Victoria DA says county can work with resources to improve security

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

April 1, 2013 at 11:01 p.m.
Updated March 31, 2013 at 11:01 p.m.

Some area law enforcement officials are reassessing their security strategies after the brutal slaying of a North Texas prosecutor and his wife last weekend.

Victoria Criminal District Attorney Steve Tyler said it is unlikely there will be a sheriff's deputy assigned to monitor each of his 11 staff members around the clock, though he said that he'd talk with commissioners about how best to restructure the courthouse.

Currently, some witnesses have to sit out in the hallway before they testify in a gang case because there aren't enough waiting rooms available, he said.

"We need to probably talk with the administrative judge about scheduling AG (attorney general) court the same week as criminal gang cases," Tyler said of a calendar issue. "Some of it is just better utilizing our resources, and most of the time you can always do better how you do that."

Tyler said there is a controlled entrance to his office at 205 N. Bridge St., and assistant district attorneys may also apply with the state for a concealed handgun permit.

"Most are armed and capable of responding to deadly force with deadly force," he said.

He said it might be helpful if they were allowed to carry a weapon openly or if the Legislature made it clearer that killing a prosecutor while he or she is executing their duties is a capital offense.

Sarah Wolf, the communications director of the Texas District and County Attorney's Association, said proposed House Bill 3134 and its companion House Bill 1845 would spell that out.

She said obstruction, or killing a prosecutor so he wouldn't try a case, and retaliation would still need to be proved as it is currently phrased in Texas Penal Code 19.03.

Victoria County Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor said maintaining a good relationship with Tyler's office will help his deputies assess what kind of threat the attorneys may be facing.

He said there is no way to be completely safe but updating policies will get the county closer.

"I've been criticized as to what some people view as the stringent nature of the courthouse, and I've been telling them over and over again that just because it hasn't happened in our backyard doesn't mean we have to wait for it to," O'Connor said, adding that this incident is a tragedy.

About 90 days before this prosecutor's murder, his assistant was gunned down outside a courthouse, O'Connor said.

Right now, there are two deputies, two metal detectors stationed and a baggage claim-like scanning device at the Victoria County Courthouse's entrance.

Lawyers are expedited through the second metal detector and district attorneys aren't subject to security screenings.

Jackson County Criminal District Attorney Bobby Bell, meanwhile, said he had not considered changing his security policies. He said disclosing what they are may put his staff at risk.

Tyler and O'Connor agreed that it is difficult to keep certain information, such as their address or telephone number, private because they were elected to their positions.

In the past, Tyler has prosecuted members of the Hermanos de Pistoleros Latinos, the Mexican Mafia and the Texas Syndicate.

"You expect people to follow the law, but if everybody did that, I wouldn't have a job," Tyler said.

"I think everyone has my cellphone number because I gave it to them," O'Connor added. "If the general public and/or the justice system adheres to this aggression, God save us."



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