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2011-01-27

Tucker trial date set, defense dealt blows

By Judith Pannebaker BCC

The criminal trial of Bandera County Sheriff Weldon Tucker has been set for 9 am, Monday, April 4, at the 216th District Court on Highway 173 North.
During a pre-trial hearing on Thursday, Jan. 20, Judge Stephen Ables dealt Tucker’s defense attorney Charles Grigson two decisive blows. He denied Grigson’s motion to quash the indictment of abuse of official capacity that a Bandera County Grand Jury returned against Tucker last June. The indictment stemmed from Tucker's management of a rescue boat that bail bondsman Albert Saenz had donated to Bandera County.
Ables also ruled that Special Prosecutor David Glickler would be allowed to introduce into evidence a voluntary statement Tucker had made to investigators with the office of the Texas Attorney General in May. Grigson had attempted to suppress the statement.
In his argument to quash the indictment, Grigson focused on four questions - the benefit Tucker obtained; Tucker’s purported misuse of the property; the value of the use of the property; and the days that the improper activity allegedly occurred.
The indictment valued Tucker’s alleged use of the county rescue boat from $1,500 to $20,000 and covered a time period of Sept. 27, 2007, to Sept. 30, 2009.
“We’re just asking for clarity. What crime was committed over a time period of two years?” Grigson asked the court. “[The prosecutor] knows the exact date of the Choke Canyon incident. They should put it on the indictment. If there are two or three other incidents, they should put those on there, too.”
He also queried how the prosecution had determined the value of the supposed use of the boat.
In his rebuttal, Glickler noted that Tucker had already admitted to taking the rescue boat out of Bandera County. “Mr. Tucker kept the vehicle on his private property in clear violation of his department’s policy manual,” Glickler said. “As a public servant, he took an oath to uphold the law. If he violates that oath, it’s construed as misuse of property.”
Regarding the date range, Glickler said the dates encompassed the time when the commissioners had officially accepted the boat on behalf of Bandera County until it was removed from Tucker’s property. “During that time, it was used for his benefit and not for that of the sheriff’s office,” Glickler said. “Mr. Tucker kept the boat for two years on landlocked property to be used by him outside this county. That is the offense. The offense wasn’t completed until the boat had been returned to Bandera County.”
Addressing the value of the property, Glickler said the monetary assessment had been reached by determining the actual cost of a comparable boat, which he said was $17,000, to the cost of renting a boat for a weekend in excess of $1,500. “The jury will ultimately have to decide the true amount,” Glickler said.
After hearing the counter-argument, Ables denied Grigson’s motion to quash his client’s indictment.
Attempting to forestall the voluntary statement Tucker made to Texas Attorney General's office investigators from being used as evidence in the criminal trial, Grigson evoked the “taint fair” argument. During the interview, Grigson said investigators had failed to tell the sheriff he was being recorded and videotaped; that he had the right to consult with his attorney; or that he could have terminated the interview at any time. “There was no sense of fairness; Sheriff Tucker just wanted to tell his story. No one told him. ‘We’re going to use this against you’,” Grigson maintained.
For his part, Glickler noted that Tucker’s statement had been completely voluntary.
Sgt. Robyn Wilson, an investigator with the AG’s office, testified that Tucker had requested to speak with AG investigators “before the case went to the grand jury.” She added, “Sheriff Tucker was aware he was the target of the investigation prior to the meeting.”
Wilson also noted that since the meeting was not a “custodial” interview, Tucker had not been given a Miranda warning.
“He was not under arrest and was free to leave and terminate the interview at any time,” she said. “Was it ‘fair?’ I can’t answer that, but Sheriff Tucker has more law enforcement experience than I do. He was fully aware of his rights as an individual and as a law enforcement officer.”
“In the very first statement of the transcript of Mr. Tucker’s interview, Chief Investigator Harry White asked him, ‘What are you hoping to gain out of this’?” Glickler said. “Mr. Tucker replied, ‘I know this is going to the grand jury. I’ve already spoken to Ernie (Lobello, investigator with the 216 Judicial District) and the county attorney’.”
Glickler continued, “This conversation was instigated by the sheriff. If anything wasn’t fair, it was that the sheriff attempted to use investigators to tamp this down and make it go away. I argue that this was not fair (behavior) by a law enforcement officer who knew what he was doing.”
Judge Ables denied Grigson’s motion to suppress his client’s voluntary statement and set the trial date.
Tucker had no comment on Ables’ decision.