Family violence suspects go free due to Dallas County case-filing policy

by Emily Roberts | Jun 26, 2014

Family violence suspects go free due to Dallas County case-filing policy

June 16, 2014
by Tanya Eiserer

A woman recently told News 8 about the day she thought she was going to die.

“All of the sudden, he just grabbed me,” she said earlier this month. “He started choking me.”

The woman, who asked not to be identified, was driving along Grand Avenue on June 1. Her 1-year-old grandchild was in the back seat when she said her former boyfriend, Ray Herron, attacked her from the passenger seat. It didn't stop until police shocked him with a Taser.

Dallas police arrested Herron on charges of felony family violence and endangering a child. His bail totaled $115,000.

Four days later, he walked free without posting bond. Police hadn't filed his case in time with the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office.

He went free because county policy gives police three business days to file misdemeanors and many felonies with prosecutors. If that doesn’t happen, a prisoner is simply released.

A News 8 review found that eight other felony family violence offenders and two robbery suspects went free under the three-day policy since June 1.

Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins placed the blame squarely on Dallas County’s judges, who set the policy. Watkins said it needs to be revamped to give police more time, particularly in felony family violence cases. He said his office prepares a list every day of prisoners that are about to be released if police don’t file the case.

“We’re actually on the side of the police department on this issue,” Watkins said. “A lot of folks are getting out of jail that shouldn’t. [...] Every death penalty case in Dallas County over the last few years dealt with family violence, and you would think that the judges would look at those cases and make a different determination as to how long a police department has to file a case.”

Paige Flink, executive director of The Family Place, had no idea the three-day policy existed in felony family violence cases. Police officials and Flink said often it may be difficult for a detective to find the victim, get their statement, and to gather up all the evidence that is needed to file a felony family violence case.

“These victims just want the violence to stop,” she said. “I understand that we have stretched resources and that there’s capacity issues in the jail, but violent felony family violence assaults need to be taken seriously. Perpetrators need to be held accountable.”

The alleged victim in Herron’s case told police that he began choking her and telling her that she was going to “die like that b**** Deanna Cook.”

The victim was a friend of Deanna Cook, whose was murdered in August 2012 while on the phone with a Dallas 911 operator. Cook’s murder led to dramatic changes in the Dallas 911 call center and brought renewed focus to the dangers of domestic violence.

“I saw her the day before,” the woman told News 8. “I told her, 'I’ll see you tomorrow,' and I never saw her again."

The woman told police that she lost consciousness while the vehicle was still moving and that when she came to, the vehicle had stopped and she had swerved into oncoming traffic.

Several motorists called 911 and reported that she was being choked and that Herron would not let her go. He was violently squeezing her arm once after police arrived on scene, accounting to police documents.

Police repeatedly told Herron to let her go and to get out of the car. An officer then used a Taser on him when he wouldn’t do so, the records state.

Cases in which the alleged offender has tried to strangle the victim are also of a particular concern, because those victims are at the highest likelihood of being killed or seriously injured, Flink said.

News 8 reached out to the alleged victim Monday, particularly now that Herron’s free. She could not be located.

Presiding State District Judge Rick Magnis told News 8 that there is a delicate balance between ensuring that the innocent don’t remain in jail, giving police enough time to do their job and protecting victims.

Magnis said the judges are more than willing to revisit the policy, which also gives police agencies 10 business days to file serious felonies, such as murders and aggravated robberies, with prosecutors.

"The District Attorney's Office has not approached the judges and indicated that there was a problem,” said Magnis, who oversees a specialized, high-risk family violence offender court. “I'm sure we will consider changing it, if they ask us."

Magnis also noted that the policy allows the police or prosecutors to seek an extension –- three days for cases under the three-day rule and 10 days for cases under the 10-day rule.

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