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2012-02-02

2011- Top cops popped & dropped, Part IV

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

(Editor's note: Now comes the autumnal months when things really heated up in the city - culminating in the second part of our headline.

September
• The short version of a Labor Day fracas at Medina Lake was: "There was an incident and we handled it." The longer version was more complicated - and colorful.

An eyewitness account put the first incident at 6:25 pm, Monday, Sept. 5, when county park rangers informed emergency dispatch that two motorists at the Medina Lake County Park were apparently "too drunk to drive."

Before the incident ended, a deputy at the scene had been knocked down and dragged by a car, more than one physical altercation had broken out and an allegedly inebriated motorist had crashed into a huge fossil rock, beloved of Precinct 2 Commissioner Bobby Harris.

In the thick of things at the Medina Lake County Park were two troopers with the Texas Department of Public Safety troopers, two Texas Parks & Wildlife game wardens, four deputies, Precinct 2 Constable Ernie Reich, three county park rangers, EMS units and perhaps even firefighters and a tanker truck.

(How's that for celebrating the end of the summer?)

• By a vote of 2-3, Bandera City Council failed to place police department personnel on paid administrative leave pending an investigation of alleged criminal activity.

With just two hours notice, an emergency city council meeting was called Wednesday, Sept. 7, to deal with allegations that members of the police force were recording conversations in the municipal building, including executive city council sessions.

The latest in a series of eruptions occurred when, on the advice of counsel, Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Schumacher and a computer tech attempted to make a copy of the police department's hard drive. At that time, Lt. Neil McLean, later supported by Chief Jim Eigner, told Schumacher the police "tape everything that goes on in this building."

During the subsequent emergency meeting, both McLean and Eigner denied her accusation and attempted to browbeat and interrogate Schumacher. Municipal attorney Monte Akers, however, put a stop to their third degree.

In the end, however, only Schumacher and Councilman Binky Archer voted in favor of placing the police force on administrative leave with pay; Councilmen Nancy Montgomery, John Hegemier and Brandi Morgan cast "nay" votes.

(But wait, there's more!)

• And, the drought continued ...

• The City of Bandera formalized a settlement for an undisclosed amount with Police Officer Mario Hernandez during a special council meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 13.

The settlement precludes Hernandez from filing additional EEOC and "whistle-blower" lawsuits against the city. However, litigation remains pending against Bandera County.

In a carefully choreographed sequence of events, Hernandez signed the settlement then tendered an oral and written resignation from the Bandera Police Department. Council accepted his resignation unanimously.

• Monday, Sept. 19, might hereafter be known as "The Day the Courthouse Ceiling Fell." The first inkling that something might be awry came when bailiff Grady Newton called emergency dispatch and announced that although a portion of a ceiling had fallen in, nobody had been hurt so EMS did not need to be dispatched to the scene.

Judge Richard Evans quickly explained that what had come crashing down that morning was not the courthouse's actual structural ceiling, but rather a drop ceiling installed in 1967.

"We had high wind and rain come through," he recalled. "I think the wires must have been loose and a high wind gust came through where a small portion of the original ceiling had been removed."

Or, as Commissioner Bobby Harris put it, "That must have been one helluva downdraft!"

• Bandera City Council voted 3-2 to reduce the police department by three positions during a special meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 28. The move was deemed necessary to ensure funding for the municipality's much-needed capital improvements. Gone would be Chief Jim Eigner, Lt. Neil McLean and Patrolman Kendall Wells.

To accommodate the expected large crowd, the special session took place in the Bandera Volunteer Fire Department.

As expected, many "citizens to be heard" described council as "stupid" and "ignorant." Also came the expected personal attacks on Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Schumacher and Councilman John Hegemier.

Speaking vociferously against the reduction in force were former Mayor Denise Griffin and former Councilman Lynn Palmer.

By a second 3-2 decision, with Councilmen Nancy Montgomery and Brandi Morgan voting against the motion, council approved a severance package of two weeks pay plus vacation time for the three officers.

Previously, PD Sgt. Jim Brantley had indicated he would accept the interim position as administrator of the reduced-man police department - a position that could presumably morph into a city marshal position.

However, when officially offered the job by Mayor Horst Pallaske on Sept. 28, Brantley answered, "No," and left the meeting to a round of applause.

The day after the meeting, however, he belatedly informed city personnel that he "may have made bad decision" by turning down the offer.

(Ya think, Jim?)

• After a public hearing and vote on the budget and tax rate held Friday, Sept. 30 - the last day of fiscal year 2010-2011 - Eigner, McLean and Wells turned in their equipment and badges to Mayor Horst Pallaske and Public Works Director Mike Cardenas - albeit just before the locks on the police station were changed. Deputies with the Bandera County Sheriff's Office immediately sealed the evidence locker.

(However, there's no truth to the rumor that local locksmith Doug King is on a retainer with the city.)

October

• When BCSO deputies stopped a motorist who had allegedly been implicated in the burglary of a house, they also recovered two portable police radios - belonging to the City of Bandera - valued at $1,500 each.

Melissa Rockwell, 41, was arrested and later indicted for felony burglary of a habitation. According to Chief Deputy Smith, after her arrest, Rockwell blurted out that her mother had given her the radios.

Rockwell is the daughter of city employee Pam Scharmen, who worked for both municipal court and the police department. Subsequently, Scharmen was suspended with pay from her city duties.

• The former Bandera County Jail, located behind the courthouse at the corner of 12th and Pecan streets, was demolished. Estimated to cost approximately $40,000, the work by Friesenhahn Demolition of San Antonio began Friday, Oct. 7, and took several weeks to complete. According to Precinct 4 Commissioner Doug King, plans for the area include a landscaped green space that will open up the back of the courthouse.

(Nothing left now but jailhouse rocks!)

• On Thursday, Oct 20, Bandera City Council appointed Public Works Director Mike Cardenas to serve as city administrator through June 2012.

He will also continue as public works director.

For his part, Cardenas said a limited contract would be a help to everyone involved. "I'd like to continue with both positions for a year and then decide if I and council are both happy," he said.

• Pam Scharmen was terminated from employment with the City of Bandera on Thursday, Oct. 27. Her dismissal came in the wake of continued investigations into police radios purportedly purloined from the City of Bandera.

• Traditionally, the Professional Bull Riders hold the Built Ford Tough World Finals in Las Vegas the last week in October. This time, a bull from the pen of local stock contractor JD Nix, owner of JD Nix Rodeo Company, was there.

Shortly after Celebrate Bandera's two-evening National Professional Bull Rider's Challenge - described as the "Hottest 8 Seconds of the Year." -

Nix received word that Prator's Pride would make the haul to Vegas.

(What happened in Vegas, stayed in Vegas!)