by Matthew T. Clarke
A Brazoria County, Texas, Justice of the Peace (JP) has been suspended pending the outcome of judicial misconduct proceedings, after he used profanity and racial slurs to verbally abuse prisoners in the Pearland City Jail (the jail).
In April, 2002, security cameras at the jail caught JP Matt Zepeda seated at a desk behind a glass partition as pretrial detainee Ronald D. Hickman, 39, who was being held on a charge of attempted burglary of a coin-operate machine, is brought toward him. Zepeda calls Hickman by name and Hickman responds, "Yes, sir. Who are you, sir?"
Zepeda then launches into a tirade saying, "You don't fucking ask me who I am. You just stand there and I will handle this. . . . You're the one in the fucking jail. You should just say `yes, sir' or no, sir,' that's all you have to do."
Zepeda asks Hickman if he undestands and Hickman replies, "No, sir, I don't. I just wanted to know who I was speaking to. I don't know who you are."
"In due time, I will tell you," Zepeda replies, "Right now you don't have any fucking rights. And if you piss me off, I'll have them lock you up, and I won't see you until tomorrow."
On October 13, 2002, one the jail's security cameras recorded Zepeda's magistration of Tommy Leroy Luttrell, 56, who was being advised of his rights after having been arrested for criminal mischief and resisting arrest. Zepeda is recorded calling Luttrell's name a few times, then telling him to stand up
"Hey, don't fuck with me, I'm the judge. Get over here right now, said Zepeda. "You gonna act like a fucking nigger, is that what you're doing?" Zepeda asks.
Ironically, Luttrell is white, a fact which apparently escaped Zepeda who is later recorded telling a police officer, "I thought he was black."
Pearland police officers reported the incidents to their supervisors.
"Because said conduct raised sufficient concern and would not have been tolerated from a city of Pearland employee, it was deemed appropriate to forward the matter to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct," said Pearland Police Chief J. C. Doyle.
This caught media attention and led to public demands for Zepeda to step down or be ousted. Zepeda took a leave of absence, but steadfastly refused to resign or retire. Brazoria County District Attorney Jeri Yenne refused to seek Zepeda's immediate removal after the commission recommended a fact-finding hearing before a special master appointed by the Texas Supreme Court.
"We as Americans are going to allow people, no matter how outrageous the accusations areand they are outrageousto have a hearing," said Yenne.
Following the trial, the commission will hold a hearing and decide whether to dismiss the case, publicly censure the judge, or recommend he be removed from the bench and disqualified from holding the office again.
In December, 2002, Zepeda offered a lukewarm apology for the incidents, saying, "I deeply regret that it occurred."
This didn't appease the Texas Supreme Court which, on December 17, 2002, suspended without pay the 57 year-old Republican, who ran unopposed for his JP's bench in November 2002.
In Texas, JPs decide such important issues as whether to issue search and/or arrest warrants, determine whether the State has probable cause to hold a felony suspect, and set the bond on felony and misdemeanor charges. They also preside over some trials.
Source: Houston Chronicle
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