City of Beeville Litter Abatement Officer Kathleen Echevarria and Municipal Court Clerk Zenaida Silva recounted last week how Juan Perez ended up in the hoosegow after years of court efforts failed to get the man to comply with court orders to clean up his property.
Echevarria said the case actually began back in 2003, when Fred Garza was the municipal court judge. At the time, Perez was ordered numerous times to get rid of about 12 old cars, discarded lawn mowers, tires, building materials, leaves and car parts and to cut his grass and weeds on the property in the 1111 S. St. Mary’s, Echevarria recalled.
She said Perez’s family also owned property in the 507 block of West Powell Street and it eventually became obvious that he had been moving the items from the St. Mary’s Street address to the West Powell Street address to avoid another citation.
Then, when city officers would warn a family member about the condition of the property on West Powell Street, the items would end up back at the South St. Mary’s Street property, she explained.
Echevarria said the old cars, tires, mowers and other items provided breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other insects and made excellent nesting areas for rats and other vermin. Neighbors complained and city officials tried repeatedly to get the man to clean up the place, she said.
That went on until 2007, she added. By that time the city had hired Echevarria to work on cleaning up the city and former Police Chief Joe Salinas had been appointed municipal court judge.
The effort began again in April 2007, Echevarria said, when she sent Perez a letter asking him to clean up the property on St. Mary’s Street. Another letter was sent to his son and asked that the property on West Powell be cleaned as well, Echevarria recalled.
That was followed up by a public notice that was published in the newspaper the next month and in August she sent another letter, she said.
“He kept saying he’d take care of it but he never did,” she said. “So I gave him some more time. I just realized around January or February, I needed to take him to court because things weren’t getting done.”
A formal complaint was filed at the end of May and she went to court on the matter on July 13. Both properties, the one on St. Mary’s and the one on West Powell, were on Salinas’ docket, she said. The judge fined Perez and his son $194 each and gave both property owners 30 days to clean the properties, Echevarria said.
The judge also said that if the properties were not cleaned up by Sept. 13, he would fine both owners $100 a day for each day it took to get the problems rectified, she noted.
Shortly afterward, the lot on West Powell was cleaned. But nothing was done on St. Mary’s Street, she said.
On Sept. 17, Echevarria returned to South St. Mary’s Street with a camera. The yard was “virtually unchanged,” she said.
The following Tuesday, Sept. 23, Salinas held a contempt of court hearing and at that meeting, Echevarria said the only difference she had noticed was that some of the weeds around the house had been cut. “But the stuff was still there.”
Some of the Perez’s family members then gathered to clean up the place but, Echevarria said, Perez would not let them.
By the time Salinas called the contempt hearing, Municipal Court Clerk Zenaida Silva had found the records of the 2003 court orders issued by Judge Garza. Apparently the defendant was supposed to pay a fine then or go to jail. “And he did neither,” Silva said.
At the final hearing, Salinas ordered Perez to pay the 2003 fine and $194 he owed from this year’s court appearances and a $200 contempt of court fee or spend two days in jail.
“He got off very lucky,” Silva said.
City Attorney Frank Warner told the judge he could have fined the man at least $1,000, which would have covered court costs and fines.
The man opted to go to jail and was booked that day.
Silva and Echevarria confirmed that family members had been seen cleaning the man’s yard during the time he was serving his jail term.