The trial for Van Zandt County Commissioner, Ricky LaPrade began Monday morning in Canton.
KLTV 7 Reporter Melanie Torre was in the courtroom feeding live updates of the proceedings:
- In his opening statement Van Zandt County District Attorney Chris Martin tells the jury three law enforcement officers will testify to going to Whataburger on their lunch break at 2am and seeing a Van Zandt county truck parked --not quite in a space-- with the reverse lights on. Martin tells the jury these witnesses will testify to LaPrade having a 9mm pistol loaded in the front seat. Martin says they will testify to LaPrade being passed out with the windshield wipers going on a dry night and when they wake him, his foot slips off the break and the truck begins to roll backward. Martin says this will be seen on the dash cam video he will present during the trial.
Martin calls first witness Judge Rita Koches.
- Van Zandt County Judge Rita Koches on the stand. Koches tells the jury she has worked with LaPrade as long as she has been county judge. She says he was on the commissioners court that voted her in. Chris Martin asks Koches if LaPrade is a fiduciary of county owned vehicles. As Koches answers, "yes" the defense objects saying the prosecution is asking the witness to decide what the jury should be deciding. Judge Theresa Drum overrules the objection. Martin goes over the Van Zandt County policy manual given to officials. Martin asks Koches if she considers the manual a contract of the rules of employment. Koches answers yes.
State passes the witness....
- Defense begins to question Judge Koches about the county policy manual but Judge Drum stops them. Van Zandt County policy manual is admitted to evidence. State regains witness.
- Martin puts on courtroom projector page 12 of manual: Use of County Owned Vehicles. Page says county employees are to exercise the utmost care to minimize damage. Policy says vehicles are to be used for county business only and vehicles taken home during off duty hours should only be used for county business. Martin asks Koches if she would allow her employees to operate a county owned vehicle in public while under the influence of alcohol? Koches says no. Martin asks Koches if that would be improper, unsafe or both. She answers both.
Page 62 of the policy manual: General Policy Provision is displayed on the courtroom projector. It states being in a county owned vehicle while being under the influence of drugs or alcohol can lead to disciplinary action, including termination. Martin asks Koches if LaPrade can be terminated under this rule. She says no because LaPrade is an elected official and not an employee. Martin asks if a commissioner's employee could be terminated if they did what LaPrade did. Koches says yes.
Pass the witness to defense.
- Defense Attorney Dean White asks Koches "who owns county vehicle?" she replies, "the citizens".
White asks Koches if she has any control over what LaPrade was doing that night. Koches says no.
Whites asks Koches if she was personally aware of any damage to the vehicle. She answers no. White asks Koches if she is aware of anything LaPrade did that could cause extensive damage to the vehicle. Koches says she has no personal knowledge of that.
White asks if Koches is aware of damage cause to vehicle. She says she is not aware of any repairs that had to be made.
State regains the witness to ask if the manual policy says there must be a "loss or damage to property" or a "risk of loss or damage to property". She answers, "risk."
- State calls Van Zandt County auditor to the stand. Witness not present. 15 minute recess.
- County auditor John Shinn reviews duplicates of files given to him by Martin. Shinn says one is a price quote for the two Chevy trucks VZ co purchased last year. One for precinct 1 and the other for precinct 2. Official documents show $22,567.31 was paid by Van Zandt county to Lewis Chevrolet for a 2011 Chevy Silverado truck for the benefit of commissioner Ricky LaPrade.
Defense presents Shinn with a copy of the vehicle title. White asks Shinn if he would need to know when commissioners switch and borrow property. Shinn says not really but it might be information that comes up later.
- State calls witness Terri Pruitt, Van Zandt county treasurer. Pruitt is an elected official who says she has been in office for one year. She says she is a custodian of business records and keeps personnel files.
State puts a document on the screen that was Ricky LaPrade's personnel agreement signed on December 22, 2000. It says "I accept the responsibility of familiarizing myself" with the county policies, one of which states you cannot be under the influence of drugs or alcohol while conducting county business or while representing the county. This policy, "applies to all employees regardless of rank or position within the county government".
- Defense asks the witness, "if you're getting a hamburger at Whataburger are you representing the county?" Pruitt replies "no".
White asks Pruitt if LaPrade has to go by this agreement he signed. Pruitt says a signature would imply yes. White asks Pruitt if LaPrade can choose not to abide by the agreement. Pruitt says that is his choice. White asks Pruitt if she has the authority to remove LaPrade from office. Pruitt says no.
Recess for lunch.
State calls Bonnie Cade. Cade is a retired attorney. Works as Canton City Prosecutor and represents children in CPS cases. Cade knows LaPrade as "a commissioner, a courthouse buddy and a friend". Cade came into contact with LaPrade the night before his arrest when they were both at the Van Zandt County fair grounds. Cade was judging chickens in a show around 7pm.
She says she saw LaPrade around 9:30pm and had a face to face conversation.
"As I recall, I was leaving the fairgrounds and saw Ricky with a woman. When I approached him, she left." Cade says LaPrade started jokingly giving her a hard time about her grandson's baseball activities. "He repeated over and over again what it was about my grandson..." "He had a cup in his hand. I could tell he had been drinking and I didn't want to be around him."
Cade says this was the only time she'd been around the commissioner while he was under the influence of alcohol. Martin asks Cade if she would have gotten in a vehicle and driven away with LaPrade that night. Cade says no, "It would not have been safe for either of us," says Cade.
White takes over the witness.
Cade tells white she did not see LaPrade drive his vehicle and did nothing to suggest he shouldn't be driving. White asks Cade if she saw LaPrade as a danger to himself or others. Cade says, "Not standing there on his own two feet at the fairgrounds".
White asks, "So that night he was not a danger to himself or others?"
Case replies, "Not at that moment, no".
Martin asks Cade, "So it took you less than 60 seconds to make the professional and personal opinion that commissioner LaPrade was under the influence". Cade says yes and, "I until this very moment wish I had said something to him that night that he didn't need to be in the condition he was in." Cade says the next day at her grandson's baseball game an officer asked her if she'd heard about what happened to Ricky. She told him, "Yes, I saw him that night at the fair and I wish I had said something about it."
White asks if Cade found more police officers to tell. Cade says she was asked to tell another officer so she did.
White asks Cade if she feels police officers use their own discretion when choosing to arrest someone for DUI. Cade says she feels police officers always use their discretion.
State calls next witness Deputy Roop, former VZ Co Sheriff's Deputy who was present when LaPrade was arrested.
Deputy Roop says he made plans to meet VZ County Lt. Allen and Canton Police officer Chuck Burton on their break. They went to Whataburger. Roop says he knew LaPrade prior to that night. Had met in passing. Roop says he observed a vehicle with headlights on and reverse lights on as he was approaching the front of the business. Officer Burton pulled in, drove behind LaPrade's vehicle then turned around because he saw someone in the truck. Roop says Burton knocked on the window of the truck where LaPrade was slouched over toward the steering wheel appearing to be asleep. Officer Burton woke up LaPrade and when he was getting LaPrade out, the truck started rolling back as if the truck were in reverse. Roop says he watched Officer Burton conduct a field sobriety test from about 15 yards away.
Defense takes over the witness.
Defense goes over background and training Roop completes for DUI/DWI arrest.
Defense asks Roop if he watched the field sobriety test. Roop says he couldn't see the eye test but observed the walking test. Defense asks Roop if he knew LaPrade well enough to know if he had knee or foot trouble had could prevent him from walking straight. Roop said he did not know. Defense asks about that happened to LaPrade's truck. Roop says the supervisor told him to drive it to the sheriff's office.
State calls Lt. Chuck Allen.
State begins questioning Allen about the night at Whataburger.
Join us tomorrow as Melanie Torre continues LIVE updates of the proceedings.