DA announces enforcement measures

The Cameron County District Attorney’s office announced on Wednesday that specific crimes committed during Gov. Greg Abbott’s Disaster Declaration will include enhanced punishment grades.

The announcement came in a statement urging county residents to take precautions, remain orderly, and work together to ensure the safety of everyone in the community.

“Right now, I see more unity than ever before. COVID-19 has brought uncertainty to our communities, but I also hope that we can continue to work together and make a safer today for those that are most vulnerable to the virus. I ask that you take precautions, but that you also act like a good neighbor and remain orderly while following our laws,” wrote District Attorney Luis V. Saenz.

“Law enforcement WILL continue to enforce laws. My office WILL continue to prosecute offenders. Justice WILL continue to be served,” the DA said.

Currently, all juries in the county have been cancelled for the month of March. Individual courts are operating on reduced schedules, holding only emergency hearings and opting to continue proceedings via telephone and video conferencing where necessary.

A list of court closures published by the Supreme Court of Texas did not show any closures affecting Cameron County as of Wednesday at press time.

An emergency order issued by the Supreme Court of Texas/Court of Criminal Appeals on Friday granted all courts in Texas the ability to modify or suspend any and all deadlines and procedures “ending no later than 30 days after the Governor’s state of disaster has been lifted.”

Anyone requiring or involved in a hearing, deposition, or other proceeding of any kind, should be allowed to participate remotely by means such as teleconferencing or video conferencing, according to the order.

Additionally, the order granted courts the ability to hold proceedings away from the court’s usual location so long as “reasonable notice and access” to the participants and to the public is provided.

Arrests posted on the Brownsville Police Department’s inmate list confirmed that charges were being enhanced as per the declaration. According to the DA’s office, enhanced punishment grades will be given to offenses including assault, arson, robbery, burglary, burglary of a vehicle, criminal trespass, and theft.

Saenz said the office will “continue to monitor the growing demand placed on local retail sectors, such as grocery and supply stores.” Massive crowds and sold out products have raised concerns regarding whether all residents are able to access food, water, and supplies.

He specified that the disaster declaration also enhances penalties under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. “We encourage you to remain patient and calm, and remind you that Price Gouging, selling food, gas, building materials, or other necessities for a premium, is a crime. If you see price gouging, please contact the Office of the Attorney General at (800) 621-0508 or go to their website,” Saenz wrote.

The DA explained that people who make false statements about being infected or the potential exposure of people to COVID-19 are subject to prosecution under Penal Code 42.06, which states, “A person commits an offense if he knowingly initiates, communicates, or circulates a report of a present, past, or future emergency that he knows is false or baseless…”

Saenz said, “This applies to claims made verbally or via social media.”

“I want to thank the medical teams, truck drivers, grocery, restaurant, and retail workers, and all others who are on the front lines, working around the clock to help keep our communities running. While the challenges and restriction we will face as a result of COVID-19 will be take time to adjust to, we will learn each day. Rest assured that public safety remains the number one concern of local, state, and federal law enforcement, and that we are grateful for your cooperation during this trying time.”