Critics of the practice point to a number of municipal court cases that they say show police officers citing drivers for traffic offenses and public intoxication. They pointed out that the practice could easily result in a tragedy if an intoxicated driver is allowed to simply sign a citation and then be released.
“If (a driver) is drunk enough to be ticketed for public intoxication, he or she should be booked on DWI, not public intoxication,” one city source said. “And what happens if that same drunk goes down the road and runs into someone? The liability for the city could be tremendous.”
Another city official said it appears drivers are being cited for public intoxication because that charge is heard in municipal court, and fines paid go to the city. DWI charges are heard in county court and fines instead go to the county and state.
“It certainly looks like it’s being done just to bring more money in,” the second source said.
The money is sorely needed by the cash-strapped community, the individual added, but should not be raised by circumventing the law.
Three separate city hall insiders have contacted FortBendNow in recent weeks about the practice. FortBendNow agreed to protect the individuals’ identities to avoid potential reprisals.
“It’s just a shame this kind of thing continues to happen. So many people are trying very hard to improve Arcola’s image, but it still seems there’s a new scandal or controversy every couple of months,” one source said.
City Administrator Arnold Brown denied such a practice is occurring. He said he asked Police Chief James Bartley to review all cases.
“The chief found no cases where a suspected DWI was arrested for public intoxication,” Brown said. “In fact, our officers are required to charge intoxicated drivers with DWI through the county (courts system).”
Brown also said there was no policy, written or unwritten, that police officers should charge suspected drunk drivers with public intoxication. He added that there were times when officers cited non-driver occupants of vehicles for being intoxicated in a public place, but that was not done if the person is driving.
A review of Arcola Municipal Court cases obtained by FortBendNow through the Texas Public Information Act, however, found a disturbing number of cases in which individuals were charged with public intoxication and traffic violations on the same citation, indicating they were operating a vehicle at the time of the ticket. Several involved drivers who had been involved in an accident.
On June 1, 2008, at 8:30 p.m., Officer David Tezeno cited Wilmer Redondo for failure to maintain financial responsibility, no driver’s license and public intoxication. A note on the citation indicates the officer’s probable cause for stopping the vehicle was because Redondo was driving on the wrong side of the roadway in the 6400 block of FM 521.
Additional court records show Redondo failed to appear to answer the charges and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
Another case showed Officer I. Staten citing a Robert Louis Nelms for speeding, 75 mph in a 60 mph zone, at 11:59 p.m. July 3, 2008 in the 13500 block of State Highway 6. On the same citation, Nelms was also charged with public intoxication.
Nelms was fined $288.75 and court costs by Municipal Judge Bonnie Fitch on October 14.
On April 6, 2008, Sgt. W. Vides cited Domingo Torres DeJesus for public intoxication, failure to maintain financial responsibility and no driver’s license. The citation noted that the officer’s probable cause for stopping DeJesus was “failure to drive in a single marked lane” at FM 521 and Fenn Road.
DeJesus failed to appear for his assigned court date and a warrant was issued on Nov. 13.
Additional court records found at least two cases in which Arcola police officers charged drivers who had been involved in traffic accidents with public intoxication.
In a case that occurred on June 8, 2007, Officer Staten arrested Charles Steven Ostendorf after Ostendorf was involved in a hit-and-run accident on State Highway 6.
Ostendorf struck the rear of a car driven by James Reginald Holmes and left the scene. He was stopped and detained moments later by Missouri City Police.
According to Staten’s sworn probable cause affidavit, Ostendorf gave all the appearances of being highly intoxicated.
“While taking the suspect out of Missouri City’s patrol car to be taken back to a location to be identified by (Holmes), he had slurred speech, glassy eyes and was unstable on his feet with a strong alcohol smell on his person,” Staten’s affidavit said.
Further investigation found that Ostendorf’s driver’s license revoked in Colorado for being a habitual traffic offender.
Staten charged Ostendorf with failure to stop and give identification (hit and run), driving with a revoked license and public intoxication and booked him into the Fort Bend County Jail. Like the other cases cited, he was not charged with driving while intoxicated.
Ostendorf, who swore under oath he was both homeless and unemployed, was subsequently released by Judge Fitch on the public intoxication charge on a $200 bond and given a court date of July 19, 2007. He failed to appear in court and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
In another case involving an accident, Officer J. Villarreal issued a public intoxication citation to Neil Allen Cox on Nov. 13, 2007. The citation shows Cox having been involved in an accident while driving a black 2004 Toyota pickup truck northbound on FM 521 at Peach Street.
Although the citation shows Cox having been in an accident, it shows him only being charged with public intoxication.
Additional court records show Cox entered a “no contest” plea in Arcola Municipal Court on Nov. 29, 2007, and was assessed a $289.75 fine plus court costs by Fitch.
“All of these cases have a driver being charged with traffic offenses and public intoxication. He had to be driving to be charged with the (traffic) violations, so how can he be intoxicated but not charged with DWI?” one city hall source asked. “And these (cases) involve a bunch of different officers at different times over the course of the last two years. They can’t just say this is one cop not doing his job; it’s clearly a common practice in the police department.”
The individual also questioned why the municipal court judge failed to question the practice.
“(Fitch) sees all of these cases come though her courtroom; she sees the same thing (FortBendNow) saw,” he said. “How can she turn a blind eye to something that’s so obviously wrong? She’s supposed to see that justice is done.”
Attempts to reach Fitch for comment were unsuccessful.
Due to the holidays, no one from the Fort Bend County District Attorney’s Office was immediately available for comment.