I have read your editorial in the Feb. 20, 2019 edition of The Rockport Pilot. I am both disturbed and disappointed by this editorial and the coverage of the ongoing issue between the Rockport Police Department (RPD) and the District Attorney (DA). During the entire issue, you have not focused on the real reason why the DA was forced to take action against the RPD. Your paper has printed letters for the City of Rockport questioning the DA’s actions, and in my opinion, your coverage plus these letters and editorials on this issue, has impugned the DA’s reputation.
On Aug. 1, 2018, a pretrial hearing in the case of the “The State of Texas vs. Adam Juarez” clearly highlights the reasons why the DA was forced to take action against the RPD. The presiding judge, The Honorable Jana L. Whatley, was hearing a complaint from Gabbie Canales, attorney for Mr. Juarez, about the failure of the RPD to turn over subpoenaed documents from the case file which had not been forwarded to the DA or the defense attorney. The following statements were made by Judge Jana Whatley and are quoted here from the court reporter’s record:
“THE COURT: All Right. Turn them over to the DA’s office please.
“And I just need to remind everyone, especially my law enforcement agencies, anything related to any offense that is not turned over could take these individual’s law license. All right. That is the way the Morton Act was written. I don’t believe any law enforcement understands that. And we need to make sure that is done.
“So the prosecutors, in all my counties and all over, are extremely hypersensitive to any type of discovery that has anything to do with it. We have had major discussions in our other counties.
“And, actually, I think there has been a change in protocol and procedures on how officers respond. Now we don’t have 18 officers responding to one, because, guess what? All 18 officers’ bodycams have to be turned over if they even drive by a scene of an offense. It has to be done.
“So I am just giving you some information. I have talked to other chiefs and y’all may need to revisit protocol. Because, under Michael Morton – because bad facts make, sometime, bad law. But, every once in a while there is a glimmer of hope in there for a defendant and they are entitled to it. The United States Supreme Court tells us that. Our Constitution tells us that. So, unfortunately, we are having to make a lot of changes.
“But that is something that basically is on all of my law enforcement agencies. And y’all aren’t lawyers. And I get it. So when I get anybody in my courtroom I want to remind them, you are putting their law licenses, their liberty on the line and sometimes it is, like you said, somebody is on vacation or whatever it may be.
“But this case was filed in, when? 2017? And my understanding, it was an offense of 2016. Those things should have been turned over two years ago.”
The selected withholding of case file documents by the RPD was clearly established, according to the Judge, for two years. In my discussion with other defense attorneys in our county, this was not an isolated incident. Judge Whatley clearly points out that protocols must be changed because prosecutors could lose their law license for violations of The Morton Act.
More importantly, the defendants are entitled to due process under our Constitution. Think about it, a local PD arbitrarily withholding evidence. That could have happened to anyone (you or me) within the RPD’s jurisdiction.
To the best of my knowledge, The Pilot never mentioned the court hearing. The DA’s office should be commended for taking action to clean up this practice. In my opinion, this practice overshadows any of the other issues the editor has focused on.
The City of Rockport is responsible for the actions of the RPD, and they should move forward as quickly as possible to satisfy the legal requirements pointed out by Judge Whatley and promises made to the DA. The citizens deserve proper due process now.
Charles W. Smith