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.
A GAME ROOM ROBBERY
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.