No action in Juneteenth celebration complaint
Criminal District Attorney Cory Crenshaw has announced the May Term Jefferson County Grand Jury voted to take no action following a complaint of a Texas Election Code violation stemming from the City of Beaumont’s Juneteenth Celebration on June 21, 2014.
According to investigative reports, during the City-sponsored event, the DJ read a list of elected officials and candidates for local office who were in attendance. Several candidates attending the event were omitted, leading to complaints of a violation of Texas Election Code Section 255.003, which prohibits the use of public funds for political advertising. A violation under this section is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in county jail and up to a $4,000 fine or both. Specifically, the complaint alleged City Councilman Jamie Smith was responsible for the list of elected officials which was used.
The Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office investigated this incident and presented its findings to the grand jury, which voted to take no action. Therefore, no criminal charges will be filed. The Jefferson County District Attorney will turn over all evidence collected during the investigation to the Texas Ethics Commission (TEC) to assist them should they decide to take any action.
Criminal District Attorney Cory Crenshaw stated, “Nothing in the decision by the Grand Jury should be taken as tacit approval for what happened during this city sponsored event. Our community is enjoying more competitive political races than in recent memory. Candidates should be mindful of their actions and expect to be held accountable when those actions violate criminal law.”
In an interview Councilman Jamie Smith praised the DA's office for their work on the case. Smith says he realizes a mistake was made in the course of events that transpired at the Juneteenth celebration, and asserts that he had no intention of endorsing any candidates whose names were on the list.
"I am thankful for the great job he and his office did to investigate the complaint, and I'm glad no action was taken," says Smith, who maintains he doesn't even know exactly what was said regarding endorsing candidates. "There was a list of candidates who contacted me that they were going to be out there. I wrote their names down, and I passed their names on to another gentleman who then passed it on to the DJ.
"What was on the list was just their names. It wasn't party-related. It wasn't an endorsement. The only intent was, and it was wrong, but because voter turnout has been so low, the only intent was to trying to get people energized and interested and getting out to vote in the November election. The candidates were out there, and it would have been the perfect time to talk to them about concerns and get to know them. If you want to vote for them, you can. If you don't want to vote for them, you don't have to. Go vote for the other person. I don't even know what was said I just heard two names called out. Someone said that the DJ said, 'look for these guys on the ballot,' or something like that, which I didn't hear. So, when it was brought to our attention, it was taken care of.
"I am glad that District Attorney Crenshaw investigated. His office did an outstanding job. They are very professional. I am glad this is behind us so we can move forward and move on with the election."
Smith said he is happy to "move beyond this event," and expects the TEC to absolve him of any purposeful misconduct and take no action. He said he has spoken with representatives of the TEC about the circumstances of the complaint since the event and was told he had done nothing wrong.