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2011-03-17

Deputy abandons toddler, attorney alleges

By Judith Pannebaker, BCC

By Judith Pannebaker
BCC Editorin yet another lawsuit.
At 8:30 pm, Friday, February 19, while on a training patrol with Deputy DJ Knowlin, Deputy Steven Christopher stopped Victoria Bryce Mangum, 29, on Highway 16 South for a non-functioning brake light. After running a routine check, Knowlin discovered she was driving with an invalid license. The deputies then arrested and handcuffed Mangum and carted her off to Bandera County Jail, where she was later charged with a Class C misdemeanor.
This scenario sounds like any other traffic stop, but for a one thing. According to Mangum, her 2-year-old daughter was in the backseat of the vehicle - asleep in her car seat - when Knowlin and Christopher took her to jail.
Child endangerment
Neither deputy allegedly heeded Mangum’s repeated pleas that her daughter could not be left alone in a vehicle parked along a major highway. According to both Mangum and her attorney, Adam C. Cortez of San Antonio, that night, Knowlin knowingly left the toddler alone in a parked vehicle on the side Highway 16.
In an interview on Friday, March 11, Cortez repeatedly deplored the deputy’s actions, which he described as “shocking.”
“I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that it was a legitimate stop, but motorists are no longer arrested for driving with an expired license. My client has no prior criminal history,” he said. “And to transport her to jail and leave her child along on the side of the road was not only asinine, but it’s a criminal offense, according to Chapter 22.041 of the Texas Criminal Code covering child endangerment.”
As Cortez explained, that evening, Mangum had had dinner with her mother, who lives in Bandera, and was returning to San Antonio when Christopher stopped her vehicle. After being arrested, Mangum called her mother to explain what had happened and request that she pick up her granddaughter. However, the deputy refused to wait at the scene until Mangum’s mother arrived. Her mother works as an emergency dispatcher for the BCSO.
‘Child left alone’
“As the deputy drove away, my client watched as long as she could until her car was out of sight. There was no other patrol car at the scene. The child was left alone in a dark car on the side of the road,” Cortez insisted.
He said that Mangum’s mother and brother, as well as Precinct 3 Constable Don Walters, a close family friend, arrived at the scene shortly after Deputy Kasey Young. It could not be determined when Young arrived, however.
“The little girl had spent several minutes alone. In fact, she was struggling to get out of her car seat when her uncle and grandmother walked up to the car,” Cortez said. “The windows were down. What if she had fallen out of the car? We’d be looking at a wrongful death lawsuit.”
He continued, “Deputy Young did not even check on the little girl. In fact, he never bothered to get out of his patrol vehicle to see if she was all right until Constable Walters arrived.”
“When asked by the girl’s grandmother, ‘How could you leave a child on the side of the road?’ Young replied, ‘We do this all night, every night’,” Cortez said. “What so you suppose he meant by that statement? Is this something that occurs routinely in Bandera County?”
CORTEZ went on to say that his client, while outraged by the deputy’s actions, wishes the incident had never happened. “She has no criminal history and certainly never expected to be at the center of this kind of controversy. However, everyone convinced her to pursue this so the same thing doesn’t happen to another mother.”
County apprised
Cortez has already apprised County Judge Richard Evans, County Attorney John Payne and Chief Deputy Richard Smith of the incident - and Mangum’s intentions.
In a letter, Cortez asked Payne to look into Knowlin’s action or to recuse himself and appoint an independent investigator. “I believe that Mr. Payne is an honorable man, but if he fails to act, we have the option of filing a complaint and asking the Office of the Attorney General to investigate. There is a three-year statute of limitations on this.”
Cortez continued, “What that deputy did was a criminal act in every state in this country. If a parent had abandoned a child on the side of the road, they would have been arrested immediately. It’s my opinion that Knowlin should no longer be a law enforcement officer.”
Smith apparently informed Cortez that Knowlin would not be disciplined because of his alleged appalling decision. “According to Smith, the sheriff’s office has no written policy covering this kind of thing. However, I was assured, ‘Now, by golly, we’re going to have one’,” Cortez said.
In an interview, Smith said he could not comment on certain facts of the case due to pending litigation.
According to Payne, an investigation into the matter continues.
Political infighting?
Cortez also shared an off-the-record remark that Knowlin had ostensibly made to KSAT reporter Jennifer Dodd after being asked about his seeming haste to transport Mangum to the jail.
Cortez said that Knowlin had told Dodd that once aware Walters was en route to the stop, he wanted to transport Mangum prior to the constable’s arrival to forestall any jurisdictional problems with Walters and the arrest. “To abandon a child because of political infighting is just ludicrous,” Cortez said.
The attorney also took exception to what he claimed Knowlin told his client as she was being handcuffed. “The deputy said to my client, ‘If I ever catch you driving in this area again, I will arrest you, impound your car and call CPS (Child Protective Services) to take your child’,” Cortez said.
Through an open records request, the Bandera County Courier has requested a copy of the video recorded by a dash cam in Knowlin and Christopher’s patrol vehicle. However, according to Cortez, a dash cam installed in Young’s patrol pickup truck was not operational at the time of the incident.
Despite Knowlin’s alleged insistence that Mangum would spend a night in jail, shortly after her arrival, Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace Eino Zapata magistrated Mangum and she was released on a $500 personal recognizance bond.