For at least the third time in recent history, an armed robbery at a so-called game room, a business that operates video slot machines in a gray area of state law, has gone unreported for hours after the fact, law enforcement officials said.
A victim of the most recent robbery, which, according to investigators, included death threats, told sheriff’s deputies she had not reported it for fear of upsetting managers of the game room, who didn’t want law officers coming around, according to case records.
Meanwhile, a man charged in the connection with a Feb. 13 armed robbery at a Bacliff game room also is charged in connection with a violent attack against a San Leon man in his home weeks later, law officers said.
Jesse Brown, 33, of San Leon, was arrested Feb. 27 on a charge of burglary of a habitation with intent to commit other felonies, according to Galveston County jail records. On Friday, he was additionally charged with aggravated robbery in connection to the game room incident, according to law enforcement records.
Brown was held on a combined $350,000 bond and was still in custody Monday at the Galveston County jail, according to jail records.
Deputies were called Feb. 27 to a disturbance in the 1000 block of 16th Street where a man said he had been assaulted with a metal bar, according to a complaint from the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office.
The man said he had been arguing with his neighbor, a woman, about a missing chain saw when a man barged into his home and attacked him with a tire iron, according to the complaint.
Witnesses confirmed the man’s story and, while the deputies were still at the scene, the accused attacker returned, according to the complaint.
The man denied being involved, but deputies identified bruises that matched ones described by the victim, according to the complaint.
The accused attacker was arrested and taken to the Galveston County jail, according to court records released Monday.
Two days later, Brown also was charged with felony aggravated robbery in connection with the incident at a game room in Bacliff, according to law enforcement records.
On Feb. 13, the sheriff’s office received a report of a game room in Bacliff being robbed at gunpoint, according to a criminal complaint. The report was not called in by the business itself, but through an anonymous tip, officials said.
Just after 3 a.m. on Feb. 14, a deputy went to the game room and knocked on the door, according to the complaint. After several minutes, a woman answered and identified herself as an employee at the business, according to the complaint.
The woman told the deputy that Feb. 13 had been her first night working at the business, but she had been a customer there for several years, according to the complaint.
The woman told the deputy a man she recognized as another regular customer had come in about 2 a.m. Feb. 13, then left after a few minutes, according to the complaint. The man returned about an hour later wearing a hooded jacket and sunglasses, according to the complaint.
The man brandished a handgun, grabbed the woman, threatened to kill everyone in the room and demanded money, according to the complaint. The woman gave the man a roll of cash, containing about $900, and he left, according to the complaint.
The woman said she didn’t report the robbery to the authorities because she thought the management did not want law officers inside the business, according to the complaint.
The woman gave investigators part of a surveillance video she had recorded on her phone, according to the complaint.
This is not the first time a crime has gone unreported at a county game room. Last year, a game room employee reportedly fought off a man who had attempted an armed robbery at a game room on state Highway 6 in west Galveston County.
The sheriff’s office did not know about that incident until it received calls about it the next day. No one was arrested.
That robbery came two months after a robbery at the same game room during which two armed men robbed a group of patrons of their cellphones, purses and wallets. That crime was only discovered when a person found a purse containing a stolen cellphone on state Highway 35, and turned it into police, who then connected with the phone’s owner, investigators have said.
No arrests were made in that incident either.
Galveston County Sheriff Henry Trochesset said he’s frustrated that some game room operators do not report serious crimes.
“Any crime that occurs in your area, you hope that the victim would report it,” Trochesset said.
State law allows game rooms to award winnings from eight-liner machines up to $5 in value, but law enforcement officials say some pay out much larger sums. Besides breaking laws for winnings, game rooms are known hubs for other criminal activities, officials say. Some game rooms restrict access by locking doors and requiring a membership, making it more difficult for authorities to conduct investigations.
Galveston County received authority to regulate game rooms during the 2014 legislative session, and the law took effect Sept. 1, 2015. Under the state law, the county may “restrict the location of game rooms to specified areas of the county, including the unincorporated area of the county.”
The county commissioners court can also prohibit games within a certain distance of schools, churches and residential neighborhoods.
Additionally, the commissioners court can limit the number of game rooms operating in the county.
Despite being allowed to make the regulations, progress on getting them passed has stalled for years.
One plan would require game rooms to be permitted by the county, if the businesses operated six or more eight-liners. The businesses would also be subject to inspections.
County commissioners initially passed the rules in December 2016, but later delayed them over questions about how the regulations would be enforced.
Commissioners were set to consider regulations during the summer, but that was delayed because of Hurricane Harvey. Initially, the plan was for the regulations to be back before the court in January. That did not happen.
Trochesset said he was working to set up a meeting with some county leaders to get a final proposal for new regulations before the court soon.
Lovers of the iconic oak trees represented on League City’s official seal lost a battle Friday against the city’s ever-increasing growth.
That pending loss of a historically significant oak tree on a school campus has local advocates worried about the remaining canopy and talking about stepping up preservation efforts.
Efforts to save a historic oak tree at League City Elementary School fell short of raising enough money to move the tree from a construction zone, supporters said.
The Friends of “Mr. Elementree” by a Friday deadline had raised only $4,500 toward moving the 110-year-old oak tree from a site where Clear Creek Independent School District plans to put a parking lot to serve a rebuilt school. Moving and replanting the tree would have cost about $200,000, officials said.
Crews planned to cut down the tree March 1, but district officials agreed to wait 30 days before taking it down. The 30 days are up, and supporters are out of time.
The League City Historical Society, Patrons of the Park and the League City Garden Club worked together to raise money in the one month they had.
“It’s not nearly enough to move the tree,” city Councilman Greg Gripon said. “But we did raise awareness.”
The $4,500 will pay for fertilizing and pruning historic oak trees along Main Street and in League Park, Gripon said.
League City, with a population near 105,000, has a history of protecting trees from development. In 2012, the city paid $197,500 to move a Compton oak tree so it wouldn’t be cut down for the widening of Louisiana Avenue.
While that tree was on public land, the city has had a preservation ordinance to save trees on private land since 2007. It requires property owners to either try to avoid cutting down 15 species of protected trees or to replace trees they insist on removing with either new plantings or a donation to the city’s tree fund.
The city has saved trees because of the ordinance, Heather McKnight, the city’s arborist, said in July 2017.
Gripon wants to make it tougher, or at least much more expensive, for property owners or state agencies to cut down historic oak trees, he said.
“We need to look at our tree ordinance,” Gripon said.
Trees in the historic part of town are disappearing, advocates warn. A water oak tree at the corner of Fourth Street and Houston Avenue fell Feb. 27 in League City, blocking the street and keeping city crews busy sawing it and clearing it.
The tree had no internal decay, but the roots had some fungus and decay, said Heather McKnight, city arborist. The tree also hadn’t been taken care of, she said.
The city and property owners need to take care of the remaining trees, Gripon said.
The city’s oak trees, and efforts to increase the number of trees, are rooted in League City’s earliest history.
In 1872, George Washington Butler bought 30 acres in what is now League City, including the land where League City Elementary School is, his descendant Anita Butler said.
As the town began to develop in the late 1800s, Butler asked residents if they would pay $4 to have a live oak tree planted on their property, and many responded, she said.
Somebody in 1907 bought two live oak trees at the school site as memorials, she said.
“It’s not clear who they were in remembrance of,” Anita Butler said.
CLEAR LAKE SHORES
Clear Lake Shores has been without a city administrator since February, and the search for a new person for the job will begin today.
The search for a new city administrator comes after council members voted to end the employment of City Administrator George Jones in February. Jones was being paid around $93,000 for his position, city officials said.
Council members have alluded that Jones has been ill and that Mayor Michael McNamara has been doing much of his job since November 2017.
The consensus was that one city employee would be hired to handle both the administrative duties and economic development tasks, council members previously said.
McNamara would not comment on the specific details of the city administrator search, only adding that Jones was not terminated but given a separation package.
“As far as what is already public, the city did offer him a separation deal,” he said. “At the meeting tomorrow, it’s a formal ratification of the deal, so that should close that out.”
After the meeting, the city will release a formal statement on the search process and any corresponding details, McNamara said.
The search process will additionally receive help from Ron Cox Consulting, McNamara said.
“Ron Cox is a consultant, he was the city manager for Friendswood for awhile,” he said. “We got a proposal from him to help us in the search for a new city administrator.”
Finding a new city administrator is a daunting task, Mayor pro tem Amanda Fenwick said.
“It’s been hard,” she said. “George was a great asset to the city and knowledgeable. For Mike to come in and step up kind of speaks to how he operates and the qualities he takes on.”
The council does need to have a conversation before an executive search starts, Fenwick said.
“I want to hear from my council members on what they want from a city administrator,” she said. “It’s going to be very large shoes to fill.”
Is Galveston ready for spring break 2018?
Today is Election Day for the Democratic and Republican primaries in Texas. It is the earliest primary election in the United States. The election will decide who is on the ballot in the general election Nov. 6.
When can I vote?
Polls open at 7 a.m. today and close at 7 p.m. People who are registered to vote can go to any one of the 36 voting locations in the county to cast a ballot.
Do I need an ID?
Texas law requires voters to show one of seven forms of photo ID: a Texas driver’s license or handgun license, a U.S. passport, U.S. military ID card, U.S. citizenship certificate or a Texas Department of Public Safety-issued personal ID card or election identification certificate.
Voters without a photo ID can show a voter registration certificate, certified birth certificate, a current utility bill, a bank statement, a paycheck or government check or a government document (including an out-of-state driver’s license, a Native American tribal ID or a DPS receipt) that includes a name and address.
Voters without ID will also need to sign a declaration stating they could not get an ID for a reasonable excuse.
What races will be decided?
Voters across the state are voting in primary elections for party candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, land commissioner, U.S. senator and other positions.
Locally, Galveston County voters will be casting ballots for county judge, two county commissioner seats, state and U.S. representatives, district attorney and some court positions.
Where can I find the results?
Local results will be posted on galvnews.com as they come in. Updates will also be posted online on the Texas Secretary of State’s office and the Galveston County Clerk’s website, galvestonvotes.org. Results will also be published in Wednesday’s edition of The Daily News.