New punishment hearing ordered in ex-police chief’s tampering case

BY ERIN SHERIDAN, Staff Writer

An appeals court reversed a trial court’s judgment in the case filed against former Indian Lake Police Chief John Chambers, who was convicted on 14 counts of tampering with government records in January 2016.

Chambers is running for county sheriff on the Republican ticket.

The former chief was arrested on Feb. 23, 2015 by officers with the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) and investigators from the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office. A jury in the 103rd state District Court found Chambers guilty on each count for falsifying firearms qualifications records for several unpaid Indian Lake reserve officers that January.

He was sentenced to five years probation by District Judge Janet Leal on each count, set to run concurrently.

According to the ruling issued by the 13th Court of Appeals, Chambers had been contacted by an agent with the TCOLE, who informed him that firearms qualifications records for several of the reserve officers were missing. “Appellant then instructed a subordinate officer to create records falsely stating that fourteen reserve officers had passed a firearms training course using appellant’s pistol,” the opinion stated.

In 2017, the 13th Court of Appeals affirmed Chambers’ conviction, concluding that the documents qualified as governmental records, that Chambers was not entitled to a jury charge instruction on local government code which authorizes a municipality to establish a reserve police force, and that evidence was sufficient to show that Chambers acted with the “intent to defraud or harm” the state.

An appeal brought before the Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) affirmed the first two issues, but concluded that the evidence was insufficient to show Chambers acted with the “intent to defraud or harm” because “it was legally impossible for TCOLE to be defrauded by Chambers,” according to the ruling.

“ If the government has to authority to fine the defendant, then it is legally impossible for the defendant to ‘defraud’ the government out of an opportunity to fine him,” the court wrote.

The case was remanded back to the 13th Court of Appeals, which noted that the CCA held that TCOLE did not have the legal right or duty to require the firearms qualifications records from Chambers.

The ruling stated that Chambers received a report from TCOLE stating that his reserve officers’ firearms qualification records were deficient and gave him 10 days to correct the deficiency, threatening to impose disciplinary action or a $1,000 daily fine if he did not produce the documents.

The ruling was remanded to the 103rd District court for further proceedings and a new punishment hearing.

esheridan@brownsvilleherald.com