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2011-04-14

BCSO - 'protect & serve' or 'pissin' off public?'

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

The creed of most law enforcement officers is "protect and serve." By his own public admission, however, a Bandera County Sheriff's Office deputy adheres to an entirely different doctrine.
While working on a follow-up article about a toddler allegedly abandoned on the side of Highway 16 South on Feb. 19, the Courier discovered Deputy Steven Christopher's Facebook page. Under his law enforcement experience with the City of Bandera Police Department and the first time round as a BCSO deputy, Christopher had also posted an assessment of "pissin' off the public." Alternatively, he noted, "pissin' off inmates" as part of his work experience with the Galveston County Sheriff's Office.
Christopher, along with Deputies KC Knowlin and Kasey Young, is embroiled in an arrest incident involving Victoria Bryce Mangum and her 2-year-old daughter.
Mangum contends that when she was carted off to jail after being arrested for possessing an invalid driver's license, her daughter was left alone in the backseat of her vehicle parked on the side of Highway 16 S. Meanwhile, BCSO contends that Young had arrived on the scene prior to Knowlin and Christopher transporting Mangum to jail.
In an interview, Mangum's attorney, Adam C. Cortez of San Antonio, said he had received numerous emails relating similar incidents that had occurred with BCSO deputies and Bandera County residents. "After 20 years as an attorney, I thought I'd seen it all, but I've never seen anything like this," he said. "Everyone was careful to say that the problem was specific to the sheriff's office. It was the common thread that ran through the emails and calls."
Cortez continued, "Most people related their prior bad experiences with deputies with the sheriff's office. Most had felt bullied. They feared rather than felt protected by law enforcement in Bandera County."
After briefly discussing Christopher's termination from the Bandera Police Department, Cortez talked about the deputy's reckless postings on his Facebook page. Later, the Courier independently confirmed the attorney's contention.
"I think disciplinary action is in order for Deputy Christopher. In fact, he should be terminated," Cortez said. "No law enforcement agency should allow one of their officers to post anything like 'pissin' off the public' on his Facebook page. I've never seen anything so unprofessional."
He also said he has since been informed that it was Christopher, rather that Knowlin, who had allegedly said to his 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'."
For his part, Chief Deputy Richard Smith indicated that he felt Christopher's postings had not violated any BCSO personnel policy. He wouldn't speculate about any possible punishment of the deputy for his unprofessional conduct.
Additionally, Cortez has obtained a copy of a videotape recorded by a dash cam on Feb. 19 from the patrol vehicle of Knowlin and Christopher. It was shown during a KENS-5 newscast. "I watched it carefully and I could not see a broken brake light on my client's car," he said. According to Cortez, after her release from Bandera County Jail, Mangum had taken her car to a garage and the mechanic checking her vehicle had also found nothing wrong with the brake light.
Originally, BCSO personnel had told the attorney that the dash cam in the patrol vehicle driven by Deputy Young had been broken and was unable to record what transpired after his arrival at the scene.
"So, I asked for a copy of the repair record of the video recorder," Cortez said. "I wasn't trying to be smart. I had no reason to believe the video recorder wasn't broken." Rather than receive the requested repair record, he was given another explanation. "Now the story is that Deputy Young had forgotten to turn on his video camera."
After speaking with County Attorney John Payne earlier in the week, Cortez said his complaint and intent to sue Bandera County had been turned over to the county's insurance carrier with the Texas Association of Counties. "Bandera County has been assigned a law firm from Austin to this case," he said. However, it wasn't Allison Bass & Associates, LLP, the law firm that represented the county in its most recent litigation.
Former Deputy Scott Sharp had filed a civil whistleblower lawsuit in federal court against Bandera County and Sheriff Weldon Tucker. Recently, according to both parties, the litigation was settled "amicably" at the order of the county's insurance carrier. Sharp reportedly received a substantial six-figure settlement.
"The sheriff's office will never admit their officers did anything wrong," Cortez said. "We'll just have to see this through. My client's little girl has until she turns 18 years old to file a lawsuit on her own behalf."
After learning about Christopher's ill-advised Facebook postings, one local wag commented, "Protect and serve? Nobody believes law enforcement officers actually protect and serve the citizens of this county. That's just something that comes pre-printed on patrol vehicles."

Pictured: Deputy Steven Christopher's former Facebook page.