San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

August 6th, 2010
Chief in bind after DA rules cop out of court

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Hays County District Attorney Sherri Tibbe, left, and San Marcos Police Department Chief Howard Williams, right.

By ANDY SEVILLA
Associate Editor

Hays County law enforcement officials say the county’s courtrooms have no use for a once-suspended San Marcos Police Department (SMPD) officer recently reinstated by an independent hearing officer.

As a result, SMPD Chief Howard Williams said he isn’t quite sure how to assign Officer Paul Stephens in the long term, since the officer’s effectiveness has been compromised.

District Attorney Sherri Tibbe stated in a letter addressed to Williams that Stephens could not be used as a witness when prosecuting crimes, due to Stephens’ history of “dishonesty.”

Said Tibbe in her letter to Williams, “Please be advised that due to (Stephens) history for dishonesty, our office will not call this officer as a witness in any case and will not prosecute any case in which he is an investigating officer.”

Williams said reassigning Stephens will be next to impossible, due to Tibbe’s decision and the lack of positions at SMPD for police officers that don’t require enforcement activities.

Williams said he disagrees with an independent hearing examiner’s decision to reinstate Stephens from an indefinite suspension imposed last August. Williams said he cannot relieve Stephens from SMPD unless Stephens does something that warrants indefinite suspension once again.

“I don’t agree with the arbitrator’s decision, but I respect his decision,” Williams said. “I have no choice. The arbitrator ruled on this. It’s history … I don’t know what we’re going to do. But we’ll find something. We have to.”

Williams had not utilized Stephens as a street cop since the officer returned to the force on June 23. Stephens was reinstated after hearing examiner Richard Brann ruled against Williams’ suspension of the officer stemming from an incident last Aug. 18.

Williams indefinitely suspended Stephens after the officer allegedly used excessive force in a disturbance call outside of Dillinger’s bar on the downtown San Marcos square. In Williams’ letter of suspension to Stephens, Williams cited excessive use of force, insubordination, and dishonesty. Williams also cited previous charges of dishonesty and violation of prohibited acts under the individual responsibility section of the Civil Service Code.

Brann found that Williams’ acted too harshly and that Stephens should only be suspended for 15 days without pay because of his record. According to the police civil service code, a 15-day suspension is the maximum disciplinary action allowed short of an indefinite suspension.

Williams said he’s not surprised Tibbe has decided not to use Stephens as a witness in court, adding that Tibbe has an “ethical obligation to not put someone on the stand that she doesn’t trust.”

About Stephens’ reinstatement, Williams said, “I knew this was going to be a problem … It does create some management problems.”

Williams said Stephens will continue to be assigned to positions of non-enforcement. As of now, Stephens is filling a crime prevention and community service post recently vacated by Officer Emilio Gonzales due to a medical situation. But Williams said Gonzales will have his exact job back upon his return and a new assignment will have to be found for Stephens that doesn’t involve enforcement.

“I just don’t have those kind of positions,” Williams said.

Williams said Tibbe has been “remarkably consistent” in saying she couldn’t use Stephens as a witness because of credibility issues. Tibbe made similar statements to the hearing examiner.

According to Williams’ Letter of Indefinite Suspension to Stephens, the Aug. 18, 2009, incident was Stephens’ third disciplinary action in 14 months.

On Aug. 13, 2008, Stephens was given a written reprimand for addressed a driver and a passenger in harsh and belittling terms during a traffic stop.

On Oct. 23, 2008, Stephens was suspended for two days, effective Oct. 29, 2008, for violating an honesty requirement under the police code of conduct. In that case, when Stephens told SMPD Commander Terry Nichols he had driven to Dallas because of a death in the family, causing him to be late to court. Stephens later admitted there was not a death in his family, and that he had not driven to Dallas, but instead overslept.

Stephens was also in the midst of nationally discussed matter on Aug. 5, 2008, when two San Marcos residents, Michael Gonzales and Krystal Hernandez, sped down Interstate-35 trying to rush their teacup poodle, Missy, to a 24-hour veterinary clinic in New Braunfels. Stephens pulled them over for driving at high speed. The traffic stop took 17 minutes from the beginning until the residents were released. Gonzales and Hernandez both said Missy was alive, but died during the traffic stop.

Officer Joyce Bender, who assisted Stephens with the stop, said Missy was not breathing and she believed Missy was already dead. Bender, at the time, did not have any veterinary training. Gonzales and Hernandez both complained that Stephens was insensitive. Said Stephens to Gonzales during the stop, “Dude you need to chill out. It’s just a dog. You can always get another one.” Stephens was ordered counseling for the incident, and Gonzales’ traffic violation was dropped.

“The honesty and integrity of a law enforcement officer are essential in the prosecution of a criminal case,” Tibbe stated in her letter to Williams. “Our office must be able to vouch for the credibility of officers who testify on behalf of the State of Texas. As a result of Officer Stephens’ conduct, we are unable to do so.”

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8 thoughts on “Chief in bind after DA rules cop out of court

  1. Pingback: Books In Sync Recognizes & Honors True Crime Author Douglas Chandler Graham « shiyan

  2. ‘Member when the village was all abuzz about why the CM, Mr. Menchaca, REALLY was “removed with extreme prejudice? In re: the article above, I accidentally read an account in the University Star today, from July 14, that may reveal a little piece of that and other puzzles. I kept wondering about those in Midville who were so hot under the collar about some City business 356 miles away, They raved relentlessly, including a couple of their POA types, in agreement with our local POA types. After all, their business, which seemed to be irrelevant to ours, was long past.

    Here: officer misbehaves. Chief busts him. No word from CM. Arbitrator re-instates officer. CM gone. Court finds Chief to have been correct, denying the officer the right to testify in ANY proceeding, being an unreliable witness. Means he can’t close an arrest case for any other cop or himself. Chief proceeds like a man, to obey the Law, despite his own professional judgment; agrees to keep the guy on the force, but forced to use him administratively only. That’s POA 1, City 0.

    Midland: Officer misbehaves, Chief busts him. CM agrees. POA disagrees. SAME CM wrongfully terminated, sues, settles for $500K. That’s another POA 1, City 0.

    POA points of view prevail twice, 2-0, one in West Texas, one in Central Texas. But Both Cities have to pay sizable settlements, which starts citizen uproar in both places and scapegoats Menchaca in both, forcing him to hit the street. (Now that he is gone, I miss my old buddies from Midland, don’t you?) I never use the word “lynching,” because even as a metaphor, that one is off limits.

    And the citizen, only knowing what he/she reads in the news, is puzzled. As Bob Dylan once asked: “Something is HAP-pening here… but you don’t know what it IS, DO you, Miis-stah Jones?” Can the Texas Rangers take a peek at the confidential non-disclosure and the conditions under which it was reached? FBI? (Does involve Civil Rights.)

    Now just when and how EXACTLY did we recently put forward a gigantic “Police Salary Package” including retroactive compensation, pay-grade jumps, and future salary perks? Did I not hear from on high that it was to “stay competitive in the cop market” and reward past performance (Are those the same? Related, maybe?)? And put us in a position that makes absolutely no sense in compliance with Civil Service Law–in fact directly contradicts it in important ways, while still nominally being a City under Civil Service, which to my small knowledge seems illegal?

    Isn’t that about the same time we accepted POA as the negotiating arm of the PD?

    Oh, is that right? Again, memory failing me, “on whose watch”? Please say it ain’t so, just one more time.

    For my money, we have had outstanding emergency service branches for many years, except insofar as politics snuck in. Are we in for more of this, too, now that we have given the power entirely to the rank and file.? OUCH!

  3. Giving power to the rank and file is what being a Democrat is about. We have done our best with getting Democrats elected and will continue. We also were able to give rank and file sheriff employees the power with their successful collective bargaining bid. Obama 2012.

  4. Contract or no contract civil service allows for arbitration. As a matter of fact arbitration is the most used form of settling disputes that could end up in much more costly civil litigation.

  5. The Stephens issue is more the product of a crappy arbitrator that was oblivious to the ability of Stephens to continue functioning as a traditional police officer than the POA contract.

  6. Mayor Moore…

    I am very hesitant to weigh in on this one and have intentionally avoided it up to this point because of my personal involvement. I will offer some thought…not so much about Officer Stephens but about your linking of events with the CM.

    No secret the Midland POA opened the floodgates which resulted in Ricks firing from Midland. They warned SMPD about him and we tried to warn the council at the time. Although they did not do what we asked and hired him anyway, I think they kept the info they had heard about the way he treated people in their back pocket which resulted in a fairly short leash for Rick.

    Ricks firing from San Marcos was all Rick. Look at the declining evaluations, mandated performance improvement plan, financials directly to council, etc and you could see it coming. What is not out in the media yet for some reason is an internal investigation into RFP for engineering services where staff was reportedly told to change scores to help local vendors and this was directed by Rick.

    Although I am no longer at SMPD, I feel pretty confident the POA did not have much if anything to do with Rick being fired. As a matter of fact, he was a driving force behind the POA getting the contract so they were obviously happy with him for that.

  7. Randy, I don’t know that I would be trumpeting either the local cops’ collective bargaining agreement or Obama as shining examples of what Democrats are all about…..at least not if you have any intention of actually trying to win elections.

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