Events over the years leading up to that deadly November weekend in San Marcos are viewed by many as the culmination of a long procession that was bound to end with someone being killed. In Hays County corrupt officials protect each other – and justice isn’t blind
Note: This is not fiction, folks. O'Dell has spent countless hours painstakingly researching the public record. He has crossed his t's and dotted his i's, as is the trademark of all of his reporting. Sometimes we think there is enough fodder in behind-the-scenes political shenanigans in Hays County to fill a three-volume crime and corruption mystery novel. All the more reason for the need for public watchdogs in our ranks. Feel free to contact O'Dell for more background and his information sources.
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By Charles O'Dell
In Hays County corrupt officials protect each other. When one gets caught others quickly and smoothly do their own internal investigation to address the problem and appear as if they are serving justice and the public.
It’s like asking an alligator to investigate any problems with missing people in the swamp. If you’re politically protected in Hays County you can get away with murder.
It was only a matter of time until protection of corrupt officials in Hays County led to someone getting killed.
It almost happened on September 5, 2008, when Nick Ramus, who lives next door to the San Marcos High School and was Will Conley’s candidate for Hays County Precinct 1 commissioner, pointed his shotgun (illegally loaded with five shells and a slug in the chamber) at Carolyn Logan, but fortunately thought better about pulling the trigger. Judge Linda Rodriquez found Ramus guilty of deadly conduct on April 27, 2010. Ramus is currently into his second attorney as he plays his typical delay game with the criminal appeals court. Logan still fears for her personal safety.
Ramus’ deadly conduct conviction is a side story. The larger Ramus story includes Hays County officials who allowed Ramus to break the law, then covered up for him, and together with Ramus became protected players in a broader scheme of corruption that some believe has resulted in the killing of a 19 year old who was at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and in unexplained circumstances.
A Brief History of Corruption and Official Protection
In March of 2005, when Tom Pope, Hays County Environmental Health Department OSSF Program Manager, was accused of violating state and county permitting laws he responded, “I’m the one who decides if and when I enforce the OSSF laws.”
After years of violating public health and safety laws rather then enforcing them, Pope issued Nick Ramus a permit on September 1, 2006, to operate his non-compliant oversize commercial septic system that Pope knew to be unlawful, and which still remains inoperable today, with the alarms turned off. Ramus only uses his illegal system to dispose of residential sewage. Protecting Ramus, Tom Pope, Conley and Barton, the Environmental Health Department and Hays County District Attorney Sherri Tibbe remain blind to the inoperable system and the Ramus property’s public nuisance condition.
In January 2007, Tibbe refused to investigate documented allegations of longstanding misconduct by Pope and others in the Environmental Health Department. Tibbe also refused to prosecute Ramus for being a public nuisance despite ample evidence and two previous convictions of his being a public nuisance. Just as Hays County Commissioners Will Conley, Debbie Ingalsbe and Jeff Barton did, Pope and Ramus came under Tibbe’s protection.
When commissioners’ court revoked the Ramus permit on April 17, 2007, commissioners Jeff Barton and Will Conley acted to protect Tom Pope by encouraging Ramus to sue Hays County. “We protect our staff,” said Conley. Barton and Conley also had hopes of using a Ramus lawsuit to force County Judge Liz Sumter out of office. Their dirty tricks almost succeeded.
Three months after having his permit revoked, Ramus sued Hays County as he had been encouraged to do by Barton and Conley, and in early 2008, was granted a partial summary judgment by visiting judge Robert Pfeuffer from New Braunfels. Carolyn Logan, who had her civil and property rights violated by Ramus with official approval, and who would become a target of deadly conduct by Ramus, filed as an intervener in the Ramus suit to protect her livestock and her land. Her intervention also foiled the Barton/Conley plan to engineer a large settlement with Ramus at taxpayer expense and blame Judge Sumter. As Logan put it, “My civil and property rights have been violated with help from public officials and no one should be rewarded for breaking the law. Ignorance of the law is no excuse and Ramus and his California partners knew that laws were blatantly being violated with Tom Pope’s blessing.”
The tide of fortune changed in the three years that followed.
Barton was defeated in his 2010 bid for county judge; Ramus and his attorney, Skip Newsom of Dripping Springs, let Judge Pfeuffer’s judgment languish for so long without taking any action (three and a half years) that Judge Pfeuffer recently declared his intent to dismiss the Ramus suit for want of prosecution; and Tom Pope continued to bask in the protection of Commissioner Conley and District Attorney Sherri Tibbe.
A San Marcos Weekend Turns Deadly
Early on the Saturday morning of November 13, 2010, Julie Parsons, Tom Pope’s first wife, made a 911 call to the San Marcos Police Department at 4:55:25am and reported a “break-in” and fondling of her 18 year old daughter, Emma Pope. Parsons told the 911 operator, “They took her cell phone and they were in a bedroom and there is porn on the computer.” “Oh my god,” Parsons is heard to exclaim.
Parsons then called Tom Pope, who had just moved back into the home of his second wife, Michelle Pope, from whom Tom had been divorced just three weeks earlier. Police officers arrived at the Parsons residence twenty minutes after the 911 call was made. They found no evidence of forced entry and nothing was missing from the home. Emma’s cell phone had been lying beside the laptop. Emma and a girlfriend had arrived home at 2:30am and the two of them went to bed without waking Parsons (Emma’s mother). The girlfriend who Emma had said, “slept right next to me,” reported sleeping while the intruder was in the house and Emma said she couldn’t identify the intruder. Yet, Police Incident Report No. 84912, dated 11/13/2010, indicates burglary of habitation and identifies Elijah Espinoza as Offender # 001, despite nothing reported missing from the home and no identification or physical evidence linking Espinoza.
Tom Pope arrived at the Parsons house that same morning and spoke with officers investigating the reported break-in. One of those conversations appears to have given Pope an idea for the deadly plan he put into play that night.
Pope would later tell Officer Duwayne Poorboy when he was investigating Pope for shooting and killing 19 year old Elijah Espinoza, that a female officer had told him the day before, “It’s pretty hard to catch people like this. One of the best ways is for homeowners to shoot them.” Pope would tell a detective that, “It’s frustrating when you see your kid get hurt and you weren’t there to do anything about it and you feel like – I was going to do something about it if I could.” Early Sunday morning, November 14, 2011, another 911 call was made from the Parsons house, this time by a distraught older daughter, Ava Pope, visiting from college and reporting that, “My father shot and killed a young man in their yard.”
Judge, Jury and Executioner
Pope told the police that he rode his scooter over to the Parsons house on Saturday and parked it in the garage. “I didn’t drive my car over to the house. I didn’t want anyone to know I was at the house,” Pope said. Detective Dan Royston asks, “When you say anyone, do you mean the neighbors or anyone?” Pope answered, “I mean molesters, potential intruders.” When Royston asked if Pope had any previous involvement with the police, he responded, “We do a lot of shooting at my brother’s place east of Sequin and the neighbor across the street is a police officer for San Antonio. He never complains but a new neighbor complained one night when we were shooting at 2am.” “I’m pretty practiced with guns – shotguns, pistols,” said Pope. “We have this old refrigerator and would blast away at it.” “I got a ticket for trespassing when I was in college,” Pope added.
Pope went on to describe how he made preparations for what he expected to happen. After Emma and Ava came home about 1:45am Sunday morning, “We sat around and talked till about 2am, then went to bed. Ava went to sleep on the couch. I turned out all the lights and milled around the house,” Pope told the investigator. “I had the revolver in my pocket,” a 38 caliber Smith & Wesson. Pope said that he also had a loaded 44 magnum pistol in the pantry and had brought a loaded shotgun with him that he placed under the sofa on which Ava had fallen asleep that night. “About 2:30 or 2:40, I walked outside to see over the fence. We sort of suspected that maybe the neighbors – there’s like three or four college kids, boys that moved in and one of them had left a note on one of my daughter’s friends car telling her she’s cute or something like that. I went back in the house and turned off all the lights. I suspected the guy was coming back.” “Do you have any idea why this guy would have picked Julies’ house,” Detective Royston asked Pope? “Well, he had 30 friends in common on Facebook with Emma,” Pope replied. “He probably saw pictures of her, you know, on his common friends,” Pope said.
Pope told Royston that he considered his father/daughter relationship to be “average.” His daughter was, “Not really dating anyone but pretty interested in a guy who plays for the University of Texas football team. She’s always got boys interested in her.” “Any boys that you don’t approve of,” asked Royston. “I told her college football players are not necessarily the best to get involved with. She tells me to, fuck off when I say that,” Pope said. “Is he black, white, Hispanic,” asked Royston? “Black” said Pope. Emma would tell investigators after the shooting that, “A black guy had sent flowers to my house on my birthday and he rides a bike to the gym. Creepy guys are everywhere I go.”
“I turned off all the lights. I suspected the guy would come back. I walked around. I was watching the back door a lot.” Here’s Pope’s chilling description of the killing. “He came around the back yard. I watched him and he knew exactly what he was doing and where he was. He made a beeline for that back door. He wasn’t trying to be careful at all, you know, you know. He wasn’t snooping at all. He was in a hurry (long pause) – yeah.” “I saw him moving real fast toward the back door and he had his hand about to open the door. That’s why I opened fire on him – all five shots. Then I opened the door and he turned around and ran and I went after him. I tried to shoot again but the gun was empty. And I followed him out and he fell down out front. I looked at him, shined my flashlight at him and ran back into the house. We called 911. I grabbed the phone but was shaking too much to call. Then after we called I went back out to see how he was doing and he was struggling to breath. I figured he was close to death and I came back in and the police showed up. That’s about it.”
The autopsy showed gunshot wounds near the neck, in the chest, in one arm and in the middle of his back. Tom Pope, who had laid in wait in the darkness, shot five times though the back door window, opened the door and ran after the unarmed mortally wounded boy and tried to shoot him in the back, claimed to police that he “feared for his life.” “What was I supposed to do?” Pope asked as Ava spoke with the 911 operator.
One option clearly would have been to lock the back door, call 911 and let the police do their job. Instead, Pope acted out his “frustrations,” and, “did something about it if I could.” What if the young man was a friend of Emma’s or her girlfriend, Bertie Schneider, who had slept next to Emma on Saturday morning? Espinoza’s cousins, Sarah Garcia and Eliyona Cuevas were good friends of Bertie. What if Espinoza had been invited to the house and was about to knock on the door? No one knows or is saying.
More Official Protection
On November 14, 2010, Tom Pope shot and killed a 19 year old after lying in wait with three strategically located guns. “What was I supposed to do?” Pope had said. Tibbe took the evidence before a grand jury and obtained a “no-bill” (no indictment) of Pope. In their investigation of the killing, San Marcos police rushed to judgment and gave misinformation to the media that defamed the dead boy and prejudiced the public (potential grand jury members). By all appearances they protected Tom Pope. Pope asked Officer Poorboy, “Am I going to get into trouble? Poorboy, “Not in my report.” “I guess either way is fine with me if they take it to the grand jury because that just covers all the bases,” Pope told another investigator.
In his final interview with police on Monday, November 15th, Detective Royston asked Pope, “How are you doing?” Pope replied, “Not everyone gets thrown into state school. Makes me feel better,” referring to the fact that Espinoza had spent time at the Crockett State School, a facility of the Texas Youth Commission. Pope didn’t know this when he ambushed Espinoza at the unlocked back door. It’s safe to assume that Hays County District Attorney Sherri Tibbe did not seek an indictment of Pope for planning to shoot and kill without any warning an unarmed 19 year old young man who arrived on a bicycle and approached the house as if invited. Pope didn’t even lock the back door against an “intruder” of which Pope claimed to police that he, “feared for his life.” Tibbe protected Tom Pope again just as she has done since taking office in January 2007.
Then, as if to distance himself from the Ramus deadly conduct conviction, justify his own deadly action the night before, and paint himself as a public official victimized for doing his job, Pope launched into a revealing diatribe. “I’ve been involved in my job in the last four years with a big controversy,” Pope told Detective Royston. “I don’t know if you’ve heard about it on Old Bastrop Road. This Ramus guy who got charged with pointing a shotgun at his neighbor. This lady who harasses him, Carolyn Logan, lives next door to him and she’s associated with Charles O’Dell who’s this guy that calls himself a public ah, oh ah, that guy that ah, what do you call guys that are always doing open record requests on everybody?
"He does them to us just to harass us you know, but---anyway, they’re both corrupt people and they’re both, I think our county judge is corrupt too and they have influence over Judge Sumter our county judge who fortunately got voted out.” Pope suddenly asks, “Is the tape recorder on?” Royston indicates that it is. “Oh well,” Pope continues, “Anyway, this Charles O’Dell guy, he’s – he went to Sherri Tibbe about three years ago and accused me of all kinds of stuff. Taking bribes, and drug payments and all kinds of crap and this guy out there he doesn’t like on Old Bastrop Road. So you know - she pretty much – he had three pages of accusations – luckily Sherri Tibbe knew it was bull crap.” “Anyway, my name was thrown around a lot on Newstreamz website here a few years ago, or a couple of years ago on Newstreamz that just came out. I guess you’ve read that. I know some of the guys at Newstreamz but I just don’t want my name or you know, I just don’t think it’s a good idea for me to put my opinion in whatever,” Pope concluded.
Precession to a Killing
Events over the years leading up to that deadly November weekend in San Marcos are viewed by many as the culmination of a long procession that was bound to end with someone being killed. Pope felt that he was protected against any consequences, just as he has been protected in the Ramus fiasco and other violations of the laws Pope had sworn to uphold. In Hays County corrupt officials protect each other – and justice isn’t blind.