AP NEWS

Texas Rangers investigating OPD

March 17, 2019

The Texas Rangers are investigating the Odessa Police Department in relation to an officer-involved shooting several years ago after Ector County District Attorney Bobby Bland had questions about some of the evidence.

Gregory Heath Stoneman was the man involved in the shooting in question. He was shot by OPD Officers Kevin Chance and John Sikes on June 6, 2012, at his 4652 Conley Ave., home after his wife reported to police he was suicidal. Police said Stoneman fired multiple shots in his backyard before pointing the gun at them from his porch, where he was then shot once in his neck and once in his chest.

Stoneman had pleaded guilty in 2014 to four counts of aggravated assault of a public servant and was sentenced to 10 years in prison, but his appellate attorney Randy Schaffer argued his client made the plea without getting critical information from his attorney, and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals determined Stoneman should get a new trial in May 2018.

Bland said he asked the Texas Rangers to look at the case a few weeks ago after his office had some questions as to what happened with some of the evidence.

“Just because we asked the Rangers to look at it doesn’t mean we think there was any wrongdoing, we just wanted it looked at,” Bland said.

Bland declined to go into details as to exactly what questions they had due to the case pending, but Schaffer filed a motion to dismiss Stoneman’s indictment in late January, claiming OPD destroyed videotaped interviews of key officers involved in the shooting after a private citizen made a public information act request and appealed to the Attorney General after OPD refused to disclose certain evidence.

The motion states that Brennan Murphy, Stoneman’s childhood friend, heard he was in prison and decided to investigate, requesting records from the Department of Public Safety, the Ector County District Attorney’s Office, and OPD. Schaffer claims in the motion that OPD failed to disclose certain evidence, including g a COBAN video recorded by the camera in the vehicle of Lt. Carey Sampson and Sgt. Stephen Marrell.

“The OPD, knowing that Murphy’s appeal was pending with the Attorney General, destroyed the Chance video on June 20, 2014; the Upchurch video on June 26, 2014; and the Jones video on June 28, 2014,” the motion stated.

Upon learning that OPD claimed it inadvertently destroyed the COBAN video, the motion details, Schaffer filed a motion for production of favorable evidence, requesting “screenshots and logs of any other videos pertinent to this case that have been destroyed.” His request was granted, but the motion claims the State and OPD ignored this order and failed to disclose that OPD had destroyed taped interviews of nine police officers after Murphy and Schaffer had made requests for them, and stated the State did not notify Schaffer until Jan. 9, 2019, that the videotaped interviews had been destroyed in 2014 and 2016.

“How can you effectively cross-examine an adverse witness when that witness’ videotaped statement has been destroyed?” Schaffer said. “If there weren’t inconsistencies, it would have been preserved. The whole thing just smells really bad.”

The motion goes on to accuse OPD of violating Texas record retention law, local government code, and the penal code by destroying the taped interviews.

“The State and the OPD knew, once Murphy made three Public Information Act requests between March and May 2014, that a private citizen was looking into the case,” the motion stated. “It is no coincidence that the OPD destroyed three of the videotaped interviews in June 2014 and the remaining six after a lawyer requested records concerning the shooting.”

OPD Spokesman Cpl. Steve LeSueur declined to comment on the investigation while it was still ongoing, but Former OPD Chief Tim Burton said in 2016, when Schaffer initially accused OPD of destroying evidence, that “obviously we don’t purposefully delete any information associated with a case.”

Stoneman’s trial was scheduled to be held June 10 in the 244th District Court of Judge James Rush, but Schaffer said the case is on hold until the Rangers’ investigation is completed.