Lord of the Highway The Case of the Flush-Faced Black Man and Other True Trooper Tales BY ROBERT ELDER, JR. Austin TROOPER Jimmy Lee Holmes was the top gun for the Department of Public Safety in central Texas. He’s arrested more drunk drivers in recent years than anyone else in the department; he had a strong record of convictions; and he had the gung-ho support of his bosses and of the Travis County prosecutors who bring his cases to court. Judging from Holmes’s arrest reports, he wasn’t just taking tipsy drivers off the road. He was arresting stinking drunks, drivers so out of it they would urinate in their pants or drive around with their zippers open. Many had other tell-tale signs a “mush mouth,” or a face flushed by the effects of alcohol. In their apparent stupor, they left the driver-side door open to traffic once Holmes stopped them. Many fumbled through their wallets while seeking their drivers’ licenses. Some would mistake a credit card for a license. But now it’s Holmes who is off the road. He’s got a desk job pending a DPS investigation into his record. Higher-ups at DPS, accustomed to backing Holmes, now play wait-and-see. Travis County prosecutors, who used to try his cases with vigor, now don’t touch them. How Jimmy Lee Holmes fell from Lord of the Highway to desk jockey is an example of how the system proves that “in its own sweet time, it works,” as Austin defense lawyer Stuart Kinard, a Holmes critic, put it. Officialdom didn’t take Holmes off the road. Austin defense lawyers, who long ago had dubbed Holmes “Trooper Wet Spot,” starting comparing incidents involving Holmes, one by one, until they had built a startling body of evidence against the trooper’s credibility. Recently revealed evidence, culled from the files of Holmes cases, shows that the trooper’s fabulous record was based on questionable arrest reports and testimony. Holmes has declined repeatedly to answer questions from the press about his methods. Holmes, like many DPS troopers, frequently cites a “flushed face” as evidence that a person has been drinking. But a recent Robert Elder, Jr. , is a reporter for the Texas Lawyer, where a similar version of this story first appeared. check of court documents shows Holmes cited it when his suspect was a dark-skinned black man. The Case of the Flushed Face Black Man was only the most recent in a series of dubious cases. Holmes could do it all. The trooper, who knows little Spanish, even claimed to have carried on a conversation with a Hispanic suspect who knows only a few words of English. Holmes’s critics now hope the questions raised about the trooper’s cases will result in orders by There is “tremendous” pressure at DPS to arrest more drunk drivers Austin judges barring him from local courts. Though Holmes’s critics in the Travis County defense bar have been building their case for more than a year, more recently revealed evidence including charges that Holmes may have fabricated arrest reports by mass-producing them in advance promises to bring the issue to a head. The evidence, supported by affidavits from some of Holmes’s fellow troopers, threatens to discredit his testimony and force the dismissal of at least 150 pending cases and the early release of at least 50 people now on probation. After defense lawyers compiled the evidence against Holmes, the DPS, Travis County attorney’s office, and Travis County district attorney’s office are finally looking into the allegations against Holmes. The DPS has put Holmes on desk duty pending the completion of the internal investigation, says Sgt. Bobby Short, Holmes’s supervisor. Short estimated the investigation will be concluded by early February. Two Travis County court-at-law judges have already taken action that all but bans Holmes from testifying in their courts. One of those judges, Wilfred Aguilar, has been asked by Austin lawyer Kinard to determine whether Holmes is a credible witness. If the judge rules against the trooper in a hearing expected to take place this month, defense attorneys and Travis County prosecutors say the effect will almost certainly be to keep Holmes out of court. For more than a year, defense attorneys have been comparing notes on Holmes and compiling examples of his methods. Interviews and court records include the following allegations: Holmes said in one report that a suspect fumbled through his wallet several times, mistaking a credit card for a driver’s license. The suspect had neither a wallet nor a license. In his reports, Holmes frequently says the suspect’s left door was “open to traffic.” He included that in a report of a man stopped in a high school parking lot at 2 a.m., records show . An Austin justice of the peace says Holmes photocopied dozens of probable cause affidavits first, then added his name and the suspects’ names later. In court records, three of Holmes’s fellow troopers say his sloppiness leads to serious errors. One trooper indicated that Holmes may have switched Intoxilyzer tests. Another trooper said Holmes hardly ever observed suspects for the required 15 minutes before administering a breath test, to make sure the suspect did not ingest or regurgitate anything that would alter the results. In each case, Holmes says he has “personal knowledge” of the conditions leading up to an arrest. But in one arrest being questioned, records show another trooper stopped the suspect before turning him over to Holmes. Holmes has arrested far more people than any other trooper in Central Texas. His conviction rate generally is the same as other troopers’. But the evidence some recently compiled by the county attorney, but most the result of digging by Stuart Kinard and his wife and law partner, Jeanette Kinard cast doubt on the legitimacy of his highvolume arrests. Judge Steve Russell, one of the two criminal court-at-law judges who have complained about Holmes, predicts that other judges “are going to take some action, too.” In 1987, Judge Russell heightened concerns about Holmes when he ordered a compilation of Holmes’s arrest reports. The report showed a striking consistency THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11
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