The Law East of Downtown

With his army of volunteer deputies, Victor Trevino is Harris County's most innovative and open lawman. But his sharp tongue hasn't endeared him to other politicians. And some wonder if all his power has gone to his head.

The sisters-in-law who share the same name, Sandra Munoz, had shown up unannounced to demand an immediate audi-ence with Precinct 6 Constable Victor Trevino.ooooooooooooo They were there at Trevino's headquarters on Lockwood to complain about the behavior of one of the constable's 300 volunteer deputies, a female officer who had arrested one of the pair outside her home the previous afternoon. The sisters-in-law claimed the arrest was one more twist in a long, tangled family feud involving the deputy's brother, who was divorced from one of the Sandra Munozes' sisters. In short, they were alleging that one of the deputies authorized by Trevino to carry a gun and wear a badge had used that power for personal revenge.

The constable's longtime receptionist, Blanca Pedraza, nodded her head sympathetically as the two fidgeting women spun out the rather convoluted details of their grievance. Pedraza then launched into an obviously well-practiced drill:

"The constable needs to hear about this," she said. "He doesn't tolerate that kind of behavior." Then she added a for-the-record homily to balance the slate: "But there are two sides to every story. We are working in a field that is not easy."

Pedraza, however, didn't palm the women off on some assistant. The sisters-in-law Munoz got their face-to-face meeting with Victor Trevino, who greeted the pair in a natty pinstripe suit and ushered them into his office.

As the two Sandra Munozes settled in, Trevino's chief deputy, Carolyn Lopez, a Texas Southern University law school graduate who provides case management skills for Trevino, flanked the constable with a visage and manner as stern and official as Trevino's was sympathetic and accommodating.

"I regard this as a very serious matter," the constable purred from behind his desk. "We want to get all the details so we can get to the bottom of this."

And details they did provide. According to the women, the deputy in question had come cruising by the Munoz family residence the previous afternoon in the same white truck that had allegedly been involved in family-related disturbances at the house, where bottles were lobbed through the windows of the residence. One of the complainants had been playing baseball in front of the home, and was holding a bat. Words were exchanged between the two, many of the four-letter variety, and the scene escalated into a face-down, ending when the deputy handcuffed the woman and took her down to the precinct's holding facility. The reason: she had allegedly threatened the deputy with the bat, a charge the arrested Sandra Munoz vociferously denied. She was later released without charges, and had now returned to the scene of her embarrassment.

Trevino promised the two women they would be hearing from his office in the next few weeks. Later, he met with the volunteer deputy and requested a written explanation of the arrest. He also took her badge and suspended her until further notice. But the sisters-in-law Munoz never returned to file a formal complaint, Trevino explained several weeks later, and the volunteer deputy is now working a desk job at the constable's headquarters and is soon expected to return to patrol duty.

It's not every politician who'll grant an unscheduled audience to angry constituents, but his accessibility and visibility are two of the keys to Trevino's popularity among his Precinct 6 constituents. There was one other thing notable about his meeting with the two Sandra Munozes: media-conscious Victor Trevino did the law enforcement unthinkable by allowing a reporter to sit in on what was essentially the first step of an internal affairs investigation. Try to imagine Houston Police Chief Sam Nuchia or Sheriff Johnny Klevenhagen letting a journalist monitor a discussion of allegations against one of their officers. It wouldn't happen in a bad police novel.

Victor Trevino cuts a striking figure. His thick, black eyebrows bend at impossible 90 degree angles to bracket wide, expressive eyes. A bushy black mane of hair culminates in a widow's peak that seems to be forever migrating south in a vain attempt to connect with the bridge of his nose. When he's fired up, windmilling arms and fingers pistol-pointing to his forehead delineate an only slightly repressed stage personality. His voice can range from a conspiratorial whisper to a muted shriek to the mock nasal drawl of a redneck. Trevino appears to be in nearly constant communication with his hyperactive inner child.

His broad gestures are often accompanied by grand, hyperbolic statements that can sound a bit over the top on first hearing. Even on the second and third, sometimes. Consider his explanation of his open-door policy after the Sandra Munozes had left his office:

"I don't know how we're surprised there was such a person as Hitler. Heck, you have some of these local politicians that if they gave them all that power they'd kill their opponents. But it's not that way here. That's why there's checks and balances. This is the people's little government here, this community out here. They'll come in here without appointment and like it or not, I've got to see them. That's my constituents."

And his constituents respond with equal intensity. Businessman Ralph Garcia, who is organizing the Eastside "Zona Rosa" district of restaurants, community activist Albert Leal, state Representative Diana Davila, all have nothing but praise for the manner in which Trevino has fused policing and politics.

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