Anna Harris lawsuit

JUST-US Participatory Defense Executive Director Anna Harris, left, filed a federal lawsuit on Thursday against two top law enforcement officials in Victoria County, Victoria County District Attorney Constance Filley Johnson, center, and Victoria County Sheriff Justin Marr, right, are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Many questions still remain after a Victoria criminal justice advocate filed a federal lawsuit against county enforcement officials and her subsequent arrest by deputies on misdemeanor charges the same day. 

Here is a recap of what we know about the events leading up to the lawsuit, the arrest, criminal justice advocate and questions posed by the Victoria Advocate that remain unanswered.

What we know

The plaintiff in the lawsuit

Victoria resident Anna Harris, 39, is the executive director of JUST-US Participatory Defence, a Texas nonprofit that advocates on behalf of criminal defendants in rural counties.

Comprised of five employees, the nonprofit engages in advocacy for a "fairer and more just" criminal justice system, she said.

Harris said she is a certified paralegal and "expert mitigator" who works with attorneys and criminal defendants and their families to seek a fairer and more compassionate judicial system.

Lead-up to the lawsuit

Attorneys for Harris filed the lawsuit after she was indefinitely barred from county facilities by District Judge Eli Garza on Tuesday.

Sometime before the ban, Garza was shown a 15-second TikTok video Harris made in a third-floor courtroom that showed her climbing onto a judge's dais and dancing to a Destiny's Child song.

That video, Garza said in an interview before the lawsuit was filed, showcased "totally unreasonable" behavior from Harris, and was part of the reasoning for issuing the criminal trespass warning.

Harris' attorneys said the warning, which banned Harris from the Victoria County Courthouse, Victoria County Sheriff's Office and Victoria County Bridge Street Annex, for her conduct on a public forum — in this case, TikTok — is a violation of her free speech.

Garza admonished Harris in a trial days before the ban

According to court transcripts from a recent trial days for he issued the ban, Garza called Harris to the bench to issue a warning.

In a conversation recorded in the transcripts, Garza says Harris was approaching potential jurors during jury selection days before. As Harris is not an attorney, this action is a violation of court protocol, Garza says in the transcript.

Garza also told Harris that some of the jurors expressed concern about her to the bailiffs. They told the bailiffs that Harris was making faces, Garza said.

"They felt like you were intimidating them," Garza says in the transcript.

Garza warned Harris that she could be hurting the defendant's case. He told Harris she will not be allowed to sit in the front row and to not use her cellphone in the courtroom.

The defendant in that trial, Kervin Bryant, 44, of Victoria, was convicted of felony drug possession with intent to deliver and sentenced to 99 years in prison.

Garza said her conduct in the trial, in part, led to his decision to ban her from county facilities.

Harris' attorneys said those incidents do not relate to the TikTok — which is the only thing mentioned in the criminal trespass warning — and will be addressed “if and when anyone introduces any such evidence in court.”

“It’s our view it’s just not relevant at this point,” said Jason Harrow, one of the attorneys representing Harris, in an email.

DA, sheriff's office won't enforce the ban; the ban is rescinded

An attorney for the county said the sheriff's office and the district attorney will not arrest or prosecute Harris should she violate the criminal trespass warning.

The leaders of both entities — Victoria County Sheriff Justin Marr and Victoria County District Attorney Constance Filley Johnson — are named in the lawsuit as defendants.

Later, the attorney said Garza had rescinded the criminal trespass warning. 

What we don't know

The arrest on July 29

Hours after her attorney filed the lawsuit, Harris was pulled over by a Victoria County Sheriff's deputy on North Navarro Street in Victoria, ultimately resulting in her arrest on suspicion of three Class C Misdemeanors, according to jail records.

It is not clear how the stop resulted in an arrest.

Law enforcement officials and the attorney representing the county declined to discuss the arrest, citing pending litigation.

Harris declined to discuss the arrest, also, saying it could be a subject in the lawsuit.

The Victoria Advocate filed an open records request to the Victoria County Sheriff's Office on Friday for the incident and arrest report. That request was not immediately filled.

The dropped charges

An attorney for the county said the misdemeanor charges against Harris were dropped on Friday.

However, asked how and why that decision was made, the attorney — who the district attorney and sheriff's office are deferring all questions to — did not answer those questions.

At this point, it is not clear why the charges were dropped. The nature of the arrest, also, is not clear.

This article recaps everything we know and what questions we still have about a criminal justice advocate who was issued a criminal trespass warning by a district judge after she filmed a TikTok in a courtroom that was not being used. Earlier coverage includes articles on the trespass warningthe federal lawsuit against county law enforcement, the sheriff’s office and district attorney’s decision to not arrest or prosecute and her arrest on misdemeanor charges.

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Chase covers breaking news, crime and courts for the Advocate. He can be reached at 361-574-1286, crogers@vicad.com or at @chasedrogers on Twitter.

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Breaking News & Public Safety Reporter

Chase writes about crime and courts for the Victoria Advocate. He grew up in the Dallas–Fort Worth area before attending Texas State University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in mass communication and journalism.

(2) comments

Martin Strarup

I hope Harris has to pay all of the fees. Doing what she did in the courtroom isn't free speech. Play stupid games and win stupid prizes.

Grace Butler

Holy smokes, what a charlie foxtrot for the County.

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