City council passes cite-and-release ordinance in final vote

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Jaden Edison

(Left to right) Austin Adams and John Matthew Redding hold up signs advocating for the implementation of a cite-and-release ordinance in San Marcos, Tuesday, March 3, 2020, outside of a city council meeting at City Hall.

Gabriella Ybarra, News Reporter

In a historic final vote, the San Marcos City Council passed an ordinance encouraging the use of cite-and-release, making San Marcos the first city in Texas to pass an ordinance of this kind.

The ordinance proposed by local advocacy group Mano Amiga seeks to guide the San Marcos Police Department officers’ discretion, allowing them to issue citations for class C misdemeanors and some cases of class A and class B misdemeanors instead of making an arrest.

Council members Maxfield Baker, Mark Rockeymoore, Jocabed Marquez and Melissa Derrick voted in favor of the ordinance. Mayor Jane Hughson and council members Ed Mihalkanin and Saul Gonzales voted again in opposition. Hughson said she would prefer the reform as a resolution and not an ordinance.

“I have seen unintended consequences when an ordinance is first passed and I have fears that there could be some serious unintended consequences from this one,” Hughson said. “I would prefer we give direction, perhaps a resolution, to ensure we do not cause new problems that do not exist now.”

The Texas Criminal Code of Procedure allows officers to issue citations for low-level offenses but are given discretion.

In the ordinance, individuals suspected of possession of marijuana less than four ounces, driving with an invalid license, graffiti, theft of property, theft of services and any class C misdemeanor other than public intoxication, assault or family violence could be eligible for a citation.

Members of the council voted to lower the dollar amount of damages required to be eligible for a citation if an individual commits graffiti, theft of property and theft of services from less than or equal to $750 to less than or equal to $375.

The council also approved an amendment that re-added the word “only” to the section of the ordinance where it lists the specific circumstances in which an officer can make an arrest. The word was initially removed after members of the council raised concerns that the word made the ordinance too limiting of officer discretion.

Councilwoman Melissa Derrick, who proposed the removal of the word, requested it be re-added after members of the San Marcos Police Officers Association ran an ad depicting the four members of the council who voted in favor of the ordinance with the text “Are these council members ok with nine marijuana-related murders?”

“I made a huge amendment change that took the word only out hoping that it would appease the San Marcos Police Officers Association and they would then do street diversions instead of punishing our citizens, but that wasn’t even enough,” Derrick said.

The ordinance received over 500 petition signatures and is supported by groups like MOVE Texas, Texas Rising, Latinas Unidas, RFK Young Leaders, Black Women United and Texas State’s NAACP chapter

For Mano Amiga, the passing of the ordinance has been a part of a yearlong effort. Chair of Mano Amiga Karen Muñoz said the advocacy group will now move on to other reforms it said are needed for Hays County.

“While we’re elated this policy of guided discretion’ can serve as a model for cities elsewhere across Texas, we now turn our focus to urgent reforms needed in Hays County, a Public Defender’s office and the delayed Cite and Diversion program,” Muñoz said.

The ordinance will go into effect May 31, 2020.


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