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Daily Newspaper and Travel Guide
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Top Stories

Friday, November 9, 2001

Police sued over strip search allegation

Staff Writer
PECOS, Fri., Nov. 9, 2001 -- A couple driving along U.S. 285 just before Christmas in 1999 say they witnessed the "shocking site" of a man being stripped searched, and that led a Houston lawyer to file a lawsuit on the man's behalf against the Pecos Police Department, a longtime Pecos police officer and Police Chief Clay McKinney.

The lawsuit which was filed in the United States District Court, Western District of Texas, Pecos Division, by Pecos resident Herbey Armendariz, alleges that in December 1999, a retired couple drove south from Carlsbad, N.M., for a Christmas visit with their son, an attorney.

The lawsuit does not identify the couple or their destination on their trip through Pecos. Armendariz' attorney, David A. Kahne of Houston, also refused to identity them at this time. However, he said that he has a written affidavit from the couple that witnessed the incident.

"I can't disclose their names at this time," said Kahne. "When the time is right, I'll let the other party know (the police department) and then I will disclose it to the press."

According to court papers, while driving through Pecos on U.S. 285, the couple stopped at what the suit calls "a shocking sight." They said they saw a completely naked man by the road, arms held overhead, being searched by a police officer.

Armendariz claims in his suit that after the strip search ended, the couple followed the officer and man to a nearby convenience store, where the officer pulled Armendariz from one spot to another until he was taken away by the police.

Armendariz says that the couple then traced Armandariz' license plate and sent him an affidavit describing what they witnessed.

According to the complaint filed by the Pecos Police Department, Aremendariz was being searched for theft of a lime salt from Uncle's Convenience Store located at Third and Cedar streets.

Kahne, who is a member of the American Civil Liberties Union's chapter in Houston, said that he found the situation appalling.

"As a member of the American Civil Liberties Union, I take a certain number of cases each year," said Kahne. "Armendariz had been talking to them and the case was referred to me."

Kahne said that the case is very unusual, because a strip search can be done only under certain circumstances. "Strip searches are done when the situation arises to maintain safety," he said. "They are done in private, by the appropriate individual."

"But the circumstances are limited, and it's never done on a highway," said Kahne. "There has to be a good reason for it," he said.

"He was stopped for stealing a 64 cent item. There was absolutely no reason to do a strip search," said Kahne.

"Everyone in the field of criminal justice understands that a lawsuit can occur anytime," said McKinney. "That's part of the environment we work in."

McKinney is named in the civil suit along with Pecos Police Officer Ishmael Gamboa and the Pecos Police Department.

McKinney said that he would like to take the opportunity to respond to the allegations, but on the advice of their attorneys he cannot.

"We stand by and support the officer who is named in the lawsuit and we'll await the court's decision, if it goes that far," said McKinney.

Gamboa has been with the Pecos Police Department for seven years and attended the police academy through Odessa College. He has three letters of commendation in his file, McKinney said.

"He is a very well liked and respected officer," said McKinney.

The lawsuit claims that on the evening of Dec. 20, 1999, Armendariz bought gas at Uncle's Convenience Store. Officer Gamboa pulled him over north of the store on U.S. 285 (Cedar Street), and told Armendariz that someone at Uncle's claimed he had taken a lime salt without paying.

According to the suit, Armendariz denied stealing the lime salt and agreed to a search of his pickup, which the officer searched and found no lime salt. Armandariz claims Officer Gamboa then ordered Armendariz to strip by the side of the road.

Armandariz claims that as part of the search Gamboa ordered Armendariz, while naked, to hold his hands over his head and spin around.

Armandariz alleges Gamboa then ordered him to drive back to the convenience store.

According to the suit, the lime salt was never found and the charge of misdemeanor theft was later dismissed.

Kahne said he wouldn't have filed this suit if he didn't believe this strip search had actually happened, but added that he does not expect the case to go to trial.

"Most cases like this are settled, but if not it will be about 18 months before we actually go to trial," he said.

Kahne said he has not received a written response from the city's attorneys, but has spoken to them.

"They have 20 days to prepare an answer and we haven't received anything yet," Kahne said.

Kahne said that the police officer is saying it never happened. "They have not yet admitted it has happened, so what is the police department going to do if we successfully prove this incident happened, will they discipline the officer?" he said.

Tax rebate checks rise across area

PECOS, Fri., Nov. 9, 2001 -- Sales tax rebates for November failed to show any decline in spending for most of West Texas, following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

State Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander's office released the November sales tax rebate figures to Texas cities and counties on Thursday, which were based on sales made during September. The figures show tax rebate checks were up 3.72 percent across the state and the increases were generally higher for cities in the Permian Basin.

That included both Pecos and Balmorhea in Reeves County, though overall for the first 11 months of the year, both cities' rebate checks remain virtually unchanged from a year ago.

The Town of Pecos City got back a check for $71,494 from Rylander's office this month, an increase of 7.27 percent from the $66,642 the city received as its 1½-cent share of the state's 8¼-cent sales tax. For the year, the city has gotten back $705,820, which is down 0.69 percent from 2000's total.

Balmorhea's rebate check this month was for $1,626, up 20¾ percent from a year ago, while for the full year the city has gotten $8,194 back from Austin, a drop of 0.6 percent. Toyah, meanwhile, saw its check drop compared to last year by 52.89 percent, from $639 to $301, but for the first 11 months of 2001, the city has gotten back $6,086, which is 40.2 percent from a year ago.

The Reeves County Hospital District's ½-cent sales tax brought in $30,905 for the month, which was 19.66 percent above the $25,826 the hospital got back in rebates from Austin last year. For all of 2001, Rylander's office has sent the hospital $297,426, which is up 3.06 percent from last year.

Other area cities showed gains of single digits in their tax rebates this month, while both Midland and Odessa posted tax rebate check increases of better than 12 percent. The largest gains were reported in Crane (31¾ percent), Kermit (44.95 percent) and Wink (117.16 percent).

All five of those towns are closely related to the oil industry and have seen their tax rebate checks rise along with other Permian Basin cities during the past three years, as the price of oil has risen from its late 1999 lows of around $10 a barrel. However, recent declines in the price of oil from near $30 a barrel to between $20 and $22 a barrel cut cutback the recent increase in oil and gas drilling in the region, which could affect the area's economy next year.

Of the city's $71,494 tax rebate check total for the month, one sixth of that total, $11,916, will go to the Pecos Economic Development Corp.

Houston's tax rebate check of $36.2 million was the state's single largest check and was up just over 7 percent from a year ago. Dallas' rebate check of $21.5 million was the second largest, but was down 3.57 percent from last year.

P-B-T opts to keep power contract with T-NMP

Staff Writer
PECOS, Fri., Nov. 9, 2001 -- Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD will retain the local electric company as its power provider after deregulation of Texas utilities takes effect, board members decided during their Thursday meeting.

The board approved the superintendent's recommendation to contract with First Choice Power, which is currently Texas-New Mexico Power Company.

"We received two proposals, one from TXU Energy Service and one from First Choice," said PBT-ISD Superintendent Don Love.

Love handed out proposals for the two and briefly went over the comparisons.

"We gave them the number of meters so that they could have some history," said Love. "We currently have 47 meters."

While First Choice's bid was $45,000 higher than a proposal from Energy For Schools that was discussed during a board meeting last month, Love said that his recommendation was to contract with First Choice for one year, based on the fact that the loss of the school contract, the largest single electricity user in Pecos, could cause the company to cut jobs within the local workforce.

"They've got four or five jobs downtown and they are all taxpayers," said Love. "I recommend we go with them for a year and see if we save money or we get hammered," he said.

Board members also approved a bid for the construction of the new tennis courts. Trans-Texas Tennis was the low bidder, with a $10,000 discount for sand.

"Blow sand is just real fine sand and we can use either," said Monte Hunter, with Hunter Corral Associates, Inc., the consultants on the project. "This is a real common application."

Hunter said that other tennis courts have the same application. "The tennis courts in Midland and the Odessa country club have this application," he said.

School OKs asbestos clean-up, says project safe

Staff Writer
PECOS, Fri., Nov. 9, 2001 -- Bids were awarded for several projects planned at different schools during the regular Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD Board meeting held Thursday evening.

Monte Hunter, with Hunter Corral Associates, Inc., Architects/Environmental Consultants was on hand to talk about the different projects, which included asbestos abatement work at two campuses, Bessie Haynes Elementary and Pecos High School. Hunter also had to answer questions about the safety of the project during Thursday's meeting.

"We received only one bid for the asbestos project, Vanco Company out of Midland," said Hunter. "I think a lot of the prospective bidders were afraid of the Christmas work."

Hunter said that now that they had accepted the bid, they could negotiate with Vanco for a better whatever is in the best interest of the school district. "Our proposition to Vanco was that they do no work during Christmas, which made the price drop," said Hunter. "Then they'll do the work at the (high school) auditorium in April and May and before the Golden Girl Pageant."

Hunter said they had received a revised proposal after he had given them the new dates for the work to be done. "They came down quite a bit after that," said Hunter. "Maybe its because they won't have to pay for overtime and holiday pay."

Hunter said that Vanco is a decent company and has done a lot of this type of work.

However, while discussing the project, the mother of a PHS student was on hand to talk about the possibility of the contamination of the asbestos and the effects it could have on individuals.

Rosemary Chabarria told the group that she was very worried because her daughter has been diagnosed with leukemia and recently underwent a bone marrow transplant.

"I think it needs to be done at a different time, when there are no students in the school," said Chabarria. "The asbestos lingers and no matter what precautions you might take it's going to be in the environment."

Chabarria said that she didn't think they could clean it up enough so that the students would be safe from it.

"My daughter wants to go to school, she never misses and has just undergone a bone marrow transplant," she said. "We're lucky she's still alive and we don't take anything for granted, we treasure everything."

Chabarria told school board members that this is a life-threatening situation, but that her daughter feels like her place belongs in school and cherishes going to school everyday. "She enjoys it and doesn't want to miss out on not going, because of this project."

Chabarria said that her daughter's doctor had told her she couldn't be in an environment of reconstruction, because of the many molds and spores in the air.

"If you do the asbestos she could come in contact with these contaminants, sometimes it doesn't show up for years, but for my daughter it could be next year," she said.

"She has made it this far, but we don't want to deprive her of going to school," she said.

Chabarria said that it wasn't only her daughter she was concerned about, but the other students, staff and teachers. "We don't know in what kind of health all the other students are in, there are many who have asthma and other breathing problems," she said. "And they might be in an environment that is not safe, due to this project."

Chabarria also suggested that school officials send out notices with all the students about the project, so that other parents will be aware of what is going on.

PBT-ISD Superintendent Don Love said that the school district is looking at spending about $40,000 to make sure it is safe.

"We have to by law," said Hunter. "First we do the testing and the vast majority of the project will be done during Spring Break and in June, so it won't affect the students," he said.

Hunter said that they have a good mechanical system that flushes out the air. "In essence this will be purifying the air," he said. "The air quality will be much better," he said.

"We will have two sets of enclosures and will have constant monitoring and putting in the new mechanical system that flushes it out a lot better," said Hunter.

Hunter said that this was a pretty common process and that in 15 years there had only been on instance of contamination. "And that time, there was nobody around," he said.

Hunter said that the asbestos project would focus on Bessie Haynes Elementary School during the late Spring and Summer and around the Golden Girl Pageant. "We have to work around UIL competition and the Golden Girl," he said.

He assured the group that there would be a lot of monitoring and de-contamination.

"You can step outside right now and get a very minute sample of asbestos," said Hunter. "We go through three levels of testing, before we let anybody back in."

Hunter said they have to follow EPA protocol, which is pretty strict. "They have a threshold they require you to be under," he said.

Along with the asbestos contract, the bid for the new carpet which will be installed at the Pecos Kindergarten went to Mid-Tex of Midland.

Hunter said that they had received two bids for the project, but one was rejected because of no bid form and no bond.

Hunter recommended that the board approve the bid submitted by Mid-Texas of Midland, Inc. The other potential bidder was the Carpet Department of Pecos.

Board members approved Mid-Tex's bid with board members Chip Flores, Lila Cerna and Michelle Galindo voting for and Billie Sadler and David Flores voting against.

"Technically we only had one qualified proposal," said Hunter. "If it's not on the right form and no bid security, we have to reject them."

Love told the group that the local company, the Carpet Department had done some work for the school district where no bond was required, since the projects were under $25,000. "But anytime after this, if we have any more projects, it will be required, because we gone over that mark," he said.

Santa Rosa taking food bank doantions for Thanksgiving

PECOS, Fri., Nov. 9, 2001 -- The Santa Rosa Food Bank is now accepting donations for the Thanksgiving Food Baskets.

If you would like to help the non-profit organization, bring food or money donations to the Food Bank, located behind the Santa Rosa Church, 620 E. Fourth St., or call 445-3871.


PECOS, Fri., Nov. 9, 2001 -- High Thurs. 65. Low this morning 44. Forecast for tonight: Mostly cloudy. Lows 40 to 45. South winds 5 to 10 mph. Sat.: Partly sunny. Highs near 70. South winds 10 to 15 mph. Sat. night: Partly cloudy. Lows in the mid 40s. Veterans Day: Partly sunny. Highs 70 to 75. Mon.: Partly cloudy. Lows in the mid 40s. Highs 70 to 75.


Natalia Melchor and Richard Turnbough

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