411th DISTICT JUDGE’S OFFICE POLK COUNTY
DISTRICT JUDGE REVERSES POSITION ON OPEN RECORDS
In a surprising reversal, 411th District Judge, Kaycee Jones has changed her original response to The Sentinel request to review “a sizeable cross section” the warrants issued and sworn probable cause affidavits related to the gambling raid, planned and executed by SJC Sheriff Greg Capers a couple of months ago. It was a raid with over 150 warrants issued. Immediately after the raid, allegations of improper actions on behalf of the Judge and law enforcement began to surface from multiple sources. Allegations of ‘fill in the blank’ warrants that were signed by the judge but the names left blank for LEO’s to fill out on the spot, a lack of probable cause affidavits on some arrests and time expired search warrants being served out of our county by our SJC Department were just a few of the allegations made by people directly involved in the process. The Sentinel’s knowledge that one defendant named on an arrest warrant as owner/operator of a game room, and charged as such, was no partner or owner in the business but worked as security only spurred our willingness to look into the matter. When subsequent asset seizure paperwork filed in the District Clerk’s office pertaining to that game room states plainly in the informant’s affidavit, a filed public record, that the person in question only worked security and further, plainly named the two actual owners/operators, The Sentinel felt compelled to pursue the questions raised. None of the persons making the various allegations were willing to come forward publically or produce documents out of fear or attorney advice but continued to insist on the unconstitutional actions of the judge and SJC Sheriff’s Department under condition of anonymity. In pursuit of the truth, The Sentinel began requesting opportunity to review those documents to determine if there was any validity to the allegations made. That effort was met by staunch refusals from both the District Judge’s office, originator of the warrants, and the Sheriff’s department, originator of the required probable cause affidavits. Judge Jones’ response was that it was information that her office “could not provide”. An official Open Records request sent to the SJC Sheriff’s Department PIO Joe Shultea, was answered with a written assurance that they were the, “wrong agency” to seek the documents from. When The Sentinel made an attempt to make a personal visit to Judge Jones’ office last week to no avail, we received an email soon afterward assuring us that the documents would be made available for our perusal. That appointment was met and 30 of the Search Warrants issued and served were made available to The Sentinel. There were no arrest warrants included. All the search warrant copies presented appeared to be in order and fully compliant with the laws regarding issuance and execution of such. It was true that the records were judicially sealed on a motion from our prosecutor to keep them under wraps for 30 days. A small portion of original search warrants written had not been executed. A few had been reissued and executed. It was only after reviewing these documents that The Sentinel had a clear picture of the breadth and extent of the game room operations in San Jacinto County. In researching the roots of some of the owners that made claims of wrong doing by the judiciary and sheriff’s department, The Sentinel found much more than local, ‘mom and pop’ operations going on. Some appeared to have connections to organizations that are known for illegal gambling operations. Multiple foreigners were arrested and had assets seized. At least one has taken flight to his native India after getting out on bond, according to Sentinel sources. In a prior research effort at our District Clerk’s office, The Sentinel did look over all of the seizure documents filed by our prosecutor within the legal deadline. In noting that there were items seized that were not listed in the seizure paperwork he filed, DA Trapp differentiated between asset forfeiture and evidence seizure in his response to The Sentinel Inquiry. Those evidence items not listed in the seizure documents were listed on the inventory sheets filed with the search warrants. With only the arrest warrants left to peruse, The Sentinel did not want to delay the story any further without stating that so far, all things appear to be decent and in order with the gambling raid documents. The arrest warrants and their supporting probable cause affidavits are and have been the main focus and hereto elusive target of our investigation. It remains to be seen if they will be made available to The Sentinel in a timely manner. The Sentinel has determined from the documents filed that the undercover agent did properly identify the two owners of the specific game room in question, as well as who was only working security for the establishment as an employee. One of the known owners, although available to it, was never arrested. Her ownership and operation was never in question in the affidavit but she remains personally unscathed for her participation and the security guard, it appears, has been charged as owner, in her place. Although not even present at the time of the raid, the security guard turned himself in on hearing he did have a misdemeanor warrant through a Sentinel inquiry of SJC Sheriff’s Department. When the subject presented himself to the jail as agreed, it was then he learned that he had been charged as an owner/operator with a felony charges and not just the lessor single charge as stated by Chief Joe Shultea to The Sentinel. So those questions remain and as always, the truth demands scrutiny. Look for an update as this story progresses.
“Press freedom also has its limits,” he added darkly, suggesting journalists should be able to “feel what you are allowed to do, what you need to do” and not shine a light on politicians’ personal issues.
Prosecutors re examine evidence
""The ordinance isn't the only problem," Briscoe said. "The problem is an out-of-control police department."
Publisher - Stephen C. Watson
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