Police say domestic disturbances dominate crime during hurricane recovery as some cities seek justice against looters, curfew violators

Police say domestic disturbances dominate crime during hurricane recovery as some cities seek justice against looters, curfew violators

In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Southeast Texas law enforcers are being called out to keep the peace as tempers flare and domestic disturbances erupt due to abnormal living arrangements and high emotions resulting from the storm’s disastrous flooding, and a higher than average number of area folks are being committed to mental health facilities, likely due to stressful conditions, according to officers.

While all local law enforcement entities are dealing with those types of disturbance calls, a few areas are also arresting curfew violators and seeking justice against looters, who Vidor Police Chief Rod Carroll called out on Facebook in a popular social media post condemning the thieves’ mortal souls.

Domestic disturbances increase following disasters

Police Chief Danny Sullins said about 100 or so Lumberton homes were inundated by Harvey’s floodwaters, with 85 residences impacted in a single neighborhood. Sullins said his city of “hardworking folks” has not seen an increase in burglaries or any looting stemming from the recent disaster, but his office has received quite a few calls reporting domestic disturbances. From his experience, said the veteran lawman, those types of calls are typical following catastrophic weather.

“The folks of Lumberton helped a lot during the storm,” Sullins asserted Sept. 12. “They were the ones with boats helping people get out of flooded homes. Civilians worked with us to help others in the community. It was mostly citizens with boats out there helping because we were isolated. They are all helping each other, and there hasn’t been any looting.

“Just like we experienced after Rita, just like after Ike, domestic disturbances have gone up since Harvey. I had one this morning. People are frustrated.”

Sullins also said his officers have taken more people to mental health facilities than usual.

Jefferson County Sheriff’s Deputy Marcus McLellan agreed and said his department has also received “an influx” of domestic disturbance calls over the past couple of weeks. He said many area residents are staying with friends or relatives, some living in tight quarters or uncomfortable circumstances.

“People are getting mad,” McLellan suggested. “We have gotten a number of domestic calls, a bit of an increase in domestic violence, but no knock-down, drag-out fights. People are just upset with the whole situation.”

Other than a small increase in domestic calls, McLellan said Jefferson County has seen “nothing out of the ordinary” when it comes to crime in the area.

“We had a couple of auto burglaries and a couple of home burglaries, but no widespread looting,” he explained.

McLellan said following the storm and flooding, the sheriff’s office and the fire department evacuated hundreds of people and pets from flooded areas, such as Bevil Oaks.

According to him, people, some from out of the area and from out of state, tried to get into evacuated areas before it was safe to do so, but they were turned away. Some of the parties seemed to genuinely be trying to help but others were somewhat suspicious, said McLellan.

“We were not falling for it,” he said. “And it wasn’t safe. At one point, the county judge signed an order to keep civilians from taking boats onto floodwaters because it was too dangerous.”

Sgt. Cody Guedry of the Beaumont Police Department said his city had not experienced much looting or thievery resulting from the hurricane, but his department has received numerous calls from citizens concerned about theft of items from debris piles left on curbs.

“What we’re having a problem with is miscommunication,” Guedry began. “We have debunked the rumor that FEMA is telling people to write ‘do not take’ on items being placed by the curb. FEMA does not require that. I am not telling people not to do it if they want to, but there was a rumor going around that they had to do it for FEMA inspections. It’s not required by FEMA. It’s really just holding up the trash pickup.

"There are a lot of people looking for salvage, and we have received calls from people complaining that people are stealing their property off the curb. It’s trash when you place it on the curb like that. However, if it is on the person’s property, not on the curb, it is considered stealing. So, people really aren’t ‘looting’ because they are going through trash, but a lot of people don’t like it and are worried about their personal information. My suggestion is, don’t put personal paper in the trash, or destroy any papers or property with identifying information before placing them in the trash.”

Looters face ‘eternal damnation’

The city of Vidor, which flooded extensively, did experience some looting following Hurricane Harvey, according to Police Chief Rod Carroll. Sept. 8, Carroll took to social media to express gratitude to his crew and to call out three adults and one juvenile for further victimizing storm-impacted residents.

“I would like to congratulate the diligence of the midnight shift of the Vidor Police Department,” Carroll commented on Facebook. “Friday morning, Vidor Police Department located three adult residents and a 14-year-old resident of Lake Charles that were looting and burglarizing homes in the Maplecrest subdivision. As I stated, these people are the lowest of the low to steal from those that have lost so much. Eternal damnation shall be their final punishment, and there is no ice water in Hell.”

Police arrested Troy Pitre, 44, of Ragly, Broc Manuel, 24, of Lake Charles, Blaine Pitre, 23 of Ragly and a 14-year-old from Louisiana in the incident.Orange County and the city of Vidor, which is in Orange County, were under a curfew for about two weeks following Hurricane Harvey. Chief Carroll told The Examiner that most curfew violators had “no reason” to be out beyond restricted hours. He said officers “stopped people left and right,” releasing those with legitimate reasons for being out past curfew.

“We stopped one woman who was getting off at 1 a.m. after shift change at St. E,” Carroll related. “She was very nice, and we let her go on her way. She didn’t mind being stopped. She wasn’t doing anything wrong.”

However, Carroll said, there were others who were out past curfew and up to no good, like the trio arrested Sept. 7.

“They were out stealing,” he surmised.

Curfew crashers

Five curfew violations following the hurricane resulted in numerous arrests on a variety of charges, according to Vidor police reports.

Sept. 3, when the city was under curfew from 8 p.m. – 6 a.m., Officer Eric Meineke pulled over a blue 2006 Hyundai with a male driver and female passenger for being out after curfew at 10:24 p.m. He described that the car was “driving slowly” down Abe St. in Vidor. The female passenger, 33-year-old Alicia Renee Rossi, was arrested on two warrants from Hardin County, one for possession of a controlled substance and another for failure to appear in court to stand trial for the possession charge. Due to high water on the road, officers were unable to take her to jail and instead took her home to a residence in Vidor.

Sept. 4, just after midnight, Officer Meineke stopped a 1998 Honda motorcycle for a curfew violation. The driver told the officer he did not have a license to operate a motorcycle. As Meineke wrote citations to 48-year-old Vidor resident Robert L. Campbell for no endorsement and no insurance, police dispatch returned a felony warrant on Campbell out of Angelina County. He was arrested.

At 11:51 p.m. on Sept. 4, Officer Joseph Snider arrested six people for curfew violations and warrants after stopping them in the 500 block of Orange Street in Vidor. He spotted the 1999 Ford 250 with Louisiana plates traveling eastbound on the street well after curfew. Adonys Carrillo-Hernandez, 31, Jesus Salvador Martinez, 23, Jesus Alfredo Carranza, 35, Jose De Jesus Silva Garcia, 29, and David Martinez, 20, were arrested for curfew violations. Snider also arrested 24-year-old Taylor Preston Bandy for the curfew violation, three traffic warrants from Vidor and a county capias warrant.

Police arrested Christopher Charles Cox, 30, for amphetamine possession after he was stopped for a curfew violation Sept. 5. According to the police report, Officer Ethan Mansfield responded to the 2800 block of Old Highway 90 at about 1 a.m. to assist a Texas Ranger and an ATF Agent with a traffic stop. The other officers had stopped a white Nissan Frontier and noticed the driver, Cox, displayed restricted pupils, an indication of possible intoxication. Upon searching the vehicle with the driver’s consent, reports Mansfield, the officers discovered “a crystal-like substance believed to be methamphetamine” weighing 56.99 grams in the console of the vehicle. Cox was arrested for second-degree felony possession of a controlled substance and taken to jail.

Jason P. Smith, 38, was arrested in Vidor for possession of marijuana and driving with an invalid license after being stopped for a curfew violation Sept. 6 at 2:36 a.m. Officer Meineke stopped Smith’s black 2011 Chrysler 300 on Tram Road near the 1300 block of North Main Street and reportedly smelled a strong odor of cologne in the vehicle, an unsuccessful attempt to mask the odor of burnt marijuana, according to the officer. Meineke reports the driver admitted having marijuana in the vehicle. Officers recovered remnants of burnt marijuana joints, or “roaches,” from inside empty cigarette packs in the car. They also found $5,000 in the trunk, which they returned and did not seize, according to the report.

Photo courtesy of Vidor PD - Vidor police made three arrests following reports of looting after Hurricane Harvey.