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Parties meet, but disagreements remain between city, sheriff

May 4th, 2017 under Top Stories

By JOHN DANIEL GARCIA

johndaniel@bigbendnow.com

MARFA – Marfa City Attorney Teresa Todd addressed city council members last week regarding the city’s negotiation committee meeting with Presidio County Sheriff Danny Dominguez to hammer out details of the city’s disputed contract with the sheriff’s office for law enforcement services.

According to Todd, though some of the elements of the city’s rewritten contract were agreed to, the sheriff and city could not see eye-to-eye on several the key components of the $180,000 contract.

“The long and short of it is that there are certain things the sheriff did agree to and other things the city requested that the sheriff was unwilling to,” said Todd, who added that it was her understanding that it was the final position the sheriff would take.

In her notes to the council, she wrote, “This was more of a discussion with the sheriff than any real negotiation.”

One of the key clauses in the proposed contract that the sheriff did not agree to, she said, was the designation of three named deputies who would police the city.

“The committee spoke of always having city coverage, and knowing who to call,” Todd wrote in her notes of the meeting. “The sheriff disagreed, saying he needs his deputies to be available if there is a call in county.”

According to Todd, the sheriff also said that the deputies who would serve the city would only be on call if needed and would only venture one mile outside the city limits, stating the committee “didn’t really understand” his position.

In addition to the lack of designating three deputies, Todd said, the sheriff also stated that he would no longer enforce all city ordinances with the exception of the original three ordinances that were written into the 2009 contract, which are the juvenile curfew, noise, and the jake brake ordinance, a city law that prohibits big diesel trucks slowing down as they enter town by releasing engine compression.

The sheriff went further on the matter, stating that though his deputies would still enforce state alcoholic drinking laws, he would not enforce any city laws regarding alcohol consumption.

Five other ordinances that the sheriff said he would be unwilling to enforce includes drinking in city parks, camping in city parks, closing hours in city parks, the dog ban in city parks, and the fireworks ordinance. The sheriff also said the city’s fire marshal should enforce the county’s burn ban within city limits.

In Todd’s notes to council, the sheriff also told the committee that “people’s complaints and online comments/allegations are ruining the reputation of his deputies,” and that he would investigate any allegations of wrongdoing against his deputies. Should an allegation against a deputy not be proven, Todd said, the sheriff said he would file class A misdemeanor charges of filing false reports, which is punishable by up to $4,000 fine and up to a year in jail.

According to Todd’s notes, the sheriff stated that complaints against his deputies have dropped 90% since the implementation of the policy.

The sheriff had also refused to keep a clause in the contract, which would keep citations written within the city and extraterritorial jurisdiction in the municipal court.

According to documents obtained by the Big Bend Sentinel, Presidio County deputies had written 20 citations in the City of Marfa with instructions to appear before Presidio County Justice of Peace Precinct 2 judge Juanita Bishop in Presidio.

The sheriff, according to Todd, said he did not want to be “boxed in a corner” when sending citations to a court.

The provision has been included in every contract since the dissolution of Marfa’s municipal police department in 2009, which at the time was valued at $89,000.

“I find it interesting that the police can choose the court, but the defendants can’t choose the court,” said Presidio County Justice of the Peace Precinct 1 judge David Beebe at the city meeting. “It’s important that we have judicial parity. Any reasonable person would agree.”

Deputy Mitchell Garcia, who was present at the meeting and took a seat by the sheriff, argued that the law did not specifically state that citations should be taken to the nearest court, calling Todd’s view that it should an “opinion.”

“We should look that up [in the Code of Criminal Procedures] and see what it says,” Garcia told Todd.

The sheriff’s refusal to come to terms with these components, council member Mark Scott said, are worrying in both a civil and financial senses.

“I feel like [law enforcement] is un-checkable. It seems like the gap is too big,” he said of the lack of accountability. “We’re paying for a service and not being able to talk face-to-face [with the deputies]. We don’t need people to feel bullied.”

The city, city administrator Jim Mustard added, has been researching the steps it would take to reinstate its own police department through the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement.

“The main thing is that it’s a lot of work,” said Mustard, who added that the city would need to locate certified law enforcement professionals.

The cost, Mustard added, would be much higher than the $180,000 paid to the sheriff’s department.

Council members followed the discussion by scheduling a public hearing regarding law enforcement services for 5:30pm on Tuesday, May 9 at City Hall.

The council is also expected to make a final decision on whether to accept the contract or not.

Should the city ultimately decide to discontinue the contract, Presidio County would see a shortfall of funds this fiscal year, as the money from the contract was expected while setting the budget.

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