Would someone [FTL maybe] please tell me what it is about Texas that makes folks forget the Law, the Constitution and Common Sense? Gonzo, Bushie, Dead-eye Dick...
Texas police angry that prosecutor will not prosecute cases unless -- wait for it -- there's evidence
DA's actions alarm law enforcement
Steve Tyler says he needs more evidence to prosecute cases
August 12, 2007 - Posted at 12:00 a.m.
BY GABE SEMENZA - VICTORIA ADVOCATE
Law enforcement leaders are frustrated with Victoria County District Attorney Steve Tyler because he's declining to prosecute more of their criminal cases.
The DA says that he is just holding law enforcement to a higher standard and that the agencies aren't providing the evidence he needs to prosecute.
"If you cannot do your duty, you need to resign and give the duty to someone who can," Tyler said.
In the first seven months of his first term as DA, Tyler has declined 36 percent of all adult criminal cases presented to him by the police department and about 50 percent of juvenile cases, Police Chief Bruce Ure said.
Compared to recent years - under a different DA - that percentage is almost double in both instances, he said.
"Our investigators are highly trained," Ure said. "They're presenting good, quality cases. We want to fix this."
Tyler has declined a similar percentage of cases sent to him from Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor's office.
"It has a significant impact," O'Connor said. "I'm concerned, concerned enough that it's time to talk."
Law enforcement's concerns center on overwhelmed deputies and officers and on victims who want swift prosecution.
Deputies and officers build cases on suspects and then pass the evidence to Tyler, who then decides if he can prosecute.
When he declines cases, law enforcement must often start fresh and balance the work on old cases with new ones.
"We're filling up the jail, and we need the inmates moved," O'Connor said.
As of Wednesday, 480 inmates - at a cost to taxpayers - were housed in a jail with a capacity of 520.
Charlie Jalufka, a Texas Alcohol and Tobacco Commission sergeant, said his staff also is "having more difficulty than we're used to in getting cases prosecuted."
Tyler said he won't prosecute a case unless he has the evidence to do so. And it appears law enforcement isn't making the effort to get that done, he said, directing the brunt of his frustration at the police department.
"What they got used to is not having to comply with the law," Tyler said. "It shows me they're not willing to do anything that's costly and inconvenient. They think I'm giving them hell. I'm telling them the truth, and they just think it's hell."
Dexter Eaves, the DA for eight years ending in 2006, said this riff reflects growing pains.
"Well, of course, whenever there's a new administration folks are always going to think the last guy was great, and the new guy is not as great just because they're used to the last administration," Eaves said. "I have confidence in Mr. Tyler."
Eaves said Tyler just has a different approach to the office.
"I was more willing to go out on a limb as DA, to take riskier cases," Eaves said.
Tyler said 50 percent of Eaves' cases were dismissed in court for a lack of evidence.
"They'd go to trial and didn't have a case," Tyler said. "I can't deprive a person of liberty unless I have evidence."
George Filley, a former 16-year Victoria County DA and police officer, said this riff could stem from a simple difference in perspective. The police chief and sheriff operate on a "probable cause basis" and the DA works on a "proof beyond a reasonable doubt basis."
"I can tell you from experience that, typically, front-line law enforcement is going to be critical when the DA makes these decisions," Filley said. "There are all sorts of guidelines regarding the charging responsibility of the DA."
Those guidelines include portions from a prominent article in the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.
"It shall be the primary duty of all prosecuting attorneys ... not to convict, but to see that justice is done," the code says.
Filley said Eaves made it known to law enforcement that "he was going to take every case that came in the door. I've seen prosecutors around the state do that. They quietly dismiss them later (in court). It's intellectually dishonest in the long run."
But Ure said that in his 26 years in law enforcement - working in areas around the state - he's never seen a DA dismiss as many cases as Tyler does.
To have a DA who dismissed more than 15 percent was rare, he said.
So what's happening? "I'm not sure," said Ure, who became Victoria's police chief earlier this year.
The police chief said he's reviewed "tremendous amounts" of cases sent to Tyler and that he believes his officers submitted good cases. "So the system is breaking down somewhere. I have written several letters to the DA. We want to work with him to fix this."
To read eight letters sent from Victoria Police Chief Bruce Ure to Victoria County District Attorney Steve Tyler regarding disputes about case dismissals, visit Victoria Advocate - Home
and click on this story's headline to view them (in the left column under Rich Media).
"Surely, if knowledge of this lack of prosecution makes it out into the public, it will hamper our officers' ability in conducting daily traffic stops, and ultimately expose them to unnecessary, greater risk," Ure writes.
Tyler said the letters amount to little. Those eight letters from Ure, each disputing Tyler's decision to decline a case, were written recently - from July 25 to Aug. 5.
"Having reviewed this recent surge of correspondence from your office, I make the following observations," Tyler wrote last week in a response letter, also viewable online. "The number of letters far exceeds any telephonic or personal contact you have had with this office.
"The tone and composition of the correspondence is self-serving, fraught with legal misinterpretations, and commonly misstates the facts. Plainly, these letters are designed by you to create a public record with your spin."
O'Connor said he thinks Tyler deserves time to adjust to the office. It's obvious, he said, the relationship is "a work in progress. I'm not in such a rush to be critical about the issue, but it's time to communicate."
Ure agreed and said he's tired of finger pointing.
Tyler said he's offered to meet weekly with law enforcement to review cases, but he won't lower his standards.
"If they don't know the law, they need to learn it," he said. "I'm more than willing to help them. If they don't do that, there's no way to fix this. I function according to the law."
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