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Documents detail probe that netted a GPD officer

The arrest of a Galveston Police Department officer last week was the result of a monthslong investigation involving a wire tap, new documents released Friday show.

Police officer John Rutherford, 40, was charged Feb. 23 with engaging in organized criminal activity, misuse of official information and tampering with physical evidence.

Another man, Salvador Rivera, 32, of Galveston, was arrested the same day, and accused of working with Rutherford.

After their arrest, Galveston Police Chief Vernon Hale said Rutherford betrayed his duties by helping Rivera, a suspected drug dealer, avoid arrest by giving him confidential police information. Hale also said that Rutherford put fellow officers’ lives at risk.

Charging documents released Thursday detail exactly what Rutherford is accused of.

The Galveston Police Department’s narcotics division began an investigation into a drug ring in July 2017, according to the documents. During the investigation, a confidential informant told investigators Rivera led the ring and that a Galveston police officer had been providing sensitive information to the ring, as well as helping to buy and sell drugs and confiscated contraband, according to an affidavit.

Police corroborated the information and identified Rutherford as a suspect, according to the affidavit.

Over a series of months, police, the FBI and the DEA investigated the drug ring using a wiretap and other types of surveillance, including controlled purchases of drugs and digging through trash, according to the documents.

Documents indicate the ring had been under surveillance since at least December and highlight three instances in which Rutherford is accused of helping Rivera.

On Feb. 11, Rivera was pulled over in a traffic stop, according to the documents. During the stop, Rivera contacted Rutherford — who was on duty — and asked for help, according to the documents.

Rivera told Rutherford he had a gun in his car, according to the documents.

Rutherford went to the scene and put Rivera in his patrol car, according to the documents. In the car, Rutherford turned off a video recording system to allow an unrecorded conversation between him and Rivera, according to the documents.

Police later intercepted communications between Rivera and Rutherford during which the officer said he had “knowingly terminated the video,” according to the documents.

Three days after the traffic stop, on Feb. 14, the police department assigned an officer to conduct proactive patrols near Rivera’s residence, according to the documents.

After that patrol began, Rutherford told Rivera about the assignment and advised him to be careful, according to the documents. Around the same time, police also listened as Rivera arranged to buy drugs and enlisted Rutherford’s assistance, according to an affidavit.

Rutherford agreed to follow Rivera home in his police car to help him avoid being stopped, according to the affidavit.

Rutherford and Rivera were arrested on Feb. 23.

Rivera was still in custody at the Galveston County jail on Friday afternoon. His bond was set at a total of $750,000.

Rutherford was released from the county jail Thursday after his bond was reduced to $50,000 on each charge, according to court records. He was ordered to stay away from Rivera, and to submit to drug screenings once every 30 days.

A Galveston Police Department spokesman said that Rutherford is still on administrative leave, pending an internal investigation.


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editor's pick centerpiece
Dickinson residents fear business will gobble up empty homes

DICKINSON

Some displaced residents in Dickinson worry that businesses will buy flood-damaged homes, gobbling up older neighborhoods after Hurricane Harvey ravaged them.

Mayor Julie Masters doesn’t see that happening, though, she said.

“If we had more businesses in a growth mode, maybe,” Masters said. “We are trying to grow businesses. We really need that to survive.”

Although many Dickinson businesses are still closed or struggling, one is growing. Dickinson Bar-B-Que & Steakhouse shows signs of recovery six months after Harvey.

The restaurant, 2111 FM 517, in Dickinson, recently reopened after repairs and bought three houses on Holly Drive adjacent to its property with the intention to create about 110 more parking spaces, owner Keith Lilley said.

“Businesses are thriving if they are wanting to build parking lots,” Dickinson Chamber of Commerce President Dawn King said.

Charmaine Rea, who lives on the same block of Holly Drive behind the restaurant, opposed the parking lot plans and the loss of three houses in her neighborhood, she said.

Many Dickinson residents left their flooded homes after Harvey, and many are still waiting for repairs before they return, while others have given up and moved away, she said.

Businesses in Dickinson also flooded and many closed down for good, while others have returned.

The city needs businesses to generate sales tax revenue, but businesses are gobbling up neighborhoods, leaving residents out of the equation, Rea said.

“They were flooded out and forced out,” she said.

The city’s future land use map is shifting to reflect this, Rea said.

On Tuesday, the city council unanimously approved a zoning change to make two of the residential properties Lilley acquired on Holly Drive commercial. The city’s planning and zoning commission approved the changes at its Feb. 20 meeting.

The third house will go through the same process, but Lilley bought it after the others, Lilley said.

Holly Drive is a short street that dead-ends at Dickinson Bayou. It’s an older neighborhood, and the street runs parallel to FM 517, which is lined with commercial property that has been there for about 30 years. Dickinson Bar-B-Que has been there for about nine years, Lilley said.

“It’s not like commercial property has encroached that area,” Lilley said.

The restaurant flooded during Harvey and had to close, losing about $1 million in revenue, Lilley said. It reopened one month ago.

“We kept employees on the payroll,” Lilley said. “It was the right thing to do.”

Homeowners on Holly Drive approached him about three months after the storm to see whether the business might buy their properties, Lilley said. One who had insurance had already gotten her money, and one who did not have insurance could not afford repairs.

“Holly Drive took a significant hit,” Lilley said. “It totaled out houses.”

His company has hired engineers to make sure the lots will drain properly, and the design will retain the mature trees on the lot, Lilley said.

The commercial zoning will require a 20-foot setback for a buffer between the residential area and the parking lots.

“We went through the proper channels,” Lilley said. “We cut no corners and got no special favors.”

Lilley has been polite and professional, Rea said.

“He wants to build a wooden privacy fence,” Rea said. “He wants to be a good neighbor. He’s trying to accommodate.”

She doesn’t blame him for wanting the parking lot, but she accuses the city for sneaking the zoning hearings by residents, she said.

The city posted signs on the properties and announced the hearings ahead of time, officials said.

What irritated Rea about Tuesday’s meeting was that it started at 7 p.m. but the zoning change item did not come up until 10:30 p.m., she said. By that time, most of the people who were at the meeting had left, she said.

“I’m disappointed in Dickinson city government,” she said. “I know the city has to have businesses, but it’s not fair to residents.”

The council struggled with the decision, Masters said.

“There were mixed emotions,” she said. “When you own a home and it’s near a busy thoroughfare, this can happen.”

The city’s future land map will continue to adjust commercial zones and residential zones, Lilley said.

“Growth is inevitable,” he said.


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County starts lining up projects from bonds

Four months after Galveston County voters overwhelmingly approved an $80 million bond, construction for the first projects funded by the measure are nearing approval.

County commissioners on Tuesday deferred an interlocal agreement that would have moved projects in Texas City and Kemah forward. But Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said the agreements should be finalized soon, which will lead into work being started on bond-funded projects this spring.

The items were deferred on Monday because commissioners wanted more time to review documents, Henry said. He expected the agreements to be passed at an upcoming meeting.

The interlocal agreements split project duties between county and city officials — though the county won’t have much say about where and when the work is done, Henry said.

“Whatever project they want to do, they can do,” Henry said. “We won’t control what road they’re working on.”

When and if they are approved, the projects will be first in the county to receive funding through the $80 million bond that voters approved in October 2017. Henry said the county has already issued about $40 million in bonds in preparation of making agreements to move forward with projects.

County voters approved three separate measures on Nov. 6, 2017, to pay for repairs for roads, county facilities and for flood control projects.

During the election, the county listed more than two dozen projects that could be done under the bond. About half the total, $40 million, was scheduled to go to local road projects identified by cities.

Texas City asked for funds to reconstruct 3,600 feet of Texas Avenue between Sixth and 14th streets, and 2,700 feet of Century Boulevard near state Highway 3.

In Kemah, the county is initially considering releasing $400,000 to be used for road improvement projects. In a request to the county in May 2017, Kemah officials outlined $3.9 million in projects it wanted to complete, including $1.5 million for a major rebuilding project of Kipp Avenue between Cien Road and Sixth Street.

Henry didn’t want to commit to when all of the projects listed in the county’s bond proposal would be completed.

“If you put yourself out there with a guess like that, you’re setting yourself up to be wrong,” he said.

Commissioners deferred the two interlocal agreements Monday. Henry said he expected a vote to take place when the commissioners meet on March 12.


Pictured is the first cover of Tuned In Weekly, a new entertainment guide by The Daily News.


John Rutherford


Salvador Rivera


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Police: Slain student was in violent relationship

Newly released arrest documents paint a picture of an increasingly strained and violent relationship in the days before a Clear Creek High School graduate was taken, unconscious, to a Luling hospital where she died two days later.

Cayley Mandadi, 19, of League City was pronounced dead Oct. 31 in a Luling hospital, according to a probable cause affidavit.

She had been attending Trinity University in San Antonio after graduating in 2016 from Clear Creek High School in League City, officials said.

“The Wildcat family was saddened to hear of the death of our former student, Cayley Mandadi, back in October,” said Jamey Majewski, principal at the high school.

Mandadi was a communications major, a member of the Chi Beta Epsilon sorority and a member of the Trinity Cheer team, said Sharon Schweitzer, a spokeswoman for Trinity University in a previous interview with The Daily News.

The case took its latest turn Wednesday when Mark Howerton, 22, was charged with murder and aggravated sexual assault in connection to Mandadi’s death and turned himself into police, documents show.

Howerton, of Tyler, had taken Mandadi to the Luling hospital Oct. 29, according to the affidavit.

Mandadi was unconscious, naked from the waist down and had bruises and cuts on her body, according to the affidavit.

Howerton told police the next day he had known Mandadi for about eight months and the two had been dating about four weeks, according to the affidavit.

Howerton told investigators that the two had been at a music festival that weekend and had been drinking and smoking marijuana and had argued about Mandadi’s former boyfriend before she had agreed to go to Houston, according to the affidavit.

Howerton told police that while the two were driving from San Antonio to Houston they stopped at a gas station just outside of Bexar County and had “rough makeup sex,” according to the affidavit.

Howerton told investigators that after the encounter, Mandadi said she wasn’t feeling well and fell asleep in the car, but that he later noticed she had stopped breathing, according to the affidavit.

Through interviews with Mandadi’s former boyfriend and college friends, investigators came to suspect that Howerton had had several violent encounters with the Trinity student before Oct. 29, according to the affidavit.

Mandadi’s former boyfriend told police she had told him about a fight with Howerton and that he had slammed her head into the passenger window of a car in September after ransacking her dorm room, according to the affidavit.

One of Mandadi’s sorority sisters also alleged an instance when Howerton had threatened to throw Mandadi off a balcony at her dormitory, according to the affidavit.

Another sorority sister reported seeing several bruises on Mandadi and she alleged she had witnessed Howerton brandishing a gun when she had accompanied Mandadi to get a cellphone back from him, according to the affidavit.

Several of Mandadi’s roommates told investigators that Howerton had damaged their dorm room during an argument with Mandadi, according to the affidavit.

That incident was reported to campus police who eventually banned Howerton from the campus for a year, according to the affidavit.

Several witnesses told police they thought Howerton’s anger might stem from steroid abuse and that they thought he had been dealing steroids, according to the affidavit.

An autopsy found Mandadi died from blunt force trauma to the face and head leading to a subdural hematoma that caused brain swelling, according to the affidavit.

Investigators also found evidence of sexual assault, according to the affidavit.

Howerton’s bond is set at $250,000, according to the Bexar County Magistrate’s Office.


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Coming Sunday

Galveston’s home prices have climbed in recent years. But some isle workers say wages haven’t kept pace, making it more difficult to buy a home.