Tuesday, July 19, 2011

After all, how many Steven Rodriguez's could there be?

Thanks to a helpful reader for pointing out yet another "innocence" story, this time out of DeWitt County, that luckily didn't end up requiring years in prison or a grant of habeas relief to sort out ("Victoria man arrested by mistake; charges dropped," Victoria Advocate, July 15). The wrong Steven Rodriguez was arrested in front of his wife and four year old son for drug trafficking based on a warrant approved by a local Justice of the Peace. He was taken to jail and required to post bail (including $5,000 non-refundable to the bail bondsman) then lost his job after his name and his picture was disseminated to the media. It was three weeks before authorities figured out they'd picked up the wrong guy. Reported the Advocate's Sonny Long:
[Rodriguez's attorney George Filley III] said in a telephone conversation with DeWitt County Sheriff Jode Zavesky, the sheriff acknowledged that the investigation and arrest was an error and expressed regrets over the matter.

"The whole problem is Steven's drivers license was used to identify him, and that photo released to the news media," Filley said. "How in the world did that happen?"

Filley, who had 30 years experience in law enforcement and is also a former Victoria County district attorney, said part of the problem is that evidence is not reviewed thoroughly before a warrant is issued.

"In some of the outlying counties, the district and county attorneys do not review the complaints or applications for warrants before the warrant is issued," Filley said. "In this case, this is a direct filing. An officer swears out a complaint before a magistrate and based on what the officer swears to, the magistrate issues a warrant. That's frightening. That could be any one of us.

"It's never been reviewed by the prosecutor. Never been reviewed for sufficiency of evidence. That's how you can get into mistakes. In this particular case, it resulted in a terrible miscarriage on justice."

[Sheriff] Zavesky was apologetic.

"The DeWitt County Sheriff's Office deeply regrets the arrest of Mr. Rodriguez. There was a misidentification of Mr. Rodriguez during our investigation and as soon as we were made aware of the situation, all charges were dismissed. Actions have been taken to correct process and to assure that it does not happen again."
Another man named Steven Rodriguez continues to be sought in connection with the undercover investigation.
One wonders how often this occurs and how frequently authorities figure out the mistake? The same thing happened to a two separate defendants in the Dallas jail earlier this year and they were both released after a week or so. But one of the Dallas DNA exonerees, James Giles, was initially arrested because he had the same name as the actual suspect in a similar, Kafka-esque identity mix-up that cost him ten years in prison and another 14 as a registered sex offender before his name was cleared. Some of these identity mixups take a lot longer than one to three weeks to sort out.


Anonymous said...

This is one lucky guy in that he wasn't framed to hide the mistake. There have been dozens of documented cases in this country where law enforcement and the DA went on to frame the innocent once they realized their mistake presumably out of embarrassment and to keep from being sued.

As long as law enforcement, judges, et.al. have the total immunity from prosecution that they now enjoy these types of incidents will continue. Their incompetence cost this man a great deal, yet they had a good laugh and have already forgotten about it.

Angela Morris said...

It sounds like a good reason to pick unusual names for your kids. Or at least spell the names funny, like us hippies in Austin.

ckikerintulia said...

What about Mr. Rodriguez' lost five thou in bail money? What about his lost job? Is DeWitt County gonna make that right? The sheriff's apology helps, but it doesn't right the wrong.

Prison Doc said...

The thing that worries me for him is, will his record be expunged? I'd hate for him to try to get a job and have an erroneous drug related arrest pop up on his background check.

Background checks are real killers for offenders trying to turn their lives around.

Anonymous said...


The spelling of Rodriguez' name in the article heading is different from the text of the article (Rodriquez vs. Rodriguez).
Please correct.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Just a typo, an inherent danger of writing without an editor - thanks 1:24.

rodsmith said...

i sure hope the sheriff was making his apology with his check book out. this one is gonna cost'em big time.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits, thanks for taking time to Post this Texas size F-Story. Again, we'd never heard about it had the 'Reader' not forwarded it and you let it go.

We have numerous areas of concern to discuss either it be now and/or in future Post.

*Warrants sought & issued without due diligence

*Bail Bondsmen (lawyers & the wealthy) & the law that allows them to keep the money

*A Texas Tag-Team - When Victims of the System are fired due to the authorities rush to arrest & the media's rush to headline

*Who will step up and hire the falsely arrested and hastily fired honest, hardworking man? Thanks.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

A few years ago a similar spat of cases came up in Denver, Colorado. Some same name as on warrant individuals were wrongfully arrested repeatedly on the same warrant. The local ACLU sued and I believe that a protocol was established to address the problem although I am not familiar with the details.

Anonymous said...

It is always helpful to know what political party the Sheriff and the other locals belong to. That's why they have to run as either a Democrat or a Republican. It does matter. Time and time again you see articles on judges that leave this important fact out. Any mention of a federal judge should include their party and/or who appointed them to the bench.

ckikerintulia said...

Anon 7/21 10:03 PM--
I can't say for sure, but I would be very surprised if the elected officials involved in this are not Republicans. Lamb County is in a very Republican area of a very Republican state.

I disagree that it makes much difference, especially in this part of the state--Republican or Democrat, they're law n/ order lock em up and throw away the key adherents, else they wouldn't get elected.

Chris Sider said...

This happened to my husband,for two separate cases, only it was his son who was commiting the crimes who has the same name (with the Jr., of course). He was in jail for over 2 months -- 35 days in Milam county just waitin to be transferred to Louisiana. Same thing though -- picked out of a drivers license lineup.

Our court appointed attorney worked did nothing, even after I did all the footwork. Honestly, the prosecuting ADA helped us more than she did.

They then told us WE would have to pay over $400 to get this MISTAKE expunged.

Obviously, we can't afford that.