The Law East of Downtown
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.
Rice Owls Men's Baseball vs. Florida International University Men's Baseball
TicketsFri., Mar. 24, 6:30pm
Gridiron Glory: The Best of Pro Football HOF -- 10AM-3PM
TicketsSat., Mar. 25, 10:00am
Rice Owls Men's Baseball vs. Florida International University Men's Baseball
TicketsSat., Mar. 25, 2:00pm
Gridiron Glory: The Best of Pro Football HOF -- 10AM-6PM
TicketsSun., Mar. 26, 10:00am
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.
When it comes to complaints from the community, Trevino's openness in airing dirty laundry is truly unique. Sometimes he seems to absolutely relish wallowing in it. A few months ago he publicly upbraided a longtime member of his force, Larry Smith, for throwing a cup of ice in a convenience store clerk's face when the shopkeeper tried to charge the lawmen for it. After the flap, which had been fueled by Channel 13's repeated telecast of the store's surveillance camera video of the icing, Smith was reassigned to a desk job at the precinct. The constable then let the station film him as he scolded his other deputies and warned them against accepting gratuities.
Trevino doesn't deny he's had problems with some of his deputies -- volunteer and paid -- but he contends that every law agency has to deal with bad apples. He voluntarily sketches out another volunteer problem, this one with a deputy who had an auto wreck while in a Precinct 6 uniform and demanded money from the other party. Trevino is constantly converting his experiences into parables and standup routines, which sometimes seem funny even without an intended punch line. For someone trying to persuade the world that his volunteers are polished products of university policing programs, he seems unperturbed that the story cuts against his own message.
When the deputy showed Trevino his letter of explanation for the traffic incident, "it was like a third-grader could have written better than that," Trevino says in an amazed tone. "I was like, 'What the heck I got here?' And he'd been with us a couple of months.
"Then he said, 'I know I can write a better letter than that, sir, because I remember when I killed that guy I wrote a....' I said, 'When did you kill that guy?' He said, 'When I was a security officer I got into a scuffle and...." The deputy resigned the next day, much to Trevino's relief.
Then there was the time Trevino's youngest son, Thomas, was nabbed by officers at a teen drinking party and charged with resisting arrest. Trevino made his own kid a public example by holding a news conference announcing a crackdown on gatherings of underage drinkers. (Thomas since has been arrested for involvement with suspects in a car-theft ring; Trevino says he hasn't made a public splash about that because he has no plans for a volunteer program against car theft.)
And when his sister, Gloria, was popped for misdemeanor theft to fuel a crack habit, Trevino worked behind-the-scenes to make sure she didn't get a probated sentence and served her time ("She would have just gone back running the streets") while he took her son in to live with his family. Eventually Trevino used his de facto custody of the son to coax his sister into the Cenikor anti-drug program, and that Trevino family drama also made its way into the media.
Some political foes write off those public displays of confession to a penchant for showboating by the constable. But anyone who hangs with Trevino for a while recognizes that the constable simply lacks the siege mentality of many law officers when the media comes calling, and loves to tell stories -- even when they don't necessarily reflect well on the subject.
Most politicians, Trevino likes to say, are "cold" people who "don't talk real."
Victor Trevino does not have that problem.
The source of Trevino's power and respect in the working-class neighborhoods of eastside Houston -- as well the criticism from outside his precinct -- is his volunteer reserve deputy force.
None of the other seven county constables has more than a few dozen volunteers. In fact, Trevino's first and only major skirmish since his 1988 election was over a cap Commissioners Court had imposed on the number of volunteer deputies he could appoint. Had the commissioners stuck with their original ratio permitting three volunteers for every one budgeted deputy position, Trevino would have been limited to less than 50 reserves, and his ambitious parole violator and anti-truancy task forces could not have been implemented. Trevino eventually got his way by orchestrating a community protest against Commissioners Court and threatening a lawsuit. The commissioners -- with the exception of former constable Steve Radack -- backed down and voted to pop the cap. Trevino then began implementing his Points of Light from the Barrel of a Gun brand of volunteerism, and is extremely sensitive to any criticism of his deputy volunteers.
Trevino's assembling of his volunteer force is just one of the ways the job of constable has evolved since the mid-1970s, when precinct lines were first redrawn to provide representation for minorities in the county's lily-white hierarchy. Redistricting resulted in predominantly Hispanic Precinct 6 running north and east of downtown and heavily African-American Precinct 7 running south from the Third Ward to Sunnyside. Commissioners Court appointed the first constables to represent those newly drawn jurisdictions: Raul Martinez, Trevino's predecessor in Precinct 6, and A.B. Chambers in Precinct 7.
These two precincts contained the poorest inner-city neighborhoods and had some of the highest crime rates in the county. But since they had the lightest load of warrants and court papers to be served, they received minimum budgets for deputies and staff. That formula is maintained to this day, and results in Trevino's precinct getting less than a dozen budgeted deputies. But 20 years ago, paper hanging, not crime fighting, constituted the constable's raison d'étre. Inside the city, there was the Houston Police Department or smaller municipal police forces. Outside the city limits was the county sheriff's domain.
Then a power struggle between Commissioners Court and the sheriff resulted in the court awarding some deputy patrol positions to suburban constables, on the theory that commissioners had greater control over the constables in their precincts than the sheriff and would have greater influence on how the new deputies were deployed. Later came the growth of the contract deputy programs, in which affluent subdivisions, mostly outside the city, picked up most of the tab for more deputy positions under the control of the constables in the suburban precincts. Suddenly, a constable was a real lawman with a police force, patrol cars and dispatchers.
For at least one constable, Tracy Maxon of Precinct 5, the police power went straight to a thick head. Maxon wound up serving time in prison for theft, and his successor, Steve Radack, came into office dreaming of bigger political things. When Commissioner Bob Eckels was forced out of office for theft of county property, Radack demonstrated that the job of constable could be a springboard to Commissioners Court. It's a move Trevino and his supporters hope he emulates.
Radack, however, is no fan of Trevino. He has long accused the constable of building his force of reserve volunteers into an operation that is dangerously under-supervised.
"That's a lot of reserves," Radack, who serves as a volunteer reserve for Precinct 1 Constable Jack Abercia, says of Trevino's 300 reserves, "particularly if you take into account the size of Trevino's precinct. I've voted no on the reserves. It's reached the saturation point, where he's got too many to adequately supervise."
That's easy to say if you haven't been out here and seen it," counters Andy Thrash, a volunteer reserve lieutenant who coordinates Trevino's parole violator task force in his off-hours as a refinery operator for Amoco. "Since we started in late 1991," says Thrash, "we haven't been sued, we haven't had a deputy hurt, we haven't hurt anyone, and we've gotten a lot of parole violators off the street."
Pointing to figures compiled by his office, Trevino claims his volunteer programs have produced more than 162,000 hours of free law enforcement worth roughly $3.5 million to taxpayers. By comparing 1992-93 and the 94-95 fall semester attendance figures at the eight middle schools in Trevino's precinct targeted by his ASAP anti-truancy program, the constable estimates the Houston Independent School District will receive an additional $1.5 million in state funding, which is based on a head count of students in class. The rapid rise in attendance following Trevino's implementation of an ASAP pilot program convinced HISD officials that it was worth a $250,000 investment to hire eight full-time deputies to supervise squads of anti-truancy reserves. Such figures tend to drown out even Trevino's loudest critics.
Trevino got the ASAP idea from his years as a Houston police community relations officer working with Marshall Middle School, where he discovered that parents did not like meeting uniformed officers at their front door inquiring about absent children. A few such visits, he found, usually pressured parents to make sure the kids at least go to school.
It's an idea that's spreading. Recently, Travis County Commissioners Court earmarked $55,000 for a six-week pilot project modeled on Trevino's operation. Constable Bruce Elfant visited with Trevino's staff and used his deputies as instructors to implement the anti-truancy effort in Austin.
"Victor's people were great," says Elfant. "We took a camera crew from the NBC affiliate here, and we rode with their officers, who are wonderful. Two of their training officers came up and participated in the training of our officers here in Travis County."
Thrash and deputy Sergeant John Alanis are showcase examples of Trevino's volunteer brigade. Alanis started as a volunteer but is now a full-time, salaried deputy in the ASAP program, while Thrash is the volunteer coordinator of the constable's "Zebra Squad," which by night serves arrest warrants on parolees in Harris County who have violated terms of their early release from jail.
Alanis' afternoon rounds begin after 4 p.m., when volunteer deputies collect truancy lists from the target schools and begin dropping in on the parents. This particular day, Alanis' route threads through rundown neighborhoods along Lyons Avenue and consists of one stop after another at the homes of mostly single working parents. His role is essentially that of a social worker with the clout of a badge and gun, and his style is both sympathetic and firm.
"I don't want to add to what she already has," says Alanis as he drives away from the home of a single mother who stood in her doorway surrounded by eight children, including a seventh-grader who had been suspended from school in a rock-tossing incident. The home visits have teeth. If parents do not deal with their truant children, they will be ordered to court and possibly fined for a misdemeanor violation.
While it is hard to gauge the effectiveness of a single afternoon spent buttonholing parents, the principal at Alanis' assignment, McReynolds Middle School, says the statistics leave no doubt. Elodia Flores Hough says Alanis has been "perfect" for her school: "Our attendance rates have gone up considerably. There's more pressure put on the parents to make sure that their children are in school. They don't like to have the constables come to their home."
The idea for Trevino's parole violator task force was formed in 1990. "We were watching the TV news, and it was a time when all these senior citizens were being attacked," recalls Trevino's wife Silvia, an HPD training instructor and patrol officer. "Victor said, 'Something's got to be done. Look at everybody they've caught. They've all been on parole.' He went into, like, space...."
His task force was in the works the next day.
The State Board of Pardons and Paroles provides Trevino's deputies with data on the parole violators, and the Zebra Squad goes cruising in groups of a half-dozen officers. The squad is a favorite of Fox Television's City Under Siege, since the deputies are only too happy to provide plenty of photo ops of drawn guns and nabbed parole violators.
An evening spent with the six volunteers under Thrash's supervision does reveal some serious questions about the patrol's procedures. For starters, the night's run is far outside Trevino's precinct, with three targets in the Bear Creek Park and Highway 290 area, the jurisdictions of Constables Glen Cheek and Dick Moore. Two of the addresses for parole violators turn out to be those of a wife who had not seen her husband in a year and a brother who claims not to know the whereabouts of his sibling. Finally, the squad nabs a burglary convict at a dingy northwest Houston apartment complex, after a dry run at the nearby Club Iguana, where patrons are lined up against a front wall during the unsuccessful search.
At the apartment, when one of a group of illegal immigrants questions the arrest, a deputy retorts, "You got a green card. No? Then shut up." Since data from the night's effort won't be going into any central law enforcement data bank, no other agency will know that the Zebras have visited the addresses. The wife who hasn't seen an estranged husband in a year could find her home surrounded by officers from another department the following evening.
Trevino's reserve volunteers are involved in one low-intensity conflict that has nothing to do with crime fighting.ooo The constable claims Harris County District Attorney Johnny Holmes has targeted his operation in a crackdown on dozens of the deputies for illegally working off-duty jobs wearing the precinct's uniform and badge, and carrying firearms. The district attorney's office believes Trevino covertly allows his volunteers to break state law that bans volunteer lawmen from working the lucrative armed security assignments while exempting full-time officers from the restriction. Trevino and his deputies deny that assertion, and the mere mention of Holmes and assistant district attorney Ed Porter in the presence of Precinct 6 personnel can be a conversational space heater. Porter in particular has outraged Trevino by arresting one of the constable's volunteers and ordering him booked and jailed in his Precinct 6 uniform.
"I think he's conniving," Trevino says of Holmes. "He's the leader of the KKK, and all his goons under him, all they need are white sheets."
Holmes brushes off the racial allegations as ludicrous. "That doesn't bother me," he replies evenly. "What really hurt my feelings was when he called me a black-booted Gestapo."
Holmes says Trevino routinely accused Porter of hating Hispanics, until he was told that Porter's mother is Hispanic.
For his part, Porter denies Trevino's claim that the district attorney's office is engaging in selective enforcement against his volunteers. In the last year and a half, prosecutors have made 22 cases against Trevino's volunteers for illegally working off-duty security. "There's a question of supervision," Porter says. "If you tell someone, 'This is the law, you are to comply with it,' and then you go and violate it, what kind of supervision is that? What does that say about the person?"
Trevino accuses Holmes and Porter of conducting a vendetta against his precinct, even using a Harris County grand jury to probe his operation several years ago. Trevino appeared before the panel jury and, by his own telling, was nearly cited for contempt.
"I sat through the whole deal and finally I get a little upset," he recalls. "They started getting personal. I said, 'Hold on one second, y'all not going scold me here. I'm not here to be scolded. One person scolds me, that's my mama. If you've got legal questions, ask me.'
"They said, 'You're kind of a smart aleck aren't you?' They were so upset they were going to hold me in contempt. I said, 'Are you going to indict me because of my personality?'"
It's a question to which some of Trevino's detractors might answer a hearty "Hell, yes."
It took an unlikely peacemaker, crusty former district judge Pat Lykos, to calm both sides down and pull Trevino out of the stew.
The episode did not soften Trevino's opinion of Holmes and his office.
"People hate assholes, but they're scared of them," Trevino told the Press a few months ago. "People are scared of real assholes if they've got power. That's why people are scared of Johnny Holmes and the commissioners. Because they're assholes."
The fourth- and fifth-graders gathered in the lunchroom at Queen of Peace Catholic School didn't quite know how to take Victor Trevino during a recent midday convocation, but he certainly knew how to handle them. Animated, earthy, by turns shouting or jumping up and down, Trevino paced in front of the assembly with a pistol holstered on his hip and brought his anti-crime rap down to a child's level.
The day's message was that nobody's born bad; you have to work at it. "Nobody looks at a brand-new baby and goes AHHHHHHHH!" shouts the constable, startling his young audience. "What an ugly baby. Put it back. Get another one out. Nobody says that." He then launches into the perhaps apocryphal story of his childhood friend "Johnny."
"What happens to children when they're growing up?" Trevino asks his rapt audience. "You know the first time I saw my first marijuana cigarette was in the seventh grade. A friend of mine, let's call him Johnny, said, 'You ever seen a joint? Let's go smoke it. Forget about your mommy and daddy, and school. Let's go have fun. Don't listen to them. All they want to do it keep it for themselves.'"
The students titter.
"Johnny and I graduated from high school. He continued with drugs, got caught selling to an undercover officer. Years passed and I was going to university, saw him in the hall. Said he was out on parole, had a wife and little girl. Johnny was saying the right things but he couldn't stand the pressure: the baby crying at night; the wife saying we got to have money to keep from getting kicked out of the house. He started selling drugs, but he kept the money."
And what happened next to Johnny?
"Fishermen found his body in an army duffel bag with his arms tied behind him," intones Trevino. "Somebody at the funeral said Johnny was always bad. I said, 'No, he wasn't.'" Johnny went bad, Trevino explains, when he started skipping school in the seventh grade. The moral is clear: truancy can start you on the slide to a watery grave.
Trevino has a wealth of such stories to draw on for his monologues, starting with his own classic immigrant's tale that, with variations, continues to be reenacted in the middle schools of his precinct. He was born Victoriano Trevino in 1951 in a river valley town, Pesqueria Chica, near Monterey in northern Mexico. His father came to Houston in the early fifties, and then arranged for legal papers for his wife and six children. The future constable arrived in Houston at age six.
Trevino grew up not far from his current constable office, around Palmer and Canal in the Second Ward area, attending Lubbock Elementary, Jackson Middle School and Austin High. As a teenager, the longhaired, sandal-wearing Trevino seemed an unlikely candidate to become a cop. His first love was fast cars, an affair he continues to maintain, currently with a black Mustang Cobra.
"I started thinking about law enforcement as a teenager," recalls Trevino. "I was always accused of being a dope dealer because I had a brand-new 1968 Camaro, 327. My dad made the down payment and I paid the notes. Worked my butt off and stayed in school. Had my little hot rod and just enjoyed myself."
He met his future wife Silvia in 1970, when both were working at a Weingarten's grocery; he was an 18-year-old meat cutter and she was a tenth-grader working the checkout. They married two years later and have three children.
Trevino completed high school in the summer of 1970 and applied at HPD's recruiting office. The first hurdle was a stopper -- police officers had to be a minimum 5 feet, 7 inches and Trevino lacked a quarter-inch. So it was back to meat cutting for another year, until the department lowered its height requirement to 5 feet, 6 inches for incoming officers. At that point Trevino applied again, but encountered a problem he had never really considered: he was still a citizen of Mexico and ineligible for policing. At the time, Trevino had a sister working in U.S. Representative Barbara Jordan's office and he began the process of seeking citizenship with a boost from that family connection. He became a U.S. citizen in 1976, then made a beeline for the police station.
"I took a cut in pay when I became a cop, but I didn't mind," Trevino says of his move from the butcher's department to 61 Riesner. "It was what I had always wanted to be, and I finally made it." But the rookie found himself in a department that would soon disgrace itself when a group of officers beat and threw a troublesome prisoner, Joe Campos Torres, into Buffalo Bayou, where his body was found a day later.
"It was terrible," says Trevino of those days inside HPD. "So much hate and confusion about the police role. I thought everybody knew what you became a cop for -- to help people, not to become arrogant and egotistical."
Back then, officers had an easy way to pad their arrest statistics, Trevino relates. "We used to go get felony arrests -- felony arrests! -- at the Grenada Theater at Jensen and Tidwell. That's where my senior partners would take me. We'd get all these wetbacks as they came out of the theater. 'Papel? Papel? Okay, get in [the squad car].' That's how you worked out your worksheet. You get 'em all at one time and you're through for the day and you go do nothing."
A stint in the jail division didn't help. "It was the same thing," says Trevino. "You'd put all the hold prisoners in one cell for Immigration, and they'd stay there, sometimes for months waiting to get picked up. How in the hell could these people stay in here without a hearing, without anything? Because Immigration was too busy, and we weren't going to let them go because Immigration had a hold on them. It felt like shit. That's what you'd become a part of."
Trevino emphasizes that was the bad part of HPD, but not the whole experience.
"You rode with those that were good cops, trying to make the community better. So it gave me a push. That's who you want to be like. Those other ones, you just shied away from."
Racial tensions inflamed by the Torres murder erupted the following year in the Moody Park Riot, in which protesters burned police cars and torched a shopping center across the street on Fulton. Anxious to get away from the oppressive atmosphere of the jail and HPD's northeast patrol network, Trevino volunteered as a community relations officer based at Wesley House on the East End. From then on, his main assignment was working with community organizations and the school system. He began speaking to youngsters whenever possible, carrying a pocket recorder and recording his presentations, then playing them back at night. "I'd listen to my voice, the words, the message. Caught myself doing a lot of lecturing at first. I started realizing that people like to hear stories if you have a message. And if it's your story, and not somebody else's, it's a lot better."
In the mid-1980s, Trevino's wife joined HPD, requiring some changes in the couple's lifestyle.
"That was the first time he had to take over," Silvia Trevino says of her husband's new role taking care of their seven, eight and ten-year-old children. "He was cooking, being there when the kids got home from school. There were some tense moments. I could tell when I came home from the academy that there had been problems. The kids were sitting at the dinner table crying. Daddy had gotten mad at them."
Trevino had already begun to channel his frustration with HPD into more constructive endeavors, helping found the Organization of Spanish Speaking Officers in the late '70s and then heading the group for five years. During that time he represented Hispanic officers in negotiations with Mayor Kathy Whitmire and her newly appointed police chief, Lee Brown. Brown's philosophy of neighborhood policing influenced Trevino, and his attitude toward the Whitmire-Brown team is very much at odds with the Anglo police union leadership that opposed them until Whitmire was defeated in 1991.
"If you've got police officers who don't like the mayor and don't like the chief, maybe that's because the mayor was female and the chief was black, two minorities running the fourth largest city in the country, making changes I think were long overdue, taking stands that nobody else would for the rights of people."
Trevino, as you might expect, has a personal story to tell about taking a stand for rights. That one goes back to his days at HPD and began one late night after he and his wife had gone to an eastside club, Lord Jim's, to celebrate her transfer from jail duty to patrol. An off-duty Clear Lake Shores officer was working security and began clearing the bar of drinks as the 2 a.m. closing time approached. The Trevinos were out of uniform, had just arrived and been served drinks, compliments of the owner.
According to the Trevinos, the officer demanded that the couple turn in their drinks, and, when Victor protested, jerked the drink from his hand. The liquid splattered the officer, and a profanity-laced conversation ensued, culminating with the officer clubbing Trevino with a flashlight.
"I've never been so humiliated," recalls Silvia Trevino. "Victor told one of them something, real brief, and I saw that officer getting his flashlight. And he walked out the door and came up with the flashlight and hit him. I got between them, screaming, and he said, 'Get away, bitch.' There was an HPD officer outside in a patrol car, and he recognized me because he worked the jail division with me..."
"...and stopped the other officers," says the constable, picking up the story line. "Otherwise, 12 stitches wouldn't have been nothing. I'd have had my head busted up."
Trevino says that in exchange for being released without charges, he signed a statement promising not to file a complaint against the officer who struck him. Later, after the officer lost the off-duty assignment at the club when HPD officers began regularly raiding the place, he complained to police internal affairs investigators that Trevino had instigated the raids. That charge was not substantiated, but Trevino did receive a reprimand for unprofessional conduct during the incident.
"So when I talk to people about protecting their rights," Trevino, says, getting to the point of his story, "it's not just philosophical. I've lived it."
After 12 years with HPD, Trevino was looking for advancement. The opportunity arose in 1988 when Precinct 6 Constable Raul Martinez made it known he wouldn't be running for re-election in 1988. At that time, the ruling heavyweight of Houston Hispanic politics was Councilman Ben Reyes, and he had helped maneuver a longtime aide, John Castillo, into the position of deputy chief constable under Martinez. Trevino had been preparing for the race for almost two years, informally building contacts with community groups and stockpiling campaign materials.
Supporting Trevino in his bid against Reyes' handpicked candidate Castillo was state Representative Al Luna and his campaign manager, Marc Campos. Reyes' forces retaliated against Luna by setting up retiring Constable Martinez to run against Luna for the state House. In an exceptionally nasty campaign marked by allegations of drug and alcohol abuse, burglaries of campaign offices and charges from both sides of dirty tricks, Luna easily beat Martinez while Trevino edged Castillo by less than 200 votes.
The alliance did not last long beyond the election. Campos says after his victory, Trevino quickly alienated key county officials whom he needed as allies on future budgetary issues. It's a pattern, Campos says, that continues to this day. He cites a recent legislative deal cut by state Senator Mario Gallegos on contract deputies which resulted in the allocation of additional patrol deputies for poor neighborhoods. Because of cool relations between Gallegos and Trevino, Campos says, the constable was cut out of getting any of those positions.
"I've helped a lot of people get into office and everyone has called for feedback, from [Bob] Lanier to Gallegos to [state Representative] Jessica Farrar," says Campos. "Trevino hasn't. Not even a 'thank you.'"
"Marc knows me," Trevino retorts. "Marc is the type of person who wants to have control and say, 'I want you to hire this guy and hire this guy'. And as long as you do that, like maybe the mayor did, it's okay. When it came to Victor and Victor didn't fall for those things, well, that's it."
Campos says Trevino's posturing masks a mercenary side and suggests the constable's only in it for his $74,199 annual salary.
"Fact of the matter is that Trevino is a constable for monetary reasons. All right? It pays him well. It's the best paying job he's ever had. So that's bullshit."
Trevino's marital partner in crimefighting is every bit a match for her husband in caustic assessments of some Hispanic politicians, particularly the group centered around Ben Reyes and his onetime adversary, Campos. "I think they would sell their souls to the devil if there's an opportunity for them," says Silvia Trevino. "I think that's what it is with all of them."
It's a weekday morning, and Constable Trevino and police officer Trevino are spending some down time nursemaiding their grandson, Thomas Jr. (Son Thomas and his girlfriend live in the garage apartment behind the Trevinos' house in the Eastwood neighborhood.) It's a relaxation day for the constable, who later will make an appearance for a Little League team he sponsors at Finnegan Park. Silvia Trevino will work a patrol shift in the afternoon.
Today's subject is the future, which both Trevinos see as holding more politics for the constable, on a larger scale -- when and if opportunity knocks. But neither plans to tailor the prospective candidate solely for wider acceptability. "More elected officials ought to be like Victor," says his wife. "I think most elected officials are more concerned about getting re-elected or moving on to another position, so they hesitate to take stands or be vocal, outspoken. They hold all that in because they're afraid they'll be looked upon as too vocal, too radical."
Trevino doesn't have that fear, and it may limit his political viability outside Precinct 6.
"I'm a people's candidate," he says, "and I'm going to continue to do that. I'm not going to be a candidate for a politician to have in his pocket. If it means you don't win, so be it."
Trevino's opportunities for advancement are limited at present. The only position on Commissioners Court a Mexican-American could conceivably win would be Jim Fonteno's Precinct 2, which encompasses conservative Anglo strongholds stretching from Pasadena southeast to Galveston Bay. Fonteno's seat will not be up for election until 1998.
Campos contends that Trevino has nowhere to go because he's failed to cultivate relationships with other Hispanic politicians in the county who he would need to help mount a campaign outside his home turf.
A county commissioner who says he initially tried to give Trevino advice, only to be drawn into arguments with the constable, agrees. "That's a hard district for a personality like that," the commissioner says of Trevino's chances in Fonteno's precinct. "Seven hundred thousand people, big block of labor, rednecks, Hispanics."
In any case, Trevino is in no hurry, and can spend years working on his volunteer deputy programs, cultivating deeper grassroots support and preparing for his re-election effort in 1996.
"If I was to run for another political position," he muses, "I don't want endorsements from politicians. I want the civic clubs, the PTAs, the Little Leagues, the senior citizens. The folks that I hope would come out. And I think they will, because we've worked with them."
And that may well be the moral of the Victor Trevino story.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Houston, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.