By Zeke MacCormack
Updated 12:16 a.m., Sunday, June 12, 2011
BANDERA — Mishandled evidence is again drawing unwelcome scrutiny to the Bandera Police Department, where Chief James Eigner is publicly feuding with Patrolman Mario Hernandez.
Marijuana was stolen from the evidence room last year, Eigner confirmed Thursday, compromising the criminal case in which the drugs were seized and leading to a pot possession charge against the officer's son accused of taking it.
New locks were installed, said Eigner, who called the breach an unfortunate but isolated event.
Hernandez, however, has sought a criminal investigation of the agency's handling of the pot theft and other incidents he calls evidence of departmental corruption.
“Police officers aren't above the law,” he said. “I'm blowing the whistle on any illegal activity.”
He claims, among other things, that found and seized property has been removed from the evidence room by officers without legal authorization.
His allegations are being reviewed by the state attorney general's office after District Attorney Bruce Curry referred them there last month.
Hernandez, who also has filed a racial discrimination complaint against the department, has had evidence problems of his own.
On May 19 he left a bloody knife in his patrol car's rear seat at the end of his shift, earning him a one-month, unpaid suspension by Eigner that began Friday.
Eigner denies Hernandez's claims of discrimination and cast the corruption allegations as an unfounded gambit to prevent being fired.
“I'm not going to defend myself against this idiot,” Eigner said Friday of Hernandez, whom he describes as incompetent.
The bad blood spilled into public view last month when Eigner asked the City Council to fire Hernandez for insubordination and neglect of duty.
The council took no action, but Eigner said he still intends to terminate Hernandez, who has received numerous disciplinary notices since becoming a patrolman in April 2010.
No “write-ups” were issued to the agency's other four full-time officers in that time, Eigner said.
But he said he did counsel Sgt. Jim Brantley for giving a tour of the evidence room in May 2010 to his son Matthew, who records show admitted he later broke in and took 1.3 ounces of pot.
Hernandez said he sees favoritism in Eigner's treatment of Jim Brantley, who wasn't disciplined, and Matthew Brantley, who wasn't charged with theft.
Before joining the police force, Hernandez was a Bandera County deputy for two years before being fired in April 2009.
He sued the county in federal court in 2010, claiming racial discrimination. The county denies the allegations in the suit, which is pending in San Antonio.
The pot theft and misplaced knife are merely the latest evidence problems for Bandera police.
A suspect arrested in 2006 claimed thousands of dollars of belongings seized by investigators were never returned. Police denied the items were collected.
Eigner moved to upgrade evidence-handling procedures upon becoming chief in 2007.
But he wound up in hot water after a car part that was potential evidence in an intoxication manslaughter case was mistakenly disposed of by officers before the suspect's trial.
After the suspect was acquitted, Eigner was indicted on a charge of evidence tampering over the disposal and perjury over his testimony at the suspect's trial.
The chief was acquitted of both charges in 2009.
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