The Harris County Precinct 6 Constable's Office has made the first arrests for curfew violations — with two of the men caught violating curfew outside their own home, the most recent court filings show. The curfew from midnight to 5 a.m. has been in effect since Wednesday night and will continue until further notice.
Deputy Chief Lillian Lorenzo said Sergeant Alfredo Soto was patrolling a neighborhood in Second Ward around 3 a.m. when he noticed a car stopped outside a residence; two men were inside the car and one was standing near it, Lorenzo said. Lorenzo said Soto found it suspicious that the man standing outside the car started to back away when Soto approached, so Soto decided to stop the men and question them. He then arrested them for violating curfew. While they were cuffed, Lorenzo said, Soto found cocaine on one of the men and a firearm in the vicinity.
One of the men who lived at the residence has been charged with possession of less than a gram of cocaine (no charges for violation of curfew appear for him online). Since authorities couldn't prove the gun belonged to any of the men, no charges were filed in relation to it. The two other men, one of whom also lived at the residence, were charged with violating curfew while an emergency plan is in effect — a Class B misdemeanor.
The man who didn't live in the Second Ward neighborhood has a listed address just two miles, or eight minutes, away from the location of the offense.
Asked whether people in front of their own homes may be subject to arrest, Lorenzo said they are technically in violation but discretion will be used.
"If you're outside hanging out — like I said, two of them were in the vehicle; I don't know if they were coming or going to a location. People shouldn't be taking out the trash that late," she said, giving an example of un-suspicious activity. "Definitely there was obviously something suspicious going on that caught the officer's eye [last night], and the fact that one was walking off when he saw the officer approach gave the officer a reason to stop and identify the individuals."
Here's the kicker: Bond has been set at $500 for the two who violated curfew. They have not made bond, and their arraignment before a magistrate is not until September 7. Tropical Storm Harvey caused flooding at the downtown court building, and so courts are currently closed.
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A June court order requires Harris County to release all misdemeanor defendants within 24 hours of arrest if they cannot make bond, and it appears from various other court filings that in many instances the Houston Press examined this had not been happening, presumably thanks to Harvey. (The Press has inquired with various agencies about how Harvey is affecting the pretrial release process and will update this story when we hear back.) Update, 2:37 p.m.: Major Gregory Summerlin of the Harris County Sheriff's Office said that Commerce Street near the jail was so flooded during Harvey that some inmates could not be released within 24 hours due to the hazard. However, he said the sheriff's office continues to release all people arrested for misdemeanors within 24 hours, following the court order, now that it's safe.
In other Harvey-related arrests, 41 people have been arrested for looting and charged with burglary of a building, a felony. Houston Police Department spokesman John Cannon said the vast majority, if not all, are at businesses rather than residences. As the Houston Chronicle reported yesterday, the Walgreens on 5300 North Braeswood Boulevard was looted by burglars in search of cigarettes and cash, and a Fiesta Mart at Interstate 10 near Loop 610 had an estimated 20 burglars break in to steal cellphones and cash.
The Harris County District Attorney's Office said it is enhancing penalties for those who commit crimes while the region remains in a state of emergency. People who break into homes could face five years to life in prison.
“Anyone who tries to take advantage of this storm to break into homes or businesses should know that they are going to feel the full weight of the law,” she said.