Courthouse employees using disabled parking raises security questions
SAN ANTONIO - The disabled deserve justice too.
But a News 4 Trouble Shooter investigation reveals sheriff's deputies and other employees blocking their access to the courthouse. Jaie Avila’s undercover video has county leaders taking action to correct the problem.
A city ordinance allows anyone with a disabled placard to park for free on the streets surrounding the courthouse. But we found bailiff's and court staff using up the street parking near the courthouse all day long.
Parking around the Bexar County Courthouse is hard to find and expensive. Disabled drivers say it's discouraging when the spaces are filled, all day long, by cars belonging to county employees using disabled placards.
"People with jobs, they are here all day, it's not like an hour or two, they are taking the space up all day and that's what is not fair about it," said Betty Hogan, a person with a disability who was visiting the courthouse.
Our undercover camera showed courthouse employees with disabled placards using the spaces day after day. Including two young women who work for the county clerk's office and appeared to be walking without difficulty.
When Jaie Avila asked one of the women if the placard on her car belonged to her she denied it was even her car. However, we had video of the woman getting into the driver’s seat on several different days.
Bexar County Clerk Gerry Rickhoff says the two women admitted to him they were using placards that belonged to family members. We called both women to confirm that with them but they did not respond.
And here's what we saw when we watched the spaces closest to the courthouse. As early as 6:30 in the morning they're snatched up by uniformed sheriff's deputies who work as court bailiff's.
Avila approached one of the deputies who said his placard is legitimate.
“My orthopedic doctor gave it to me. I have an ongoing knee problem I finally got my surgery date," the deputy told us.
All of the deputies say the placards they're using belong to them. But the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office is still not happy about where they've been parking.
“First of all let me thank you, we had no idea this was happening until you brought it to our attention," said Deputy Chief Ari Jimenez.
Jimenez says the sheriff's office provides parking for disabled employees in the nearby parking garage.
Under the collective bargaining agreement deputies receive a $60-a-month allowance to park there. He says two deputies, including the bailiff we spoke with, have been collecting their allowance, which they're not allowed to receive if they're taking up free parking.
And there's another serious issue: if they're disabled can they do the job of a bailiff which is pretty physically demanding?
“The one person that will be providing security for the judge, the prosecutors, for the witnesses, for everybody in that courtroom is that bailiff," Jimenez said.
Three of the deputies we saw using disabled placards are now undergoing fitness evaluations. Jimenez says they can't keep their jobs if they are truly disabled.
"We have a commitment and a responsibility to secure the courthouse and the courtrooms, and we have to make sure that we have the best personnel performing those duties," Jimenez said.
As a result of our investigation the sheriff's office and the county clerk sent warnings about abusing the disabled placard system and parking in areas reserved for the disabled.