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County officers accused of assault
by Joe Baker
Aug 15, 2013 | 3239 views | 0 0 comments | 32 32 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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From left, Sgt. Mike Cantu and Tito Vidaurri stand near Scott and Shanna Hall during the July 22 meeting of Commissioners Court.
Joe Baker photo From left, Sgt. Mike Cantu and Tito Vidaurri stand near Scott and Shanna Hall during the July 22 meeting of Commissioners Court.
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KARNES CITY – An assault complaint has been brought forward against Karnes County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Mike Cantu and Peace Officer Tito Vidaurri related to an alleged incident that happened during a recent meeting of Karnes County Commissioners Court.

Cantu, who was third in the chain of command with the department prior to the recent resignation of Chief Deputy Russell Swize, declined to comment on the pending complaint currently under investigation by County Attorney Herb Hancock.

The Karnes Countywide also reached out to Vidaurri, who works as a bailiff during meetings of Commissioners Court but phone messages left were not immediately returned.

Karnes County Sheriff Dwayne Villanueva told The Karnes Countywide in an interview last week that he was aware of a complaint that had been brought to the attention of the county attorney, but any comment regarding the complaint would be more appropriately be made through the county attorney’s office.

County Attorney Herb Hancock said the complaint was written by an attorney representing Scott Hall. The Karnes Countywide reached out to Hall for comment, but Hall, whose phone number is not listed, has not yet responded to a letter sent to his mailing address seeking possible comment regarding the issue.

Hancock said his office could not release a copy of the complaint at this time, but the complaint was based on an incident related to the sign-in sheet at a meeting of Commissioners Court.

“The allegations were not specific as to which deputy or bailiff it was,” Hancock said, noting that he was in the early stages of investigating the incident.

“He (Hall) alleged an assault,” Hancock said. “That they put their hands on him. From what little I know about it at this time, there didn’t appear to be an assault. The main issue had to be around the sign-in sheet and the fact that they talked to him about that sign-in sheet for some reason.”

Hancock said some changes had been made in regard to the sign-in sheet, which he said would no longer be required. He said cameras and microphones would also be installed in the room where Commissioners Court meetings take place. One of the security persons present at the meetings, Hancock explained, will be required to use a handheld camera whenever any incident occurs during a meeting.

Neither of the officers’ employment status has changed as a result of the allegations, according to Hancock. Both remain on active duty pending the outcome of the investigation.

“His main concern, I think, was just that no one be intimidated from coming to Commissioners Court,” Hancock said. “I think the sign-in sheet was a big deal and we just eliminated it.”

Hancock said the sign-in sheet is not a requirement listed under the rules of procedure, conduct and decorum for Karnes County Commissioners Court. The Texas Open Meetings Act does not require members of the public to sign in at open meetings, he added.

Hall’s wife, Shanna Hall, described the recent incident as “harassment” during public comments she made at the July 31 Commissioners Court meeting.

“I hope that no citizen goes through being harassed and threatened as happened with my husband at the last public meeting,” Hall said. “He was obviously threatened with being arrested for not signing in to the public meeting. This is not required by the Texas Open Meetings Act -- to sign in.”

The incident caused a disruption to the July 22 meeting when two officers approached Hall in what appeared to be an effort to get the man to sign the sign-in sheet.

“He is harassing him,” County Treasurer Vi Malone said in response to County Judge Barbara Shaw taking note of the disruption. “Because he doesn’t want to sign in for a public meeting.”

“I think that is ridiculous that your bailiff is harassing a citizen of Karnes County when he doesn’t want to sign in,” Malone continued. “We need to find some criminals to look after, not an inocent man trying to listen to a meeting.”

Shanna Hall, also spoke to the court during the disruption.

“I have been coming to these meetings for years and I have never signed in,” Shanna Hall said.

The county treasurer tried again to intervene on Hall’s behalf when the two officers continued with their efforts to get Hall to sign in.

“Tito, you need to let it go,” Malone told the bailiff.

Karnes County Judge Barbara Shaw responded to questions about the sign-in sheet by email Monday.

“There has always been a sign-in sheet,” Shaw said. “I don’t know who made the decision to have a sign-in sheet. That was done before my time.”
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