ANGLETON — An attorney and former deputy marshal is in an unfamiliar spot in a Brazoria County courtroom this week as he stands trial on charges he entered a house illegally and encouraged a colleague to lie about it.
Paul Houston LaValle, 59, was working his second shift as a part-time deputy for the Jones Creek Marshal’s Office in May 2018, Marshal William Tidwell said Tuesday on the witness stand.
He encountered fellow deputy Hunter Wright Chase, 24, who was working his first shift on his own, Tidwell said.
They are both charged with misdemeanor official oppression related to illegally entering the house and felony tampering with a government record, or lying to dispatch, according to court records.
A Brazoria County jury is tasked with determining LaValle’s guilt or innocence after he pleaded not guilty to both charges. Chase is set for trial in November, according to online records.
Tidwell directly ordered Chase not to execute a felony arrest warrant for a man who lived in the 9000 block of Stephen F. Austin Road, prosecutor Kenyata Thompson said.
Tidwell knew the man was not in town and knew him not to be violent, Tidwell said in testimony Tuesday. He expected that when the man returned to town, he could call him and ask him to come to the office to arrest him, Tidwell said.
At about 3 a.m. on May 19, 2018, Chase and LaValle approached the man’s house, according to body camera footage played for the jury. Chase called Brazoria County Sheriff’s dispatch to confirm the man had three active warrants for his arrest.
Without approaching the front door, the deputy marshals walked around the house to the backyard, the video shows. Chase listened at the back door and believed the man to be home, according to the video.
“He has to be in there,” Chase said in the video.
The men then spent about 12 minutes kicking, pushing and banging at the door with their hands, feet and various objects found in the backyard, Jones Creek Sgt. Khristen New said on the witness stand.
The men eventually crawled into the house and found that the man was not home, the video shows.
“I say (expletive) it … we walk out the front,” Chase said in the video.
LaValle agreed and told Chase he could say it looked like someone forced entry in the back and the deputies checked to secure it, the video shows.
In his opening statement, defense attorney Andy Drumheller said this was one of LaValle’s worst days and decisions, but that his client maintains his innocence.
“He was a fugitive from justice,” Drumheller said of the Jones Creek man, adding that a district judge had commanded any peace officer to arrest him.
The jury might be disappointed in what they saw in court Tuesday, but they shouldn’t find that LaValle committed either offense, Drumheller said.
At 3:42 a.m. May 19, Chase reported to dispatch that the back door was open, the house was secure and there was no one at the scene, according to records shown in the courtroom.
Tidwell said this situation was very upsetting to him and did not follow his department’s protocols.
“Any time there is an arrest warrant to be executed, they must go through me first,” the marshal said. “In this case, it was done totally wrong … they broke into a house and there was no need for that. None.”
Tidwell had been excited to hire LaValle, an attorney with more than 25 years of law enforcement experience, he said.
“I thought I was getting the best of both worlds there,” Tidwell said.
Early that May morning, he knew from communication with multiple officers that something was wrong.
“He did something that would shame the Jones Creek Marshal’s Office,” Tidwell said.
Shortly after the incident, LaValle wrote Tidwell an email that stated he wished to apologize to Tidwell and the homeowner, pay for any damages and did not expect to be paid for his work, Tidwell said.
In September 2018, LaValle, acting as an attorney, filed a federal lawsuit against Jones Creek on behalf a client, the deputy marshal who trained him. The suit alleged unpaid overtime. That case was privately settled and dismissed in November, court records show.
Trial is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. today in the 149th District courtroom of Brazoria County Courthouse.