Roma Officer Being Investigated for Accessing Records
ROMA – A city of Roma police officer is under investigation suspected of accessing juvenile records, according to the Starr County Attorney's Office.
Accessing information is part of an officer's duties, explained Laredo-based attorney Nathan Chu.
"There's certain times that officers can access information if they're doing their job. But, if they're not doing their job, they just can't punch up a name and pull up the information,” said Chu.
It's under certain circumstances that the practice can be considered criminal.
If the investigation determines the Roma police officer accessed and shared information that was not part of an investigation he was working, it would be a crime.
The City of Roma did not share specifics on the case. They issued a statement that reads:
"A complaint was filed with the Roma Police Department concerning the conduct of one of its police officers. Any complaint against the Roma Police Department is taken seriously. In an effort to ensure an impartial and objective investigation, the case was transferred over to an independent agency, the Starr County Special Crimes Unit. The City of Roma does not wish to release any additional information related to this personnel issue until the completion of the independent investigation."
The officer could face charges like Chu's client did in Laredo. In 2017, a candidate running for city council, Vidal Rodriguez, used his position as a county employee under a justice of the peace office to access the juvenile record of an opponent. He took a screenshot that was later shared publicly.
Allegations like these are investigated, usually using digital forensics. Chu explained that's what happened in his client's case.
"Each time that a user name is logged on into one of that county computer systems the time stamp is logged on and it actually shows what they were looking for,” he said.
Chu says his client ultimately entered a guilty plea. That could come with jail time and a fee.
Instead, his client was placed on a one-year probation under deferred adjudication. That means the charge won't show up on the criminal record after the probation is over.
Currently, the Starr County Attorney's Special Crimes Unit is gathering evidence. That could lead to an arrest and indictment.
Chu reminds, "Right now he [Roma police officer] has not been charged and even when he's charged. He's only charged with it. There's no conviction yet."
Normally, Chu says an officer is placed on leave with pay until the case is decided. The City of Roma's statement did not address the officer's current employment status.
In Vidal Rodriguez's case, a civil lawsuit was filed by the opponent whose juvenile records were accessed and shared. The case was settled out of court.
There was also an attempt to unseat Rodriguez after he initially took office. That was unsuccessful.
Chu tells us his client was recently re-elected to Laredo's City Council.