Constable Controversy Persists in Wake of Indictments - NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth

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Constable Controversy Persists in Wake of Indictments

Indictments do not include more serious corruption allegations raised in county investigation



    A former Dallas County constable and a current constable will be free on personal recognizance without even visiting jail after they were indicted in a corruption investigation.

    A variety of accusations swirled around Precinct 1 Constable Derick Evans and former Precinct 5 Constable Jaime Cortes in the past two years. But the grand jury indictments are limited to campaign contribution improprieties.

    Dallas County commissioners funded their own investigation last year before a special prosecutor was appointed in the summer. The investigation had accused Cortes of numerous civil and criminal acts of wrongdoing.

    Commissioner John Wiley Price said the indictments amount to "small potatoes."

    Grand Jury Indicts Two Dallas County Constables

    [DFW] Grand Jury Indicts Two Dallas County Constables
    Current constable Derick Evans and former constable Jaime Cortes were indicted over campaign contributions.
    (Published Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010)

    "Do we really need to spend a half a million dollars to talk about a $5, $10 raffle ticket?" he said.

    "It was a political year," Price said. "People were looking for an issue to run on, if you will. That's what happens when you remain in office, and you've done probably very little and you need to conjure up a real issue."

    But outgoing County Judge Jim Foster, who strongly supported the investigation and lost in the Democratic primary in March, said the indictments vindicate his stand.

    "How can you call it small potatoes? These are felonies," he said. "Because they are peace officers and they know what the law is, then they -- in addition to an elected official -- should be held to another higher standard."

    Evans declined to comment at his office Wednesday. But his attorney, Michael Todd, said his client is "shocked and dismayed" that he was indicted.

    "We'll viciously attack the charges," he said.

    Evans and two of his top deputies -- Tracey Gulley and Kelvin Holder -- are accused of running an improper raffle to benefit Evans' re-election campaign and of coercing other deputies to participate.

    It is illegal in Texas to run a raffle as a political fundraiser.

    Cortes, who resigned after losing in the Democratic primary runoff in May, is accused of two counts tampering with a government record for failing to report some campaign contributions.

    Cortes' attorney did not return a message Wednesday.

    The commissioners' investigation and other news reports included more serious accusations of improper towing and impounding of vehicles by the constables at a south Dallas County storage lot.

    Evans attorney Todd also noted the absence of more issues in the indictments.

    "Generally, a prosecutor comes out with his best and strongest charges," Todd said.

    But Clark Birdsall, a former assistant district attorney who handled public integrity cases, said the opposite could be true.

    "Having sat in that seat before, I can tell you, the first thing we do is grab the low-hanging fruit and then come back for the rest," he said.

    In 2000, Birdsall prosecuted Aurelio Castillo, a former Precinct 5 constable who was convicted of accepting illegal campaign contributions.

    "You can't make a mistake. You have to be sure," Birdsall said. "If you're going to hunt big bear, you'd better bring him down, so he (the special prosecutor) needs to take his time. I'm all right with that."

    Mesquite defense attorney Ted Lyon was appointed special prosecutor in the case in June.

    "Our Investigation is ongoing," he said. "Other actions could be taken."

    Regardless of the cases' outcome, Price said the county has learned from the constable investigation. He said commissioners are currently pursuing reforms in constable deputy hiring.

    After new commissioners take office in January, Price said he will pursue a unified towing program for all county agencies that was voted down earlier this year.

    The change would take towing and impounding decisions out of the hands of constables.

    "That is an issue, and I think that is one of the things we've learned," Price said.