?" "Yeah, I can teach it. I'm a certified coach." 
  •  CÁRDENAS: So I've been teaching there for the last three and a half years. And people that I teach now are older people. No professionals there. They're just fitness boxers, so I get to keep in the sport a little bit. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And I still coach in my garage every now and then. My garage is converted into a boxing gym with the bags and weights and stuff like that. And I train my sons how to do that. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And every once in a while a young kid will drive by on his bicycle and look in there and I'll draw him in and teach him how to fight. But it'll have to be—it'll have to be under the mandate that you're not going to use it to hurt anybody. It's for self-defense. 
  •  CÁRDENAS:  If you want to compete, you come back to me, we'll get you into a real boxing program where you can get into good shape and you can compete legally. 
  •  RAYMOND:    In your office you showed us a young woman who you had coached— 
  •  RAYMOND:  Is that—that's also through the Y?  
  •  ARTHUR CÁRDENAS:  Yes. I found her through the Y. Her name is Elena. Elena the Assassin. That's her name.   
  •  RAYMOND:  [small laugh]  
  •  CÁRDENAS:  Elena came—she was my very first student that came to me. She wanted to learn how to box. And her husband—was her boyfriend. They met through my boxing class. He came in and they would train. My first two students and I trained them how to fight. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And after two years of training her—or three years of training her—she wanted to compete. So I trained her to get ready for a fight, which is whole—a different level, and I took her to Golden Gloves this year and she made it all the way to the finals and got out-pointed in the finals. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: But I am still very proud of her that she made it to the finals ‘cause she fought some tough girls from San Antonio that—But she fought and she fought with honor and with dignity and didn't get knocked out.  And she finished the fight and I was very, very proud of her. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And her husband was there and everything like that, so it was a good experience for her. She still wants to fight more. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: But like anything else you have to train for it, so people will come into my gym all the time: "I want to fight."  "Okay, let's see what type of dedication you have."  If they don't come religiously, I'm not gonna let 'em fight. Just the way it is. You know. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: You have to dedicate yourself to the sport otherwise you might get hurt. Even people that are well-trained get hurt in the ring.  It's just that type of sport. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: So, I'm enamored by the sport, especially old boxers that did that for their living. I mean they would fight two or three times a month to support their families. Not like the professionals today—fight once or twice a year for millions of dollars. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: These fighters would fight to support their families, so the old fighters like James Braddock, the Cinderella Man; I'm enamored by him. And Joe Louis. And some of the old fighters that fought during the Great Depression to survive. That's a lot of perseverance and dignity and honor in that. 
  •  CÁRDENAS:  So, when you talk about guys like Mike Tyson—I'm not really enamored by him.  He was a great fighter at one time, but then he dishonored the sport by biting off Evander Holyfield's ear and things of this nature. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: It's—you know it's a brutal sport, but it's nonetheless a sport that has rules and dignity, and a lot of ring generalmanship and gentlemanship and stuff like that. Sometimes it gets taken out of context, and it's just all about money and money and money, money.  
  •  CÁRDENAS:  But I teach for a different reason. I teach young individuals, number one, to get in shape. And number two to build self-confidence and respect their bodies and respect other people. Yeah.  
  •  RAYMOND:    Honor is one of the words you said many times— 
  •  ARTHUR CÁRDENAS:   Yes.   
  •  RAYMOND:  —during this interview. 
  •  ARTHUR CÁRDENAS: Important to me. 
  •  RAYMOND: It is. What else—what are you really proud of about this, your time, your service to Travis County? It sounds like honor is one of the biggest, but are there other—? How would you describe—?  
  •  ARTHUR CÁRDENAS:    —my career?   
  •  RAYMOND:   Yeah. What are you proud about?  
  •  ARTHUR CÁRDENAS:   I am proud of the fact that—my legacy. I want my legacy to be this—‘cause I'm gonna retire in a couple of years—that I developed programs and mentoring programs and things of this nature for officers to excel and to be proud of themselves. 
  •  CÁRDENAS:  A lot of people in this organization have done a lot of good things, but I want people to remember the fact that I started a mentoring program for help—to help people promote—that I really want my officers to do the very best they can in all there is of their careers, and that I start different programs.  
  •  CÁRDENAS: And I was the warden out at Del Valle with—‘cause of my experience in SWAT, they said they needed a SWAT team out in the corrections bureau to handle stuff. So I developed a tactical team out there. I'm very proud of them now.  
  •  CÁRDENAS: And they—in fact, they went to competition first time, and—up in Washington State, in that area, and rock prison—mock prison riot, and they placed first time ever. Fourth place overall of all the fifty or so teams that were there. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: So, they've taken the discipline that I've showed them and they've expanded on that. 
  •  CÁRDENAS:  I want to be considered a missionary ‘cause I'm an Oblate at heart.  Oblates will go to a particular church or part of the world, start a program, make sure it's up and running good, and then leave. So I want to be remembered as that. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: That I was a missionary person here, that I started these programs. Whether they remember me or not, that I started that, but the fact that I started them is good enough for me. That—and that the organization is better that way, so. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: Accolades—They've told me I'm one of the most decorated officers in the Department. I don't know if that's true or not.  If it is, it's a good thing, I guess. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: But I'm proud of the fact that the officers that I've developed programs for are excelling and will one day be captains and lieutenants and sergeants of that nature. So that's what I want—I'm proud of. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: I'm also proud of the two papers I've written that have been published. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: I published—I had a paper that I wrote called "Mentoring Our Own" when—and that's when I went to the Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas in 2000. I wrote that and it was published by the Texas Police Journal. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And this year I had another paper published by the Texas Police Journal, and that was  "Motivating the Unmotivated Supervisor."  
  •  CÁRDENAS: Especially the ones that are ending their careers and don't want to do anything and to me that's distasteful. I want them to finish their careers well. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: So I did a study on that and how to make those types of individuals become better supervisors so that they end their careers honorably, not just retired on duty. And that got published by Texas Police Journal. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And because of all the ICE stuff that's happening right now, I'm writing—I'm working on a paper right now so we can chronicle the history of what happened here, 
  •  CÁRDENAS: and what our own problem was, and how we overcame our adversities, and how we can turn what could be a controversial thing into a good thing, and how the Sheriffs can learn from that.  
  •  CÁRDENAS: So I'm working on that paper right now and hopefully somebody will publish that. So I'm proud of those things. Yeah.    
  •  RAYMOND:   What do you hope to do when you retire?  
  •  CÁRDENAS:    Well, I've got a lot of different things that I want to do. I'm—I love to cook and hopefully I can maybe become a restaurant owner one day. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: Maybe—I've been offered jobs to be professional coach full time.  Whether that's lucrative or not, I don't know. I don't think it will be. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: I like to teach, so I may get my teaching degree and teach elementary level. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: And I've really—I think, don't tell anybody this, I want to be an author. I really want to write and do that. Yeah. My skills need some polishing on that—to do that—to be—write a novel. 
  •  CÁRDENAS:  I'm very good technical, I can do the research and write a technical term paper type of thing, but to write a novel, I think, would be life-fulfilling and, to me, gratifying to do that. So I would like to do that, so we'll see what happens. Yeah.  
  •  RAYMOND:    Thank you.   
  •  CÁRDENAS:   You're welcome.  
  •  RAYMOND:   Is there anything else you'd like to say?  
  •  CÁRDENAS:    No. No. About Keith, I miss him. And—but I want us to remember his life. 
  •  CÁRDENAS: I mean, this building is dedicated to him, and I thank you for taking the time to remember him, and remember the work that he did, 
  •  CÁRDENAS: and to just hopefully, if anybody's still suffering in some degree from his death, that we come to terms with it and realize that the pain will always be there, and it gets better as time gets on, but we always remember him and love him, and that's it.  
  •  RAYMOND:    It's really been a privilege to hear all the things that you've taught me today, so. 
  •  CÁRDENAS:    Thank you.  
  •  RAYMOND:    And Gabriel, do you have anything, Gabe?  
  •  RAYMOND:  Thank you so much Captain.  
  •  CÁRDENAS:   You're welcome.   
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Title:Interview with Arthur G. Cárdenas
Abstract:Captain Arthur (Art) Cárdenas is a member of the Command Staff of the Travis County Sheriff's Office. A founding member of the Travis County SWAT Team, then-Sergeant Cárdenas trained Keith G. Ruíz in "SWAT School." Deputy Ruíz died in the line of duty on February 15, 2001, while attempting to serve a warrant on a suspected narcotics dealer in Del Valle, Travis County. In this interview, Captain Cárdenas recalls the perseverance, dedication, skills, and humor of Deputy Ruíz, and describes the emotional intimacy and sense of family that develops among officers. Captain Cárdenas also recounts his own path, from seminarian to law enforcement officer, married father of three sons, boxing coach, and writer. This interview took place on July 23, 2008 in Austin, Travis County, Texas.
Sequence:1 of 1
  • Arthur G. CárdenasRole: Narrator
  • Texas After Violence ProjectRole: Collaborator
  • Virginia Marie RaymondRole: Interviewer
  • Gabriel Daniel SolisRole: Videographer
  • Susanne MasonRole: Transcriber
  • Sabina Hinz-FoleyRole: Proofreader
Date Created:2008/07/23
Type of Resource:Moving image
    This electronic resource is made available by the University of Texas Libraries solely for the purposes of research, teaching and private study. All intellectual property rights are retained by the legal copyright holders. The University of Texas does not hold the copyright to the content of this file. Formal permission to reuse or republish this content must be obtained from the copyright holder.




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