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2012-02-09

2011- Top cops popped & dropped, Part V

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

(Editor's note: Reminiscent of Shakespeare's Henry V, the 2011 Wrap seems just as long, but hopefully - for some at least - equally as entertaining. Anyway, we've now made it to "the winter of our discontent." Oh, I'm sorry, that quote was from Richard III. Anyway, 2011 is now officially fini!)

November
• Bandera County Commissioners unanimously appointed Sam Womble as Bandera County Extension Agent-Agriculture & Natural Resources to take the place of retired Extension Agent Warren Thigpen.

• To protect the municipality's water supply, Bandera City Council hired a geologist to represent their interests during a Monday, Nov. 7, Kerrville hearing of the Texas Water Development Board.

During the hearing, Bandera's Flying L Guest Ranch challenged a decision by Groundwater Management Area 9 not to exceed a 30-foot drawdown of the Lower Trinity Aquifer as mandated by the Desire Future Condition (DFC).

The DFC process is designed to project groundwater pumping through 2060.

Personnel with Flying L Ranch have requested to pump 2,096 acre-feet annual for a total of 682,983,696 gallons of water per year, according to city officials. "This is more than six times what the ranch pumps now each year," noted Councilman John Hegemier.

The city did not support the Flying L petition because increased pumpage would affect the city's ability to provide water service to its consumers, according to City Administrator Mike Cardenas. "Specifically, cones of depression caused by city and Flying L pumping would start to intersect and cause problems," he said.

Texas Water Development Board will announce their decision in February.

• Administrators with the City of Bandera reported that on Monday, Nov. 14, IT expert Nathan Hay discovered an attempt to hack into the police department computer system. The attack originated from a computer in the Bandera Fire Department. Because Hay had earlier installed a more secure firewall, the attempted hacking proved unsuccessful.

After being apprised of the attempted illegal activity, a veteran law enforcement officer said, "The city needs to set ground rules right now.

This is an example of serious criminal activity. The city, its administrator and elected officials need to make up their minds if want to become professional about this illegal activity."

• As one of his last acts as a city employee, former Bandera Police Chief Jim Eigner allegedly violated a settlement agreement hammered out among attorneys representing former Officer Mario Hernandez and the City of Bandera.

After signing the agreement in September, Hernandez received a $20,000 monetary remuneration and a general discharge on his F-5 separation document submitted to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education (TCLEOSE).

However, unknown to city administrators, Hernandez and the various attorneys, Eigner - or someone at his behest - sent an electronic submission to TCLEOSE that changed Hernandez's separation to a dishonorable discharge.

During the mediation process, Eigner had verbally agreed to Hernandez's general discharge.

Hernandez's attorney Thomas Crane called Eigner's actions against his client "egregious" and "vindictive."
For his part, Hernandez filed a complaint against Eigner with 216th District Attorney Bruce Curry for falsification of a government document, a violation of Section 37.10 of the Texas Criminal Code.

This brought in investigators with the Office of the Attorney General.

• Officer Jim Brantley resigned from the Bandera Police Department Wednesday, Nov. 30. According to reports, Brantley was apparently unable to muster sufficient support from members of city council in his bid to be appointed city marshal - a position he had declined to take earlier.

December

• Bandera County Commissioners attempts to opt out of the controversial Southern Edwards Plateau Habitat Conservation Plan (SEP-HCP) have finally struck a nerve. Advancement of the SEP-HCP by Bexar County and the City of San Antonio would ensure continued development in those areas.

Acting Regional Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service of the United States Department of the Interior Joy E. Niholokonlor responded to a letter sent by Judge Richard Evans in July. She assured Evans that the next draft of the HCP would only cover the incidental take of endangered species in those counties requesting coverage - of which Bandera is not one.

The SEP-HCP seeks to earmark acreage in the Hill Country as habitat for endangered birds. As set forth in the proposal, for every acre of development in Bexar County and San Antonio, three acres of conservation habitat would need to be set aside in Bandera, Blanco, Kendall, Kerr and Medina counties.

• In March and August, a Bandera County Grand Jury Michael indicted Paul Odom of Lakehills for sexual assault and for aggravated sexual assault. The alleged molestation against a child and teenager had reportedly occurred in 2001.

Knowing it would be difficult to prove his case after so much time had lapsed, Sgt. Jose Barreto of the BCSO Criminal Investigation Division had painstakingly unearthed and subpoenaed a series of similar complaints against Odom during the past decade. Neither case saw the inside of a courtroom, however, because 216th District Attorney Bruce Curry dismissed all charges against Odom.

Later, ADA Steven Wadsworth sent a disingenuous email explaining the decision to the grandmother to one of the purported victims.

Wadsworth wrote: "The charge will be re-presented to the grand jury in the next couple of months. The reason for the dismissal is that this case was already presented to a grand jury in 2003, more evidence was presented then and that grand jury no-billed it.

"Our policy is that we do not represent grand jury cases unless there is new evidence and there was none in this case. Since the (second) grand jury did not have all of the evidence, we dismissed the case and will re-present it with all evidence being before this new grand jury."

As a veteran prosecutor noted: "Unless there are mitigating circumstances of which I am unaware, the decision to drop the charges and re-present them later makes no sense.

Usually, once you secure an indictment, you build your case from there. You don't dismiss an indictment and look for more evidence to present to another grand jury at a later date."

"I am very disappointed that DA Curry dropped these charges without a viable explanation," Barreto added, "This sends a bad message."

• John Lavota, a former resident of the City of Bandera, was convicted in federal court of possessing and distributing child pornography.
After federal agents instituted an evidentiary search warrant at Lavota's residence on Galveston Street last January, the 59-year-old white male readily admitted to possessing, distributing and selling child pornography. He eventually pleaded guilty to possessing more than 100,000 images and over 700 videos of prepubescent children or young adolescents engaged in sexual acts.

His sentencing is set for March 14; Lavota faces up to 30 years in prison.

When appraised of Lavota's convictions, Chief Deputy Richards Smith expressed gratitude to the federal court system. "It's nice to know some judges and prosecutors take crimes against children seriously," he said.