When police arrested a politically connected lawman last week, phones started ringing in Edinburg.
At about 9:30 p.m. on Dec. 21, officers arrested Hidalgo County Court at Law No. 8 Bailiff Carlos Perez on suspicion of driving while intoxicated.
Perez, though, spent just 88 minutes in the city jail, according to Edinburg Police Department records — thanks to a call from Municipal Judge Toribio “Terry” Palacios.
“I made the call to get him released,” Palacios said.
The call allowed Perez to avoid waiting for a judge and to skip the trip across town for booking at the Hidalgo County jail. Perez simply signed bond paperwork and promised to appear two weeks later for a formal arraignment.
Most people facing a Class B misdemeanor charge wait in a city jail for a court hearing. Afterward, they’re transported to the Hidalgo County jail for booking.
Both Palacios and Assistant Police Chief Oscar Trevino — who said he couldn’t identify Perez by name and referred to him only as a law enforcement officer assigned to a county court — said the situation wasn’t unusual. However, they didn’t know exactly how often Edinburg releases people before they’re formally charged with a crime.
“It happens once in a while, but not often,” Palacios said, adding that police typically release someone to an attorney or family member.
Perez had something most people don’t: A brother-in-law with the municipal judge’s cell phone number.
Police arrested Carlos Perez, 40, of Alamo on the 700 block of East University Drive, according to Trevino, who declined to provide additional details.
Officers observed slurred speech and determined that Perez appeared to be under the influence of alcohol, according to arrest records.
Trevino declined to disclose whether or not Perez consented to a breath or blood test.
Officers arrested Perez on suspicion of driving while intoxicated, a Class B misdemeanor, and unlawfully carrying a weapon, a Class A misdemeanor.
Police booked him at 10:26 p.m.
“I got a call from his wife,” said Perez’s brother-in-law, County Court at Law No. 1 Judge Rodolfo “Rudy” Gonzalez.
Gonzalez called Palacios.
“I called him and I said ‘Look, Perez was arrested. I don’t know the facts. I don’t know what happened,” Gonzalez said, adding that he asked Palacios what, if anything, he could do. “And that was the extent of the conversation.”
Palacios called the police department.
“I called and talked to a supervisor,” Palacios said, adding that he asked whether or not police would object to Perez being released.
People routinely ask him to release jailed family members, Palacios said.
“He’s a citizen of Hidalgo County. Not a flight risk. He’s a first-time offender,” Palacios said. “I had no concern. Whether he’s a police officer or not, I think we need to treat everybody the same.”
Palacios said he weighs a person’s reputation, history and standing in the community, not personal connections.
“Whether he’s related to the judge or not, that’s not a factor to me,” Palacios said.
Perez signed a $5,000 surety bond and promised to appear for arraignment in January.
Officers released Perez at 12:04 a.m. but kept his driver’s license. Gonzalez drove him home.
Attorney Marco A. De Luna, who represents Perez, declined to comment.
Trevino said he didn’t know details about who called the police department but added that releasing someone with a promise to appear is normal.
“It’s not uncommon,” Trevino said. “We do it a lot of times.”
Trevino said Edinburg releases people with extenuating circumstances, such as pregnant women or people with medical conditions, and people facing misdemeanor charges who aren’t considered a flight risk.
“Of course DWI is serious, but it’s not something that’s really, really severe as an offense,” Trevino said.
Without knowing the details, people should refrain from second-guessing police and the judge, said former Hidalgo County District Attorney Rene Guerra.
“Most people are going to say it’s special treatment, but technically it could be done for anybody,” Guerra said. He later added a caveat: “Well, not everybody has Terry Palacios’ cell phone number.”
Drunken driving offenses present a dilemma for judges, who must weigh public safety against a myriad of other factors, including rehabilitation, Guerra said, adding that a conviction may cause irrevocable damage.
“What I would tell friends is ‘Please don’t recommend a drunk for special consideration,’” Guerra said. “They may go out there and kill somebody.”