Woman with ties to justice system freed minutes after DWI booking

July 28, 2012

A law student who had interned for the district attorney and whose mother works for the district clerk was freed minutes after being booked on suspicion of driving while intoxicated after her mother phoned local judges.

It was Precinct 1 and 2 Justice of the Peace Martin Castillo who did a special arraignment for 25-year-old Camille Matthews in the wee hours of the morning, allowing her to go home and sleep in her own bed instead of a jail cell.

The young woman has not been formally charged. The county reportedly is awaiting results of a blood test taken after she refused a field sobriety test.

Castillo said that he did nothing out of the ordinary when he did the arraignment. Others in law enforcement disagree.

District Clerk Tonna Hitt said she was angry when she found out that employee Natalie Matthews had called upon elected officials when the incident with her daughter happened three weeks ago, on the night of Saturday, July 7.

“The only way she knows any of these people is by working for me,” Hitt said.

Natalie Matthews had been in the car just ahead of her daughter’s when Camille Matthews was pulled over by a state trooper on South Morgan Street at about 10:45 p.m., according to Hitt. Mother and daughter had just left a restaurant and bar, where they had been with a group of people, Hitt said.

When the law student refused a field sobriety test, Hitt related, the trooper called for backup, and a “blood warrant” was delivered to the home of County Court-at-Law Judge Vincent Messina. The judge’s signature on the blood warrant forced Camille Matthews to give a blood sample to be tested for its alcohol content.

Messina signed the warrant at 11:49 p.m., and the young woman’s blood was drawn at Lake Granbury Medical Center at 12:08 a.m., according to a timeline provided by the judge.

Messina said that he received a call from Natalie Matthews after the traffic stop was made.

“My response was that I was sorry that it happened, but if presented with a request for a blood warrant, if there was P/C (probable cause) for the stop I would issue it, and I did,” Messina wrote in an email to the Hood County News.

Natalie Matthews said that she never used Hitt’s name when she phoned Messina and two justices of the peace – Danny Tuggle and Castillo.

“I didn’t do anything inappropriate,” she said Wednesday when contacted by The Hood County News. “I did not ask Martin to bond her out or set her bond. I didn’t ask anybody to do any special favors.”

According to a Hood County Sheriff Bond Report, Camille Matthews was booked at 2:01 a.m. on Sunday, July 8, and released 46 minutes later, at 2:47 a.m.

Castillo said that he often grants requests for special arraignments. He denied showing any preferential treatment to Camille Matthews, and said that her mother – who works down the hall from his office – did not ask for special favors.

“The special treatment was not there,” Castillo said. He stated that if he had wanted to show favoritism, he could have released the young woman without bond.

But Charlie Cloud, a major with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC), said that a 2 a.m. arraignment and release would be “very uncommon. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it.”

“Obviously, that is special treatment,” Cloud said, referring to the Camille Matthews situation. “If they’re claiming it’s not special treatment, they’re not in touch with reality.”

Tuggle, who is JP for Precinct 4, acknowledged getting a call that night from Natalie Matthews. He said he gave her Castillo’s cell phone number after informing her that he was not the JP on call.

“She was a distraught mother at that time. She did not mention Tonna’s name,” Tuggle said, referring to Natalie Matthews’ boss. “It wouldn’t have made any difference to me.”

Sheriff Roger Deeds and Chief Deputy Biff Temple said they have no control over when a JP magistrates someone who has been arrested. Deeds said that the schedule that JPs have set for arraignments is Monday, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturday mornings – although there occasionally are special circumstances, such as medical concerns.

Asked whether a 2 a.m. arraignment would be unusual, Deeds said that it would be.

“But it happens from time to time,” he said. “If you know the judge, that’s a good person to know sometimes.”

Under normal circumstances, Camille Matthews might have had to stay in jail until a JP arrived on Monday morning to do arraignments. Deeds and Temple said that for some misdemeanors a person arrested during the weekend might be able to post bail and leave.

The DWI arrest for Camille Matthews was her first and was a misdemeanor, Temple said. However, Temple said that an arraignment may have been required in her case because there was a second charge as well – unlawful carrying of a handgun.

Hitt said she was told that Camille Matthews does have a license to carry a handgun, but the DWI arrest made it illegal for her to have the weapon in her possession.

Those arrested on charges involving intoxication can be released even if they are still intoxicated, but they must be released to a responsible party, Temple said. He said it was his understanding that Camille Matthews was released to her mother.

Hitt said that the county attorney’s office is awaiting blood test results. County Attorney Kelton Conner was out of the office attending a seminar and unavailable for comment, according to a staffer. “These are private matters,” she said.

Messina said that, if a case gets filed against Camille Matthews, he will recuse himself and have an assigned judge preside in the matter to avoid any appearance of impropriety.

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