Back in April and early May, all eyes were on San Jacinto County, north of Houston. There, a manhunt was underway for a man accused of killing 5 of his neighbors, including a 9 year old child.
Days later, county sheriff Greg Capers announced an arrest had been made.
But according to reporting from the Associated Press, the sheriff’s office’s response to the shooting took four times as long as they originally claimed. And for years before the shooting, deputies had complained about corruption in Caper’s office.
AP reporter Jake Bleiberg spoke with the Standard about the allegations against the office and what became of them. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Let’s talk a little bit about this sheriff. Remind us of his name and why it is that you decided to focus on the sheriff’s office there in San Jacinto County.
Jake Bleiberg: So Sheriff Greg Capers is the sheriff in San Jacinto County. He was the one leading the response and very much standing up in public and telling people what was going on.
Back in April, Capers said the alleged gunman disappeared after his deputies arrived on the scene in 11 minutes. And what we heard in our reporting was that people in the neighborhood where this shooting took place had a lot of complaints about the sheriff’s office and were very skeptical of the timeline they gave out. They said these deputies usually don’t come here that quickly.
So we decided to start digging in there. And the thing that really piqued our interest was when we learned that this county, San Jacinto County, a year before this shooting, had been worried enough about the operations of the sheriff’s office that they hired an outside police consultant to come in and examine the sheriff’s office and to write a report.
Let me let me stop you there, because the original complaint about the sheriff’s office there was what exactly?
What prompted county leaders to hire this consultant was that there was a lot of staff turnover in the sheriff’s office.
So what the consultant found was a real array of 14 issues, many of which they said looked like they could be potential crimes, including the questionable seizure of people’s property, not investigating reports of crimes by residents, the sheriff sort of brushing off and acting to obscure a deputy’s extramarital affair with a confidential informant in a big series of gambling cases.
So they found this whole array of issues. And basically they said, “This is serious; you need to go bring in the [Texas] Rangers.”
We should point out that there were some eyebrows raised when it was first disclosed that the accused shooter – well, this was not that person’s first run-in with the sheriff’s department. Why didn’t police act more quickly or more decisively prior to that mass shooting?
Yeah, that’s exactly right. So the alleged gunman, Francisco Oropeza, had been reported to the sheriff’s office in the years prior to the shooting, including by his wife, who accused him of domestic violence last June. And after that report, he was not arrested.
More than a month later, the sheriff’s office tells us that his wife declined to bring charges. She said she didn’t want to. She initially reported him and accused him of beating her very badly. But a month later, she said she didn’t want him charged.
Is there a nexus between what happened with the mass shooting and the complaints about corruption and dysfunction in the sheriff’s office?
Yeah, I think the thing that really connects them is one of the issues that former deputies described to the Associated Press, and was also laid out in this consultant’s report, is that they feel the sheriff’s office is not very responsive to reports of crime or complaints about criminal activity.
One of the deputies told me very point-blank they’re just not doing their job. And, you know, I think what the residents in the area around where this shooting took place have said is, “we’ve struggled for a long time to get law enforcement attention here.” And they feel that’s sort of a contributing factor to what happened.
Let me ask you, I’m sure you must have reached out to Sheriff Greg Capers. What did he have to say?
So, unfortunately, I was not able to speak directly with Sheriff Capers. I called him and I emailed him. He didn’t respond directly, but I did have a very extended interview with his chief deputy, Deputy Tim Kean. And you know, what he said is that broadly, the allegations of wrongdoing against the sheriff’s office are lies drummed up by his political opponents.
But, you know, he also acknowledged that the timeline the sheriff initially gave for the response to this shooting was considerably wrong. The first call comes in and it’s only about 42 minutes later that deputies get to the scene. The sheriff initially told us it took deputies 11 minutes to get to the scene of the shooting. What his office disclosed in response to our investigation is that it was actually more than 40 minutes between the first call and deputies arriving. And what the deputy I spoke to had to say was that the sheriff’s words were his “best guesstimation.”
It was a busy time in the middle of this search for the gunman and the sheriff offered his best estimate.
In the aftermath of the consultant’s report, has there been any effort aimed at accountability in the sheriff’s office or has there been any follow up?
All four county commissioners acknowledged to the AP that they did not take the consultant’s recommendation to ask the Rangers to investigate. And as far as we can tell, that hasn’t happened. However, the sheriff’s office says they welcome outside scrutiny.