TCOLE: No discipline ‘intended’ for elected Constable in training investigation

Chief Craig Howard, right, was still out of work on sick leave during this September outdoor event at the Travis County Precinct One Constable's Office. (Credit: Jody Barr/KXAN)

AUSTIN (KXAN) – The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement tells KXAN, “No further discipline is intended” for the man who leads the Travis County Precinct One Constable’s Office. Constable Danny Thomas, who TCOLE investigators said could have face sanctions in the state’s investigation into an August training session, was one of three officers not disciplined in the investigation.

A fourth constable’s deputy, Deputy Clemente Verastegui, was issued a written warning by TCOLE after investigators showed up to the August training session and found a roster filled out that included the name an officer who never showed up for class. That officer was Precinct One’s second-in-charge, Chief Constable Craig Howard.

“Had the roster been submitted to TCOLE with the names of individual(s) who were not present, there would have been a possibility of charges for falsification of a government document or a violation of TCOLE’s administrative rules,” TCOLE spokeswoman Gretchen Grigsby wrote in an email to KXAN. However, the matter was discovered prior to the roster being submitted,” Grigsby wrote.

“No further discipline is intended for Constable Thomas. Again, since the roster was corrected before being submitted to TCOLE, no actual violation occurred. Constable Thomas and his staff now fully understand what is expected for documents submitted to TCOLE and their responsibility in that process,” Grigsby wrote.

It took the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement three months to finish investigating allegations that Chief Howard was signed in for a training class he never attended.

The training, which focused on how officers should serve civil papers, happened Aug. 9-11 at the precinct’s headquarters on Heflin Lane. Howard’s name ended up on the training roster and was described as a last-ditch effort for him to meet the minimum hours required to keep his law enforcement certification before the Aug. 31 deadline.

However, Howard was out on sick leave when the three-day training happened, but his name ended up on the sign-in roster anyway.

The Key Piece of Evidence

Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) investigators got a call Aug. 10 from an anonymous woman telling investigators “some students are signed on the class sign-in roster but were not present in class while it’s being taught,” the TCOLE investigative report stated.

That same day, investigators went to the constable’s office to investigate. They spoke with training officer Deputy Clemente Verastegui asking him to provide them the sign-in roster.

KXAN obtained this copy of the August training sign in sheet. The sheet is listed as “evidence” in the TCOLE investigative file.

The investigators compared the names on the roster to the officers sitting in the classroom. Verastegui told TCOLE he had to “amend” the roster “prior to turning it in,” the investigative file states.

According to records, Howard never stepped foot in that classroom for any of the three days of training, despite his name being signed and initialed for all three days.

While TCOLE investigators were inside the classroom, Constable Danny Thomas, the elected leader of the Precinct 1 office, walked into the classroom from a side door. “I overheard the male, who was visibly and verbally upset say he was Constable Thomas and asked if there was a problem in his classroom,” TCOLE investigator Sgt. Michael Watts wrote in his report.

When the investigators explained why they were there, “Constable Thomas cut her off and stated she should of came [sic] to see him first before coming into his class room,” continued in the report.

Thomas took the investigators back to his office, the report states. TCOLE explained to Thomas “the violation” his office committed regarding Howard and that “he and the instructor could be reprimanded for it.”

Chief Craig Howard was still in a leg brace and on paid leave when KXAN saw him at an outdoor event at the Precinct 1 office on Sept. 15, 2017. (KXAN Photo/Jody Barr)
Chief Craig Howard (in maroon shirt) was still in a leg brace and on paid leave when KXAN saw him at an outdoor event at the Precinct 1 office on Sept. 15, 2017. (KXAN Photo/Jody Barr)

According to the report Thomas stared apologizing for the actions and acknowledged his staff made an error.

Within a week of the August training, the KXAN Investigative Team also received a tip about Howard not attending the training.

KXAN filed public records requests with the Precinct 1 office for copies of the training roster and Howard’s time sheets for the month of August. Those records show Howard’s name printed in the first roster spot and his initials showing he was in the classroom.

Travis County provided Howard’s time sheets for the month of August, which showed he was on paid sick leave the entire month dealing with a leg injury. KXAN further confirmed the leg injury during a Sept. 15 outdoor event at the Precinct 1 office where we photographed Howard, in plain clothes, wearing a medical boot on his left leg.

We also requested surveillance video and employee security card swipes for the three training days, but the county stated those records did not exist.

‘I Hate to Say We Wasn’t Educated On It’

“I hate to say we wasn’t educated on it, but we didn’t know,” was the explanation Travis County Precinct 1 Asst. Chief Willie Madison gave TCOLE investigators to explain the “error” on the sign-in sheet.

Knowing Howard was out on medical leave and that his TCOLE license was running out, Madison told TCOLE investigators he was trying to get Howard his training hours.

“So, what I was trying to do—I knew he couldn’t come in—so what I was trying to do was I was sending the roster to him and possibly—this is going to sound crazy—I was going to do a telephone thing and let him listen to the class and go from there, but it didn’t turn out that way,” Madison told the commission’s investigators.

“I gave the roster to Constable Danny Thomas and he had Chief Howard sign in,” Madison admitted. Madison told TCOLE the signature on the form was Howard’s handwriting and that no one else signed the form for him.

Thomas also admitted to investigators in his investigative interview that he delivered a “package” to Howard’s home, but Thomas denied knowing what was inside. This is a portion of the transcript from the recorded TCOLE interview of Constable Howard:

Thomas: “Yeah, he signed two things and I didn’t know what he was signing. He just said take the paper out there and when he pulled it out he said this is the power—he said this is the PowerPoint. I’m [sic] understand, like I told them, I thought they was going to go online, read that, then go online and do it. I had no idea all this until they came out and I said—and, I’ll be honest with you, I saw him signing something, but I didn’t pay any attention, I was talking to his wife after he signed that.”

TCOLE: “And, he did give you this back?”

Thomas: “He put it all back in the folder and I brought it back and gave it to the chief—I’m just being the delivery—and it sounds bad, because I’m the constable, but I just didn’t pay it any mind. You know, I trust my people. We have never had this to happen. Like I said earlier, I think he just made an error.”

TCOLE: “And he did, that’s just what it was—and you’ve been in the business for 40-plus years and you know that. And like I told the assistant chief—I told him the same thing and I’ll tell you, you know the answer to it and that is: if you’re going to take 20 hours of a class, you’ve got to sit in it or you’ve got to go online to take it—one or the other. You can’t sign a roster, then turn it in and like—take it—it doesn’t work that way.”

Thomas told the investigators he understands the violation and how to prevent it in the future.

The conversation eventually turned to Precinct 1 training officer, Deputy Clemente Verastegui. Verastegui was responsible for conducting the training and making sure the roster was accurate in order for TCOLE to ensure the officers truly earned the credit needed to keep their law enforcement certifications.

Madison told investigators he didn’t see Howard sign the roster, but confirmed it was Howard’s signature. Madison also confirmed Howard’s signature was on the roster when Constable Thomas handed it back to him to return to Verastegui.

Listen to Thomas’ interview:

Investigators wanted to know if Verastegui contested the issue of Howard’s signature being on the roster despite him not attending the class. “No, he didn’t make no [sic] comment,” Madison said in the recording, “He’s not going to—he’s not that type of guy. He’s just going to do what his supervisor tells him to do.”

Listen to Madison’s interview:

According to the TCOLE file, Verastegui declined an oral interview with the agency via a letter from  his attorney Robert McCabe. The letter stated his attorney would “be glad” to provide written responses to written questions regarding the investigation.

TCOLE sent nine questions to the attorney, who later returned the answers. The document shows six of the nine questions contained only “Yes” and “No” answers. The answers provided for two of the questions, the attorney wrote that Verastegui received the sign in sheet from Asst. Chief Madison the morning of the class, but that Verastegui “did not notice if the sign in sheet was blank” when he received it. Verastegui’s attorney wrote his client only saw Howard’s name on the roster when TCOLE investigators walked in on the class during the second day.

On Nov. 8, Michael Antu, TCOLE’s director of enforcement, sent a letter to Verastegui notifying him the commission was putting a “Training Violation Warning” in his permanent TCOLE file. The warning states Verastegui “did not comply with Commission standards” in the August training and that Howard was “signed in attendance” but was “not actually in attendance.”

Both Madison and Thomas told TCOLE investigators during their interviews that Verastegui was worried he could lose his certification over the investigation.

Constable’s Office Assistant Chief Willie Madison was interviewed by TCOLE investigators on August 15. (KXAN Photo/Jody Barr)

“He had tears in his eyes because the guy just got the job and he’s scared that he’s going to lose his license and he didn’t want to lose his job because, you know, and I told Chief Howard about it and Chief Howard told me, said, tell him not to worry about it because it’s all on me,” Madison said in the recording.

Investigators appeared to know the outcome during the recorded interview with Thomas, telling the constable, “Now, don’t tell him, if we end up recommending a reprimand of some sort it’s not going to be that detrimental, but just so you know—we have—we’ve got to do something, we just can’t do nothing,“ the investigator said.

“No, I understand that—I’ve been doing this too long,” Thomas replied.

“We have to do something, but I suggest, constable, maybe pull the reins in a little bit on the training to make sure they’re paying attention to that,” the TCOLE investigator said as they ended the Aug. 16 recorded interview.

The records TCOLE provided to KXAN do not show that Howard, Thomas, or Madison were disciplined as a result of the investigation.

Constables Office Response

During our news investigation into the allegations, KXAN made attempts to interview all four Travis County Precinct 1 Constable employees who were part of the TCOLE investigation. Our first request went out on Oct. 11 to Constable Danny Thomas, Chief Craig Howard, Asst. Chief Willie Madison and Deputy Clemente Verastegui. The emailed request was for comment and an on-camera interview for this report.

“Being that there is an investigation pending the office of the Constable will be declining all interviews at this time,” Thomas responded. None of the other three officers responded to that—or any other—interview requests.

Travis County Pct. 1 Constable Deputy Clemente Verastegui teaches a class in March 2017. (Courtesy: Travis County Precinct One Constable's Office)
Travis County Pct. 1 Constable Deputy Clemente Verastegui teaches a class in March 2017. (Courtesy:
Travis County Precinct One Constable’s Office)

On Nov. 9, TCOLE government relations director Gretchen Grigsby confirmed the investigation was closed and KXAN submitted a public records request that day for the complete investigative file. By law, TCOLE had 10 business days, excluding the Thanksgiving holiday, to answer the request. TCOLE, on the 10th and final day, provided the records to KXAN.

A second interview request went out to the same four Precinct 1 officers on Nov. 29. The next day, Thomas responded: “In response to your email the investigation has been completed and corrective measures have been taken to address issues therefore, their [sic] will be no on -camera interviews.”

KXAN asked for clarification of what “corrective measures” Thomas took.

“Each participant has been verbally counseled along with TCOLE’s administrative warning. In addition I have reinforced training policies and procedures to include final review by me before records are submitted. There will be no on-camera interview,” Thomas responded in a Nov. 30 email.

 

KXAN.com provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Users who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s