False arrest leaves contractor homeless

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The Dallas Examiner

“You have been in jail, I believe, long enough to probably have served a two- or three-year sentence,” Garland resident Seroy Flowers said Judge Jeanine Howard, Criminal District Court 6, told him before dismissing a case brought against him.

After spending almost a year in the Dallas County Jail, Flowers has been struggling to start over again.

“What I deal with in an average day now is trying to stay alive,” said Flowers, 56, as he sat in the office of Rev. Peter Johnson in Oak Cliff Tower. “I’m homeless. I live on the street. Thank God, and Peter, they help me rent a hotel room every once in a while.”

Flowers is a general contractor with a degree in architecture. He moved from California last year to expand his property repair business.

“What I do for a living is, I buy old homes and flip them,” he explained. “That’s what I’d come to Dallas for.”

The businessman described how a disagreement over a towed car at an apartment complex on North Buckner Boulevard led to his life being dismantled.

The beginning of the end

The incident occurred last fall when Flowers said he applied to get an apartment-parking sticker for his vehicle. He noted that he was given temporary paperwork to place on the dashboard of his car until a permanent sticker was available.

He had previously dealt with a vehicle getting removed by Longhorn Wrecker from his sister’s apartment property, in which he stated “I had took them to court.”

But the night of Oct. 19, 2014, was different. Flowers said that he was in his apartment preparing to get some sleep before starting work on a home the next day, when his girlfriend, Tracie Garrett, alerted him that the same towing company was in the process of removing his car.

By the time Flowers got dressed and made it to the parking lot, the wrecker and his car were gone.

“The police department informed me they couldn’t do anything about that because it was on private property,” he said as he described a 911 call he made.

Afterward, Flowers approached Gary Amburn and another security officer patrolling the complex and asked why they allowed the towing company to remove his car.

“We didn’t see a sticker on the car,” one guard replied, according to Flowers.

Flowers said that when another towing vehicle from the company arrived he approached the driver about his missing automobile.

“Well, you’ve got to pay me to get it back,” Flowers claimed the driver, Dax Catechis, told him. Flowers continued to protest. He then alleged Catechis said at one point “I’ll charge you up.”

Flowers noted the driver then started looking under his seat. Not knowing if he was looking for paperwork or a weapon, the resident walked away to a space between two vans where his car had originally been.

“I’m standing there dialing 911 because I don’t know what this guy was doing,” Flowers recounted.

In a Prosecution Report on Incident #252342-2014, investigating officer Michael Mendez noted the following occurred next:

“… Officers observed Catechis … having a verbal altercation with suspects Seroy Flowers and Tracie Garrett regarding [Flowers’] vehicle …”

The report also details what led to the arrest of both Flowers and Garrett.

“Officers observed Catechis pull out a can of Mace and warn [the suspects] to back away.

“[Security officer] Amburn approached the suspects and informed them to back away from Catechis. At this time suspect Flowers pushed Officer Amburn, causing him to stumble backwards.

“Officer Amburn regained his balance without falling and grabbed suspect Flowers by the shoulders to avoid falling to the ground.”

The report went on to say, Flowers hit Amburn in his mouth with his elbow while Garrett tried to remove the officer’s gun from its holster.

Flowers angrily denied the claims in the report. He explained that someone pushed him from behind as he called police.

“I dropped my phone, I turned, grabbed the person who pushed me and I snatched him around and myself around,” he remarked as he demonstrated what physically occurred. “When he ran in to me, he pushed me backwards. So when he pushed me backwards I fell against the van.

“Now we go to tussling. So he’s trying to grab me on the neck and I noticed that it’s not the tow truck driver, it’s a security guard … I’m knocking his hands away, like he’s trying to grab me on the neck …”

However, Flowers insisted that Garrett never touched the officer’s gun.

The arrest

The responding police officers questioned the security officers, Flowers and other witnesses. At that time, the DPD officers declined to arrest anyone. They also informed Flowers that the security personnel had nothing to do with the towing, and that he would have to address the issue with the towing firm.

Upset but accepting of the situation, Flowers said the police left and he returned to his apartment to sleep.

Within the incident report, there is a note recorded at the time of 12:50 a.m. on Oct. 20, 2014, that remarks, “Caller is upset because PD did not make a report.” According to Flowers, this is the moment that the security officer called a police command sergeant with his altered story.

Around 2 a.m. one of the original responding officers, J. McDaniel, was at Flowers’ door.

Flowers remembered the somber expression on the police officer’s face as he entered the apartment.

“He said, ‘Well, Mr. Flowers, I’m here to arrest you.’ I said ‘Huh?’” the contractor voiced.

Flowers said the police officer stated he and his partner didn’t want to arrest him, but Amburn had called the police station and altered the story to include Flowers having a gun and added a group of hostile Black people to the scene.

Amburn is a former police officer from outside of Dallas, who was fired in 2012 from the Saint Jo Police Department after receiving multiple complaints from several citizens for excessive use of force and false arrests, according to previous news reports. The reports also indicate at least two additional times in which he received complaints based on his behavior as a police officer in other cities.

The phone number listed for Amburn in case documents was disconnected at the time of publication of this story and Amburn could not be reached for comments. Additional attempts were made to contact Amburn with no response.

Flowers, who has no prior criminal record, expected a fairly low bond over an initially nonviolent disagreement on a case he figured would be thrown out.

He was shocked to hear that his bail would be set at $40,000 by Magistrate Steven Autry for the charge “assault on a peace officer,” based upon Amburn’s accusation.

Flowers maintained that throughout his time in jail he repeatedly asked his court-appointed lawyer to either have the case dismissed or bring it to a jury trial as soon as possible.

Case dismissed, finally

Denials of dismissal and delays with the trial date continued until Sept. 14 of this year when the case was finally thrown out.

By that time Flowers had spent 11 months and 25 days in the county jail. At no point was his bail reduced.

In the official hearing on dismissal court transcript, Assistant District Attorney Rene Valle made a point that was key to the charges against the defendant being dropped.

“So there were two responding officers. In the interview process with them, they indicated that when they arrived there shouldn’t have been a third-degree felony filed,” court reporter Jan Cherie Williams transcribed from Valle’s statements. “… And that’s the only reason that it was filed was because their supervisors came in and told them they should file it.

“The reasons why they said they thought they should file it was the complaining witness [Amburn], at that point in time, kind of altered the story to make it rise to the level of that.”

The judge issued a summons for Amburn to appear in court on Oct. 14, but Flowers maintained that Amburn was not present.

Mark Robinius, the attorney for the defendant, remarked in the transcript, “So I guess since the State has indicated that it’s a dismissal it’s because they don’t believe the assault happened, not because of witnesses are unavailable.

“In fact, they had witnesses available but they said that they didn’t think this should have been filed.”

Despite his innocence, Flowers said he has paid a high price due to the security officer’s complaint and delays by the county.

“I have lost everything,” he sighed.

He stated that he has lost his pension despite a 29-year association with his union. He no longer has insurance for himself or his two granddaughters. And Garrett still has a charge on her related to the original complaint.

Additionally, while he was jailed, Flowers could not perform the work he already had lined up, so he made no income. The incarceration prevented him from buying local houses and kept him from making business contacts around the Metroplex, effectively wiping out any potential to earn future income, according to Flowers.

“I feel like I’m in a very strange land. It’s not the United States,” he observed.

The system by numbers

The contractor insisted that his experience underscores issues involving race, the county’s unmanageable caseloads, and a prejudice against the impoverished.

Flowers and his girlfriend is Black, as is McDaniel, according to Flowers, and the two security officers and Catechis are White.

In Flowers’ view, all of the different issues set up a system in which lawyers will urge inmates to take a plea deal in order to leave jail. He said the tradeoff for such a temptation is that, in order to get out of jail sooner to continue to make a living, these individuals will now have a criminal record.

“What they’re doing to people down in that Dallas county jail, and Frank Crowley Court Building – the D.A.’s doing – it’s not a law,” he exclaimed. “The only way you get out of jail is you sign this paper as guilt[y], and sign probation.”

He noted those who plea out will have to make payments while on probation for court fees and fines, or risk further jail time if they cannot afford to pay such costs.

“I do numbers all day,” he proposed, suggesting that money was also a motive for the county.

“If you’ve got a thousand people that you forced into [taking] probation, and charge them $71 a month, how much money you make?”

The waiting game and the pressure to accept a plea bargain in lieu of a trial are ingrained parts of the county’s justice system, Johnson believes. The reverend said that during his visits to local prisons he has met many individuals who have faced similar circumstances.

“For me, it’s extremely difficult to deal with because I’ve been involved with social justice for 50 years,” Johnson intoned about Flowers’ hardship. “I would hope and pray that these kind of experiences would be behind us, but unfortunately, they’re not.”

Flowers’ case especially touched him.

“To sit in jail almost a year for something you didn’t do, and to literally lose everything; nobody even says I’m sorry.”

Johnson asserted that poverty was not the only factor in Flowers’ case.

“I know that a part of this problem has to do with skin pigmentation,” Johnson complained. He then indicated Flowers. “If this boy here was a White man he wouldn’t be sitting in there today because he wouldn’t have run into that kind of overt police abuse and dishonesty that our people face on a daily basis.”

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