On Tuesday January 20, 2004, in a court room in our community, Judge Richard Roman of the 346th District Court found that probable cause exists that a crime has been committed against the State of Texas thus starting the roller coaster looking into allegations of malfeasance and corruption in our community. The main alleged culprits are the El Paso Police Department and the District Attorney’s office. On February 12, 2004, just a few weeks after the first Court of Inquiry was sought, another Court of Inquiry, this time brought forth by a citizen, was once again requested to investigate the Police and District Attorney. On Friday, March 12, 2004, four more citizens stepped forward and demanded justice in the form of another Court of Inquiry. Depending on the decision of the Travis Court judge in which this request sits, these four individuals could form part of the third court of inquiry against the District Attorney and the Police Department or each affiant may end up with their own Court of Inquiry, making the total seven for our community. But what is the significance?
An Internet search of Courts of Inquiry found that no more than 10 Courts of Inquiry have been held in the State of Texas. In fact the earliest reference to a Texas Court of Inquiry was an 1859 Battlefield Court of Inquiry convened by Sam Houston, among others to look into allegations of the murder of a Mexican woman, non-combatant during the Battle of San Jacinto. Colonel John Forbes, the accused was one of Sam Houston’s senior officers, the commissary general of the Texan forces. In the end, Forbes was found innocent of the charges. The majority of the Court of Inquiries referenced on the Internet pertains to military Courts as opposed to civilian initiated ones.
The most recent Texas Court of Inquiry appears to be the now infamous one in 1994. That Court of Inquiry was convened by District Court Judge Edward Marquez at the behest of Senator Eliot Shapleigh, County Attorney Jose Rodriguez and former Mayor Raymond Caballero who were the prosecuting attorneys investigating state agencies’ inequitable funding in our city. This doesn’t mean that others haven’t tried to start their own Courts of Inquiry to right perceived wrongs in the state.
In early 2003, LULAC requested a Court of Inquiry to look into allegations of police brutality by the Baytown police and the Houston Police Departments. The Harris County State District Judges refused to grant a Court of Inquiry and a Special Prosecutor to investigate the allegations. Also, in 2003 in Brazo’s County, Judge Rick Davis requested a Court of Inquiry to investigate District Attorney Bill Turner and two other county officials. The request was dismissed by a San Antonio-based judge, appointed to review the case, who found no merit to the allegations.
In May 2003, Public Citizen called for an investigation into the Texas Department of Public Safety’s (DPS) reported destruction of records about the agency’s search for Democratic lawmakers who walked out of the Capitol earlier in the week. Tom Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office, called for the Texas Attorney General to conduct an inquiry. Smith went on to request a “special court of inquiry” a select panel of Travis County District Judges to investigate the matter. Finally, in a copyrighted article, reporters Roma Khanna and Steve McVicker for the Houston Chronicle reported that embattled Houston Police Chief C.O. Bradford stated to the Editorial Board of the paper in June 2003 that “he believes there is sufficient probable cause for Harris County judges to convene a court of inquiry to publicly and independently investigate the entire Police Department crime lab, not just the troubled DNA portion.”
El Paso, on the other hand, is facing three active Courts of Inquiry as of this morning, two investigating allegations against the El Paso Police Department, named officers in the Department and District Attorney Jaime Esparza and his office. The other Court of Inquiry was convened in to investigate the Housing Authority on an issue of Free-Speech. These three Courts of Inquiry do not include the latest request, the one Friday, for another Court of Inquiry to further investigate the Police and the District Attorney. Although the Police Department, its Association and the District Attorney’s office has tried to mask the seriousness of these actions behind rhetoric of money, the fact remains that at least three judges have found sufficient evidence to merit an investigation into these entities. Rather than harp on the merits of each case and the similarities of the allegations, it should be incumbent upon each reader to read each affidavit in order to draw their own conclusions as to the merits of each case. Each of the Affidavits is linked below in their entirety, as well as the Police Association’s Press Release issued in response to these allegations. Ultimately a judge will determine the outcome of the allegations, but the actions of the Police Department, the City of El Paso, the Police Association and the District Attorney’s office merits some scrutiny. These documents are a peek into the judiciary of our community. As this issue is of great significance for our community, the El Paso Tribune will be launching an online repository of all documents on these cases in the next few days. In the mean time, take the time to read the affidavits and begin to formulate your own thoughts on these serious allegations.
The First Affidavit: The Hollebeke Case; January 20, 2004
The Second Affidavit: The Enriquez Case; February 12, 2004
The Third Affidavit: The Billy Ray Nitsch Case; March 12, 2004
The Fourth Affidavit: The Cecilio “Tony” Soto Case; March 12, 2004
The Fifth Affidavit: The Veneranda Soltero Case; March 12, 2004
The Sixth Affidavit: The Jesus Luna Case; March 12, 2004
The Police Association’s March 11, 2004 Press Release
The Complaint Letter Filed by Jesus Luna against Attorney Renan Kenneth Del Valle dated February 19, 2004.