DAY 2: Trial for ETX commissioner Ricky LaPrade - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

DAY 2: Trial for ETX commissioner Ricky LaPrade

The trial for Van Zandt County Commissioner, Ricky LaPrade began Monday morning in Canton and continues today.

KLTV 7 Reporter Melanie Torre was in the courtroom feeding live updates of the proceedings:

DAY 2:

The trial resumed at 9:50am with the testimony of Canton police officer Heath Burton. Officer Burton is a Canton PD K9 unit and has been employed as an officer at the Canton police department for 5 years. Before Burton's testimony the defense presented concerns about Burton's credibility saying he has a history of being aggressive. The defense says Canton PD didn't comply with an open records request and asks to strike Officer Burton's testimony entirely. Judge Drum denies that request.

Officer Burton's testimony begins with extensive question/answer from Van Zandt County District Attorney Chris Martin. For fifteen minutes Martin asks Burton about his training at Kilgore Police Academy including training for administering field sobriety tests. Burton tells the jury about the horizontal gaze test, the walk and turn test and the one legged stand test. He tells the jury what he is trained to look for when determining if someone has drugs or alcohol in their system.

Martin begins asking Burton about the morning of April 14, 2011. Burton tells the jury he met Lt. Chuck Allen at Dairy Palace for their lunch break around 1:30-1:45 am. When they arrived they found the grill was out so they decided to go to Whataburger instead. Burton tells the jury they arrived around 1:50-1:55am. He says he saw a white four door Chevy truck with its reverse and brake lights on. He says the truck was not pulled all the way into a parking spot and someone was inside. Martin asks Burton what he thought when he saw the man. Burton replies, "At first that something was wrong with him. The windshield wipers were going, the passenger window was down. I tried to yell at him but I did not get a response. Martin asks Burton if he knew who the individual was. Burton says at that point he did not. Burton says the truck was running so he walked around to the driver's side. As he was walking he heard Lt. Allen say, "that's Ricky LaPrade". Burton says Allen said LaPrade's name multiple times and then LaPrade lifted his head, lifted his foot off the break an the truck rolled backward about ten feet. He says then LaPrade put the truck in gear. Burton says he asked the commissioner to get out of the vehicle. Burton says when LaPrade opened the door he "could smell the odor of alcoholic beverage coming from the vehicle". Next Burton says he asked LaPrade to produce ID, which he did. Martin asks Burton his concerns at this point. Burton says, "that he was too impaired to be operating that vehicle".

Burton tells the jury he performed a standardized field sobriety test, but only performed the test once even though training says to do it twice. Button says according to training the test is not invalid if done incorrectly, however he says he did perform it correctly, he just did not repeat it.

Defense asks to approach the bench.

-Judge issues 20 minute recess.

Defense files objection to the horizontal gaze test testimony citing another case in which an officer did not perform the test properly and his testimony was stricken. District Attorney Chris Martin rebuts the objection  by stating that the officer in the cited case only conducted 2/3 of the horizontal gaze test but Officer Burton will testify to conducting all three parts of the test, but not to repeating it. Martin says the training manual does not require a minimum number of repeat passes on each eye and since there is no requirement for repetitions of passes and the passes he did do were done correctly the test should still count. Judge ruled the test is not invalid. The jury is brought back in and questioning resumes.

Martin begins asking Burton about documenting that night. Burton says, "I have an in car video that records both audio and video". Martin asks if during the sobriety test Burton saw any clues to indicate that LaPrade was under the influence. Burton says yes and tells the jury LaPrade admitted to drinking four beers. When Burton asked LaPrade a second time if he had been drinking LaPrade replies, "4 or 5 beers". Martin begins to ask Burton about the horizontal gaze test, one legged stand test and the walk and turn test. Between the three tests Burton says he saw a total of 13 of the 18 clues he is told to look for when administering the test. The state moves to admit the dash cam video of the field sobriety test and arrest into evidence.

The 25 minute long dash cam video is then presented to the jury.

After the video Martin asks Burton if LaPrade was intoxicated. Burton says yes. Martin asks, "At what point did LaPrade became uncooperative?" Burton says after the arrest he walked LaPrade to Lt. Allen's vehicle. Then, LaPrade asked the officers to move his handcuffs from the back to the front and they did. Then Burton says LaPrade's ex-wife Gloria drove up and asked to talk to LaPrade. Because she didn't want to get out of the vehicle, Burton says he let LaPrade walk over to Gloria's car to talk to her. Burton says after LaPrade spoke with Gloria, LaPrade attempted to swing at Burton with handcuffed hands by Lt. Allen's car. This is out of the line of site of the dash-cam video but there is an audible scuffle, then Burton says Allen and Roop put LaPrade in the back of the squad car. Burton says he called his supervisor to tell him what was going on. Burton says Roop was instructed to drive the truck to the Sheriff's Office instead of impounding it because it was a county vehicle. Martin asks Burton what charges he intended to initially arrest LaPrade on. Burton says DWI, though he spoke to his supervisor about a PI. However because LaPrade was behind the wheel, in gear in a running vehicle he was charged with DWI. Burton tells the jury there was no one around inside or outside of the restaurant who could have been driving LaPrade's vehicle and LaPrade never told Burton he had not been driving. Defense asks to approach the bench.

-Judge calls recess for lunch. Reconvene at 1:30pm.

After lunch, the cross-examination will begin.

Burton reviews documents given to him by Martin. Despite the defense's objection, the documents are admitted into evidence.

The documents put on the projector for the jury show a breath specimen was requested but LaPrade refused the taking of the specimen. Burton tells the jury Trooper Jason Ventura was present for this at the Van Zandt County Sheriff's office. Burton says he did nothing else regarding this case.

Defense begins cross examination.

Defense asks Burton if he filed a police report about this case and Burton says yes. "So you did do something else with this case," defense asks.

Burton replies, "yes."

The defense then begins asking Burton if he has ever been re-tested on giving field sobriety exams. Burton says no.

The defense asks Burton if he was trained according to "this manual" and shows Burton a manual. Burton says yes.

The defense then begins to question Burton in detail about terms in the manual that Burton says he cannot recall the definition of.

The defense asks Burton if he preformed a pre-screening on LaPrade prior to the field sobriety test. The defense says:

-Burton asked LaPrade if he had injuries or problems with his knees before the sobriety test but did not ask if he had problems with his feet.

-Burton stopped LaPrade during the test and made him start over.

-Burton failed to inform LaPrade that the walk and turn test was also a divided-attention test, grading LaPrade's ability to follow instructions.

Burton confirms the defense's points.

The defense says the field sobriety test is invalid then, according to the manual.

The defense asks Burton about a conversation in the dash-cam video. LaPrade says, "these tests are hard," and Burton replies, "they're hard when you're intoxicated."

The defense says, "So you had already made up your mind that you were going to arrest him?"

Burton says no.

"But you determined he was intoxicated after performing the first two tests?" the defense asks.

Burton says no.

"So you determined he was intoxicated after the one-legged stand test?"

Burton says "yes."

The defense replies, "But that's not true, right? Because in the dash-cam video you said he was drunk before you gave him the tests."

The defense then goes on to argue that LaPrade was not resisting arrest by allegedly swinging at Burton because LaPrade was already under arrest at that point and therefore couldn't be resisting arrest.

The defense also asks Burton if he said on the phone, "there's going to be some crap over this" to his supervisor.

Burton says he did say that.

The defense asks, "You knew there'd be 'some crap over this' because LaPrade had voted not to approve deputy constables."   You said to your supervisor on the dash-cam video, "I can only get him for public intoxication."

Burton confirms he says this on the video.

The defense says "On the video you said 'I can get him for unlawful carrying of a weapon'."

 Then the defense asks if Burton or any other officer ever filed an inventory report to show there was a weapon in the truck. Burton says he did not file an inventory report.

The defense asks Burton, "Have you ever threatened to kill a suspect?"

The state objects on relevance, stating that Burton did not threaten to kill the Commissioner.

The defense says Burton's answer is vital to his credibility and they have record from a previous testimony in another trial that they would like to present.

The state requests the court discuss this outside the presence of the jury. Jury exits.

20 minute recess.

When the trial resumes the defense asks Burton if he was aware of a law that was in place at the time of LaPrade's arrest that required officers to be re-certified every two years. Burton tells the defense he was not aware of that law. Defense passes the witness.

Martin asks Burton, "Do you believe you conducted the field sobriety test validly one time?" to which Burton answers, "Yes." Martin asks, "Are you required to tell a suspect who you  believe may be under the influence of alcohol what you're looking for?" to which Burton answers, "No." Martin asks if Burton intended to place Ricky LaPrade under arrest as soon he came into contact with him. Burton replies, "No, I suspected he was drunk, but I didn't know he was drunk." Martin asks if instead of resisting arrest could LaPrade have been charged with resisting transport and is that the same level misdemeanor as resisting arrest? Burton says yes.

Martin asks, "Did you deviate from the standard procedure of arresting a DWI suspect?"

Burton replies, "No."

Martin asks, "Did you treat Commissioner LaPrade with courtesy and respect?"

Burton replies, "Yes."

Martin asks, "When he asked you to move his handcuffs from the back to the front, did you?"

Burton replies, "Yes."

Martin asks, "When he asked to talk to his wife, did you let him?"

Burton replies, "Yes."

Martin asks, "Are you involved in some kind of conspiracy revenge plot with the Van Zandt County Constables or Deputy Constables against Van Zandt County Precinct 1 Commissioner Ricky LaPrade?"

Burton replies, "No."

Martin asks, "Why did you choose to arrest Commissioner LaPrade?"

Burton replies, "In my opinion he was intoxicated".

State calls the next witness Kenneth Dean who is a reporter at the Tyler Morning Telegraph.

Defense asks the jury be removed during some preliminary questions with Dean. Jury exits.

The defense asks Dean how he came to report on LaPrade's April 14, 2011 arrest. Dean says he received a tip from a confidential source. The defense asks Dean to reveal that source and Dean says it was someone with law enforcement. The defense asks Dean for that person's name and Dean refuses to answer. Judge Drum orders Dean to answer. Dean says he got either a text or a phone call (can't remember) from Tim McLemee in the District Attorney's Office.

Defense asks LaPrade be acquitted because Dean was notified of the story through an employee at the District Attorney's Office. Martin says he did not know someone in his office had given Dean that tip. Martin says the tip was given on McLemee's personal time with a personal phone. Defense makes a reference to Watergate. Judge Drum overrules defenses motions to stop Dean from testifying.

Defense continues questioning Dean about the information he received that day. Dean says he called the Van Zandt County Sheriff's Office and they told him to call Canton Police Department. Dean says he gets the facts of the arrest from Sgt. Bradshaw with Canton PD. Dean says he was given a copy of the dash cam video days later. The defense begins to question Dean about the conversation he had with Commissioner LaPrade over the phone following the arrest. Dean says in a telephone interview he asked LaPrade if he had anything to say to his constituents and LaPrade said he did not. Dean says LaPrade told him because the vehicle was stopped he should have been arrested for public intoxication and not driving while intoxicated. Dean says he asked LaPrade about the unlawful carrying of a weapon charge and LaPrade told him he was carrying it as a result of a sting of burglaries in his neighborhood. Dean says LaPrade told him he had been parked in the Whataburger parking lot for about five minutes before the officers arrived. Dean says he asked LaPrade how he got to the parking lot and LaPrade told him he drove there. The defense asks how Dean can be sure he was actually talking to LaPrade if he had never met him before and this conversation took place over the phone. Dean says he asked the person on the phone if he was the commissioner and the person on the other end replied, "yes".

Martin asks Dean if he or the Tyler Morning Telegraph ever received any request for retractions of the story he published from attorneys or LaPrade himself. Dean says no.

Judge brings the jury back in and Dean testifies in front of the jury.

The defense chooses not to call any witnesses. Both the defense and the prosecution rest shortly before 5 p.m. Closing statements to begin Wednesday at 10 a.m.

Join us tomorrow as Melanie Torre continues LIVE updates of the proceedings.

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