On Tuesday evening, two deputies responding to reports of a suspicious individual were attempting to question 37-year-old Moises Martinez. According to the sheriff’s office, the suspect then opened fire, striking Deputy Brandon Barrigan in the hand, back, and face.
Following a manhunt with the assistance of other local law enforcement, Martinez was taken into custody and charged with felon in possession of a weapon and two counts of felony Aggravated Assault of a Public Servant.
According to county records, Martinez has multiple prior felony convictions and was sentenced to 10 years in prison for burglary in 2010. Consequently, he does not again appear in the criminal court record until 2020, but in that year, he was released on three felony bonds.
After Martinez was arrested and charged with Robbery with Bodily Injury and Criminal Mischief in October of 2020, the district attorney’s office filed a motion to deny bail but Harris County’s 263rd District Court Judge Amy Martin granted release under a reduced bond amount, reportedly only requiring him to post $1,750 in bail.
By December of 2020 however, the court revoked bail and issued an arrest warrant after Martinez violated terms of release. Martinez was a wanted fugitive at the time of the shooting.
According to Crime Stoppers Houston Victim’s Advocate Andy Kahan, the incident is illustrative of an ongoing problem in the county created largely by judges awarding multiple low cost or personal recognizance bonds even to violent felony suspects. While Kahan has sought to inform the public about murders in the county allegedly committed by those out on multiple bonds, he notes that there may be many more moving freely about the community despite having violated terms of release.
“The bigger question no one is asking is how many other Martinez’s are out there wanted for bond forfeiture,” Kahan told The Texan.
The shooting incident coincides with Sheriff Ed Gonzalez’s recent request to a federal court judge to facilitate the release of more than 1,500 inmates in the Harris County jail due to COVID-19 concerns. Warning that the jail population had exceeded 9,000 inmates and that his staff was unable to effectively quarantine exposed inmates, Gonzalez said he wanted to release pre-trial detainees that were reportedly “non-violent.”
After Chief U.S. District Court Judge Lee H. Rosenthal ordered criminal justice officials in Harris County to vet Gonzalez list of 1,543 inmates, the district attorney’s office under Kim Ogg (D) only approved 60 names. An advisory filed with the court by Assistant District Attorney Scott Durfee states that the inmates not approved either faced charges for violent offenses, had holds for immigration proceedings or extradition, or faced multiple charges with combined bond amounts well above the $10,000 threshold.
Additionally, nine Houston-area legislators filed an amicus brief with the court opposing the release of the inmates, and state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) asked why Gonzalez was not seeking remedies from the Texas Legislature, now in session.
In the hours prior to the shooting, the judge heard from county officials and attorneys regarding additional jail releases, and although dismayed to learn that only seven of the 60 approved had actually been processed for release, she declined to order automatic bail hearings for the remainder of the inmates on the sheriff’s list.
Following the shooting of the deputy, Bettencourt reiterated his opposition to releasing more suspects and promised to file legislation to address the problem.
“Public safety is the primary concern right now in Houston and something has to be done to protect our community, like filing legislation shortly,” said Bettencourt.
Although misdemeanor bond policies in Harris County are largely governed by the terms of a consent decree approved by Rosenthal in 2019, felony bond policies are still subject to state law and judges and magistrates exercise much leeway in determining terms for release.
Barrigan was wearing a protective vest at the time of the shooting and is expected to recover, although he will require surgery to repair damage to his hand.
Martinez’s remains in custody in the Harris County jail, although Wednesday the court ordered new bonds set at $500,000.
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Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.