If there is one undisputed fact in the wrongful arrest civil suit that two Harris County Sheriff's Office deputies have filed against the Harris County Precinct 1 Constable's office, it's that Deputy Kevin Meyer had a pretty crappy wedding. It ended with him in jail after being arrested for interfering with a public servant — who just so happened to be a deputy constable hired to keep the peace at his wedding reception.
The case is headed to trial this year — and Precinct 1 is going to have to defend itself against allegations that it doesn't properly discipline deputies for lying, doesn't properly train them in the first place, and that all this leads to repeated false arrests. “They've got a mountain to climb on that,” said Senior Assistant County Attorney Fred Keys. “That there was a persistent, pervasive practice of [deputies] going around and arresting people without probable cause — they have zero evidence of that. They're basing their whole case on what happened in this one incident, and that won't fly.”
On the night that Meyer got hitched to his high school sweetheart, back in September 2012, plenty of people got sufficiently drunk, and the venue, SPJST Hall in the Heights, decided to shut down the party. The groom's father, Robert Meyer, was the first to make a ruckus about it. He allegedly pushed Deputy Cindia Torres while demanding that the bar be reopened, and Torres moved to arrest him. Seeing his father in trouble, the groom rushed over and grabbed Torres's hand, telling her that he was a licensed officer and wondering what was going on. He was arrested for interference.
Meanwhile, Meyer's buddy, Christopher Lock, another sheriff's deputy, also came on over, and Torres told him to leave. When he didn't, she then added, “Get the fuck out.” But Lock continued to roam the premises, and after spotting Sgt. Charles McQueen roll up in his marked car, went to complain to him about what had happened. According to Keys, McQueen told Lock to go complain to a different supervisor instead (one who had also just arrived at the scene), and, Keys said, Lock may have wrongly interpreted this as permission to go back to the dance hall. Once he did, Torres arrested him for criminal trespassing. During an Internal Affairs Division investigation, an investigator found that this arrest was unnecessary, even saying that the deputies working the wedding knew it was a “joyful affair” and that they should have had better tolerance of drunk people.
While the county attorney's office has said that this arrest was the “ultimate isolated incident,” Hassan and Desmond say otherwise: They discovered that Torres had been disciplined for a wrongful arrest in 2005 — which originated in a traffic stop.
This time, Torres arrested the person she pulled over, believing that he had a traffic warrant out for him. Except he didn't. He only had the same last name and birth date as a different guy wanted on traffic violations. Somehow, neither Torres nor the person she called to affirm the warrant noticed her error. At least not until she booked the poor guy into the Harris County Jail — and at that point, she simply began searching for out-of-state warrants on him to justify his incarceration. When she couldn't find any, she was successful in keeping him behind bars by taking his original traffic ticket and filing an “instanter arrest.” (When this happens, the officer strikes through your “promise to appear in court” in order to keep you in jail so that he or she knows you will appear; it's like being held without bail for a traffic ticket, which the Journal of Texas Municipal Courts described as both illegal and “criminal justice folklore.” Apparently not for Torres.)
Torres was suspended for one day.
Keys said that this incident doesn't concern the defense team. For one, it was several years before the wedding. Second, Keys said, it doesn't convey any persistent "pattern" of wrongful arrests that would support the plaintiffs' claim that deputies have been consistently allowed to cover them up.
If the case stays narrow and focused as Keys would like it to — on this one (allegedly) isolated incident — then it appears that much of the case will hinge on whether or not the jury believes Lock had permission to return to the premises, and whether Torres knew he did. (Lock's attorneys assert that she knew.) Keys, however, says that Torres had already decided to arrest Lock when he refused to leave the first time, but couldn't get around to it right away because “her hands were full.” Therefore, Keys said, she had ample probable cause.
Regardless, Keys believes it will come down to the jury using common sense: “Most jurors will understand that, when somebody tells you to get the fuck out of here, that means they want you to leave,” he said, “and if you stay, you'll probably be guilty of trespassing.”
Keys and the county attorney's office claim that, while officers who were present say they probably would have “handled this differently,” all this lawsuit comes down to is just a couple of deputies out for revenge, believing they were somehow “entitled,” mad that Torres violated some unspoken “code” preventing her from arresting fellow men in blue, and that they're simply upset about a spoiled wedding.
By the end of the day, the county attorney's office is expected to argue, for the second time, why they believe the case should be thrown out.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.