Galveston Sergeant Archie Chapman’s Trespass Trial
January 24, 2017 (Fault Lines) – Last week, Galveston Police Sergeant Archie Chapman was acquitted of criminal charges arising from his contact and arrest of a photography activist. On November 4, 2015, photography activist, Phillip Turner, was on the sidewalk outside the Galveston Police Department, when Chapman contacted him. Chapman demanded that Turner identify himself, and when Turner declined to do so, Chapman arrested Turner for Failure to Identify.
The problem is that Turner was right—he did not have to identify himself under Texas law unless he had already been lawfully arrested. After Chapman arrested Turner, both he and Galveston County Sheriff’s Sergeant Gilbert Villareal took Turner’s car keys and drove through nearby parking lots pressing the remote until they located Turner’s car. At that point, Chapman opened the car, found Turner’s wallet and driver’s license, and left the vehicle otherwise untouched.
Turner’s charges were dropped and the matter was referred to the Galveston County District Attorney’s Office. The DA, Jack Roady, was kind enough to talk to us on this case and pointed out that it was his duty to ensure that everyone had access to justice, even when the person accused of a criminal act was a police officer. He’s absolutely right. And we need to be absolutely clear on this—both the arrest of Turner and the search of his vehicle were unlawful.
So, DA Roady put the matter before the Galveston County Grand Jury and Chapman was indicted for Criminal Trespass. The case was set in District Court, rather than County Court. Villareal was not indicted. Criminal Trespass is where the problem started. One of the elements of criminal trespass is the entry of the entire body into the property that is being trespassed. But when cops search a vehicle, they never completely enter a vehicle. In almost every case, their feet remain outside of the car. That was the case here.
Criminal Trespass was not the best charge for this case. Official Oppression would have been a much better charge. You see, a police officer commits Official Oppression when the officer subjects another person to an arrest or search that the officer knows is unlawful. Here, Turner was arrested for something that was not a crime, and his vehicle was searched without a warrant or a warrant exception, which Chapman did not have. Either of those would have been good charges.
It allowed Greg Cagle, the lawyer who defended Chapman, to beat the. Cagle also was kind enough to talk to us, and he pointed out a trend that he had observed in the greater-Houston area. He noted that most of the DAs were not charging officers with Official Oppression because they not only had to prove that the arrest or search was intentional, but that the officer knew that the arrest or search was unlawful. So he had noticed that most of the prosecutions were for simple penal code crimes like Assault with Bodily Injury instead of Official Oppression.
Cagle also noted that both Turner and David Warden went all over the State and basically baited law enforcement. He’s right, they do, and they know exactly what the law says and what they can and cannot do. It exposes a problem with police officer training, because most police officers believe that if an officer asks someone for identification, then that person has to provide it.
That’s just not the case, and a long series of U.S. Supreme Court cases explain what has to happen for a person to be required to identify themselves to the police. Every single one of those cases require the police to have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. This is a long-term training issue, where police assume that they have the power to demand ID and where it becomes a control issue. You can look all over YouTube and find examples of so-called “First Amendment audits” of police stations, post offices, entry points at military bases, and so on.
For some of these people, it is a potential business. Turner, has filed suit against numerous agencies, including Fort Worth PD, Austin PD, Round Rock PD, and so on. Round Rock settled the case, Fort Worth is on interlocutory appeal at the Fifth Circuit, and the Austin case is pending. In almost all cases, it’s baiting, but I understand the point that the videographers are trying to make, that they have a right to film things of interest to the public. I also understand the police position. It’s not normal, it is unusual, and it should be checked out. Which brings us back to Chapman and Turner, and the criminal trespass charges.
Chapman’s case was heard in the 10th District Court in Galveston, where the judge is the Honorable Kerry Neves. Judge Neves is the Texas judge who published an order stating that he would no longer accept plea bargains for probation or deferred adjudication in cases where a police officer was the victim. Judge Neves subsequent walked that order back, after substantial outrage. And at the end of the prosecution’s case, Cagle made a motion for a directed verdict, where the court declared the defendant not guilty and ended the case.
Every criminal defendant moves for a directed verdict. Almost every judge denies that motion. But every once in a while, they grant it. Here, Judge Neves granted it and the trial was over. Turner was upset, Warden expressed disapproval, the internet was in a tither, and so on. I could be morally outraged, upset at the decision, claim that Judge Neves was partial to the police and so on.
Except for one small thing. It was the right decision, without question. To commit a criminal trespass, the entire body has to enter the vehicle. Witnesses showed that this did not happen. Without that, the prosecution has not met its burden, and a directed verdict was proper.
I don’t know Judge Neves, and I probably won’t ever appear before him, but I do know that he made the correct decision here, regardless of what some may want to believe. Both Roady and Cagle spoke highly of the judge and his fairness in the trial. I’ll take their opinion on the matter as fact.
We don’t know yet if Chapman will face any disciplinary action for his conduct. The department decided to wait until after the trial to determine that issue, and repeated calls to the Galveston Police Department did not result in anything but a game of pass the hot potato from one office to another. After the first day of being transferred from office to office, on Friday, the chief’s secretary transferred me to Michael Gray (seen in the news clip, above), who immediately transferred me to the voice mail of a second individual, has not as yet responded.
 Texas Penal Code § 38.02.
 Texas Penal Code § 30.05.
 In Texas, County Courts hear misdemeanor cases unless the matter involves official misconduct.
 Texas Penal Code § 39.03.
 Another photography activist who accompanied Turner.
 Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968) (an officer with reasonable suspicion that a person was committing, about to commit, or had committed a crime could stop the person to investigate); Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648 (1979) (officer may not demand identification absent reasonable suspicion of a crime); Brown v. Texas, 443 U.S. 47 (1979) (officer may not stop and demand identification absent reasonable suspicion of a crime); and Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial Dist. Court of Nev., 542 U.S. 177 (2004) (statute requiring a person to identify themselves to an officer who has reasonable suspicion of a crime was constitutional).