Hays County District Attorney Sherri Tibbe, left, and San Marcos Police Department Chief Howard Williams, right.
By ANDY SEVILLA
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.”Email | Print