This week’s column is not one I take joy in writing, but its time has come. The circumstantial evidence (pun intended) surrounding the continuing bad relationship between Aransas County District Attorney (ACDA) Kristen Barnebey and the Rockport Police Department (RPD) has dragged on far too long.
Every resident of Aransas County should demand a resolution to this disaster, because her continued refusal to prosecute cases, for whatever reason today, jeopardizes the safety of all Aransas County residents.
It doesn’t matter that it’s the RPD in this case. The possible negative outcome to a resident(s) would be the same if she were targeting any other law enforcement agency or government entity as a whole.
I have covered this fiasco since it began, and feel it’s now time to share my thoughts.
My motivation for doing so at this time is her reaction to me in the weeks following my request of a final copy of the policy under which she (rightfully) demands all law enforcement agencies now operate.
Let me first say I got to where I am in life primarily through common sense, and this situation lacks any level of common sense.
Barnebey continues to target the entire RPD and is now holding off prosecuting cases until the city prints retractions in regard to advertisements placed in The Rockport Pilot and the RPD gets independently audited.
Prior to Barnebey becoming “our” district attorney, the public was led to believe we needed our own DA so we could be better served (i.e. – more criminals prosecuted in a timely manner).
Common sense says if the RPD has as many problems as Barnebey claims, which prohibits her from prosecuting RPD cases, why didn’t we hear about the terrible RPD in the years before she became our DA?
In the past 34 years I’ve heard some wild stories about individual police officers and sheriff’s deputies. Those bad apples have always been “weeded out.”
Common sense says there are no perfect law enforcement agencies, including every single one operating in Aransas County, and every DA has the right and the duty to refuse cases from law enforcement personnel he or she deems untrustworthy, etc.
From my understanding, that happens from time to time.
This all reportedly started as an issue of distrust between Barnebey and a single RPD officer after he secretly recorded a conversation with her.
That led to a press release from Barnebey dated Aug. 15, 2017 (10 days before Hurricane Harvey), which was published in this newspaper Aug. 19, 2017.
That press release ended, saying, “As of today, Aug. 15, 2017, the ACDA’s office will not accept any cases submitted by the RPD until an improvement plan is in place and we have their complete assurance that we will receive accurate case reports and ALL evidence in a timely and professional manner every single time.”
Barnebey drew a line at that exact moment between her office and the RPD (and by extension, the City of Rockport).
Then Harvey hit and we all had more important immediate needs that had to be addressed.
Between the storm and the Rockport election in May 2018, I don’t have a lot of first hand knowledge about what discussions and/or deliberations took place between Barnebey and former Rockport Mayor C.J. Wax, other city officials, or former RPD Chief Tim Jayroe.
I do suspect, however, little (mutually understood) progress was being made.
Since the May 2018 election, the RPD officer at the center of Barnebey’s wrath was terminated for reasons reportedly not connected with Barnebey’s complaint of him.
Jayroe, who delayed his retirement because of Harvey, and who was also targeted by Barnebey for basically being incapable of running his department effectively, has also retired.
That brings me to why I’m writing this column.
The two people who she publically despised at the RPD are no longer working for the city, yet almost 18 months after she drew the line in the sand, the line remains.
In October of last year I reported in this newspaper that Barnebey told me (following an open meeting) she was accepting RPD cases as long as the RPD adhered to her policy.
Then I learned things still weren’t exactly ironed out between her office and the RPD.
It was time to close the loop on this story (hopefully), and that started a string of communications between Barnebey and me, which began with a simple request for a final copy of the policy under which her office is reportedly operating.
What followed were sophomoric email responses I certainly didn’t expect from a person in her position.
I filed the open records request with Barnebey’s office Jan. 14 of this year to obtain “the Law Enforcement Disclosure Compliance Policy agreed to by your office and local law enforcement agencies.”
The request also stated, “The Texas Public Information Act requires that you ‘promptly produce’ the requested records unless, within 10 days, you have sought an Attorney General’s Opinion. If you expect a significant delay in responding to this request, please contact me with information about when I might expect copies or the ability to inspect the requested records.”
On Jan. 17 I received the following email response from Barnebey:
“You submitted an Open Records Request on 1/14/19 that asks …”to inspect or obtain copies of public records, specifically the Law Enforcement Disclosure Compliance Policy agreed to by your office and local law enforcement agencies. If this is not correct, please let me know.
“This information is publically available and has been provided to you by myself. In addition, you published a story about it in the Rockport Pilot. Please let me know if you do not agree with this response.”
The next day (Jan. 18) I responded via email:
“The only copy of the Law Enforcement Disclosure Compliance Policy you provided was at that initial commissioner’s court meeting during which the policy was discussed. To my knowledge, that was the only time the policy was discussed in open session. You told me you did not want to give me a copy after the meeting because it was not a final document. I reminded you the policy was discussed in open session, therefore I had the right to have a copy. I subsequently did not use anything from that draft document in the newspaper because it did not have news value for that particular story. I requested a copy of the final document from your office at your suggestion via an open records request. The approval by all parties of that policy, to my understanding, is key to your office accepting RPD cases again. As of this date, I do not recall having ever received a copy of the final policy agreed to by your office and the Rockport Police Department (as noted in your email).
“I will be glad to come by your office to pick it up, or I can take it from your website if it is available, and the version under which all parties are operating.
“Thank you for your quick response to my open records request.”
I sent the following email to Barnebey on Jan. 30 after not receiving the policy:
“Please email me the current copy of the Law Enforcement Disclosure Compliance Policy under which the Aransas County Sheriff’s Office, Rockport Police Department, Fulton Police Department, DPS, and other law enforcement agencies who deal with your office are operating under. My request was dated and delivered Jan. 14. As of today, it has been 13 days and I have not received it. You told me Monday at the Commissioner’s Court meeting that you had 10 days and that I was on your list. Please simply send me an email with the policy attached.”
On the same day she responded:
“Mike, as I said before, you are wrong on the law about the 10 days and I have said this many times before. There is no 10 day deadline for production and certainly not if it’s been produced before. Also, I have urged you to update your reporting since this is old news and obviously just an excuse to fill the paper with text instead of Journalism.
“Also you have this and admitted as much Monday but want a clean copy presumably, to print again.
“I am in a LTR [Long Term Recovery] meeting with the mayor who also told you he was too busy to provide when you make additional requests.
“I am looking for the email-
About two hours later I responded via email:
“I am trying to figure out why you will not provide the document. It is a simple request, for which you asked me to provide an open records request.
“Here are facts regarding your statements in previous email.
“1. - After the meeting Monday, January 28, I asked when I could get the copy, and noted the 10-day period. Your exact response was, ‘It’s 10 business days.’
“2. - The story that I write for this newspaper, as well as the timing, is my decision. It is important that the public knows what is going on. I appreciate your opinion regarding ‘excuse to fill the paper with text instead of journalism.’ I will welcome your letter to the editor regarding that if you choose to do so.
“3. In regard to having a copy. You will recall, you provided the copy early on after a meeting late last year when I asked for it, but you did not want to provide a copy until I reminded you that you presented it in an open meeting. You talked down to me in that instance telling me, ‘You don’t understand.’ As you will also recall, I never used anything from that document because it did not add anything to the news story, and it was not a final document.
“4. I asked for the current, approved document under which you are currently operating after the Jan. 28 meeting. It was at that time you told me “I was on your list … and that it was 10 business days.
“5. I have no copy of the current policy. The only copy I received from you was the one received after the commissioners’ court meeting late last year (referred to in #3 above) that I asked for.
“6. Regarding Mayor Rios, the copy I received from him was the one that had scratch-throughs. It was at that time I told him to not worry about it because I would get a copy from you, since, after all, it is your document. I did not want to take the chance of having any copy of the policy, which was not the final copy under which you are operating.
“Kristen, in 34+ years of operating this newspaper I can think of maybe one or two times we have been asked to provide an open records request from a local government entity. Anything I’ve asked for from the City has been given freely. Receiving a copy of this policy should be a simple task - attach to an email and send, or tell me I have to come to your office to pick up a copy. What you think I should or should not do with it has no place in this request.”
The next day (Jan. 31), Barnebey responded via email:
“Funny, you routinely monitor and disregard letters to the editor to match your current or continuing agenda. Everyone knows that. And I have more than two open record requests from you and the Pilot, so again, bad facts and just trying to prop your agenda.
“Here is what I think you are requesting.”
(Editor’s note: A copy of the policy titled “CDA Disclosure Policy FinalFinalRPD (002)” was attached to the email.)
I responded about 90 minutes later:
“Thank you. That’s all I was requesting. My simple request was not a big a deal, and never should have been drawn out like this.
“I’m sorry you feel the way you do. In regard to your derogatory comments about me, I’d be happy to discuss them with you. I would certainly be interested in knowing which letters I’ve ‘routinely monitored and disregarded to match my current or continuing agenda.’ What is my agenda?
“I was less than impressed with the unprofessional way you handled this very very simple request. It was eye-opening for me.”
Later that same day Barnebey responded:
“As for professional, you received your information for the umpteenth time after not even recognizing you had published it before. Believe me, many people are less than impressed with you so that falls on deaf ears.
“Your request was as usual, not clear and instead, you asked for special favors as if somehow you deserve that and don’t have to work.
“And ask people in town what that means, I didn’t originate it. If I am the only person who is honest with you, well then, open your eyes.”
With the policy in hand, early in the morning on Feb. 4, I emailed Barnebey:
“I want to give you this opportunity to comment about your office officially accepting cases from the RPD again. I request that you provide your comments, if you choose to do so, by 5 p.m. Monday, Feb. 4. via return email.
“It is my understanding that your office has been accepting (some or all?) RPD cases since late October 2018. If that is not accurate, please also provide via email the approximate date when you started accepting RPD cases again.
“Also, if you will, please provide the date, or the approximate timeframe, when your office and the City of Rockport/RPD agreed to the policy under which y’all are now operating.
“In recent email exchanges, you noted I wasn’t clear in what I was asking.
“To restate, I’m looking for, via email:
“1.) Your comment(s) about your office accepting RPD cases again
“2.) Did your office begin accepting some/all RPD cases beginning in late October of last year? If not, approximately when?
“3.) When did your office and the City of Rockport/RPD agree to the wording in the “County District Attorney’s Office Law Enforcement Disclosure Compliance Policy”?
“Thank you for your time.”
Before 10 a.m. the same day Barnebey responded:
“Thank you Mike - I expect to respond, but let me get through a few things today.”
Later that day Barnebey emailed:
“The County District Attorney’s Office was ready to review the Rockport Police Department’s cases as early as September of 2018, and because of City delays, did not begin until November 15, 2018. During the timeframe of August 15, 2017, to November 15, 2018, approximately 46 cases were submitted for CDA review and held until the parties reached an agreement. Of those 46, approximately ten were returned. For the period of August 15, 2017 to November 15, 2018, 72 additional cases have been brought over for review, and 51 of these are being returned. We anticipate some cases will be resubmitted.
“At this point, the City has not complied with the Agreement with the CDA including such items as completing an independent audit of the Rockport Police Department and a retraction statement of the false advertising the City placed in the Pilot. These were agreed to by the parties last summer. The CDA’s office has fulfilled its obligations and will proceed with the prosecution of these cases once the City follows the Agreement. Please contact the City for the anticipated date of the compliance.
“I am attaching the email communications between the parties as further information and support.
I published the policy in the Feb. 6 edition of this newspaper, along with Barnebey’s comments regarding her office’s accepting/prosecuting RPD cases.
I was pretty shocked to learn by her comments in that article she is not prosecuting RPD cases … even though she told me back in October of last year she was accepting cases as long as the RPD adhered to her policy (no mention about an agreement made last summer).
The series of events that followed Barnebey’s initial action back before Harvey leads me to question if she is truly qualified for the DA’s job.
She also serves as county attorney, and I have no idea how she performs in that job. If commissioners like the job she is doing, then by all means they should keep her as the county’s attorney.
I can say with complete honesty I’ve never hated anyone in public office, and I certainly don’t hate Barnebey. There are however, some people, through the years, I didn’t think belonged in a particular public office.
In my experience with Barnebey, she can be sweet as can be one day, and change colors quicker than a chameleon the next day.
My concern is the safety of our residents. A DA can be an extremely powerful individual, and, just like a law enforcement officer, can abuse that power.
One of the roles of a DA is to police the police, and according to Barnebey, that is exactly what she is doing.
But common sense begs, “Who polices the DA?”
It is my opinion Barnebey got mad at that encounter with a former RPD officer, and when the RPD didn’t do what she wanted, she took the action she did.
That, of course, is her prerogative. But it’s the results of that action under which we continue to live.
Almost 18 months without a resolution, due to what appears to be changing demands on the part of our DA, is ludicrous.
Until next week, have a good week.
Mike Probst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.