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Marfa businessman jailed for expired vehicle inspection sticker? Yes.

August 5th, 2013 under Features

By SARAH M. VASQUEZ

MARFA – Marfa businessman Daniel Browning was coming back from a day’s work in Alpine when he was pulled over by Presidio County Deputy Mitch Garcia and another deputy the evening of Thursday, July 25 near the city limit.

Browning owns Plaine, a coffee shop in Alpine, and is putting in a laundromat there, just like the coffee shop and laundromat he and his wife own in Marfa, Frama and Tumbleweed Laundry, respectively.

Garcia pulled Browning over after the deputy stuck his head out his truck window and, as Browning said, stared very intently at his red pickup truck.

When Browning pulled over, Garcia introduced himself and told him to get out of the vehicle and pull out his driver’s license. Browning said that Garcia looked at his vehicle to verify that his inspection sticker was out of date. It expired in May. Garcia then asked Browning where he was going.

“Deputy Garcia sees me driving the same route every single day. He lives a block away from me,” said Browning. “He knows very well where I’m going. So I exhaustively kinda replied, I said ‘Acapulco, Mitch. I’m going home. I’m tired. I’m going home after a hard day’s work.’ He looked me in the eye and said ‘Acapulco, huh?’ and that was the end of our conversation.”

Garcia asked for Browning’s driver’s license and walked back to his truck. Browning said he noticed that Garcia started cleaning out his personal belongings from his front passenger seat.

“He took his semi-automatic rifle from the front seat and put it on the back seat. Then at that point, I noticed that he then picked up my driver’s license and his radio, and then called into dispatch, presumably to get my license,” said Browning.

When he walked back to Browning, Garcia arrested him for an expired motor vehicle inspection, a Class C misdemeanor.

As he was being arrested, Browning turned around and confirmed with Garcia that he was going to jail for an expired motor vehicle inspection.

“He said, ‘Yes sir. In the state of Texas, I can arrest you for anything I want except for a speeding ticket and open container,’ and I didn’t say another word to him at that point,” said Browning.

Browning said Garcia put him in the truck, didn’t give him his Miranda rights and helped him put the seat belt on.

After Browning was booked into jail, he was sitting in a cell until 11pm when Presidio County Judge Paul Hunt magistrated him. After he finished his paperwork and got his personal belongings, Browning was released around midnight.

“I do know and will admit that it is certainly within the limits of the law to arrest anyone like he said,” said Browning. “I confirmed that law that he can arrest anyone for any reason with the exception of a speeding ticket and open container, which is a certainly a useful tool if you need to detain someone for good cause or you’re suspicious about something else, but as far as I know, I showed no signs of other suspicions.”

Presidio County Sheriff Danny Dominguez said “no comment” for this story when contacted Tuesday. He added, however, that everything was legally done with this case and there was nothing illegal about it.

An open records request for the paperwork and video pertaining to Browning’s arrest was submitted on July 30 to Dominguez, which he said will be available next week.

Chief Deputy Sheriff Joel Nuñez wasn’t there when the arrest was made, but he could say that Garcia was doing his duty. He said Garcia could have handled it differently, but he didn’t do anything wrong or illegal.

“Deputy Garcia has the option to arrest and he exercised the option to arrest,” said Nuñez.

The Presidio County Sheriff’s Office isn’t the only law enforcement agency in the state of Texas that can arrest for Class C misdemeanors. The Presidio Police Department, Texas Department of Public Safety troopers, and every other law enforcement agency in Texas has the power to arrest for these type of misdemeanors.

Nuñez also said that they are working on the issue and with the individual involved. He doesn’t want the sheriff’s department to intimidate anybody or have them painted in a way that they are harassing anybody in the community.

“The purpose of the sheriff’s office is to keep the peace and (we) want the community to come to sheriff’s with any issues or complaints,” said Nuñez.

Browning agrees. “Well I think that gosh, in any city, the law is something that you should respect and something that would respect you. It’s there to protect you.

“Certainly, I feel like I’m a safe person,” the businessman said, “but (you) can’t help but feel feelings from several people, lots of people around town, who now feel threatened by the police, because no one wants to go to jail, but certainly we’re all guilty of the occasional infraction like this. So now this kind of general fear, of living in fear from the law, and that’s really more dangerous than anything, you know? That’s a relationship that needs to be strong with your law enforcement. It’s not a relationship that needs to be fractured by something like this.”

Nuñez said the sheriff’s office is now looking into the situation, and administrative procedures will be changed because of this. He said he’s very interested in working with the community, but also wants to have a law-abiding community.

As for Browning, he had someone else drive his truck to Alpine this week to renew his inspection sticker.

“So I’m now a reformed criminal. I got my inspection sticker,” said Browning.

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