Animal Control employee’s DWI bond conditions raise troubling issues for County’s liability

Montgomery County Animal Control officer Sarah Jean Coleman.

Conroe, May 2 – The bond conditions after Montgomery County Animal Control officer Sarah Jean Coleman’s Driving While Intoxicated arrest on February 4, 2018, raise troubling issues for the Montgomery County government with respect to potential liability for Coleman’s possible conduct while driving County vehicles.

Coleman is a highly-respected Animal Control officer for the County’s Animal Control Department which operates under the direction of Aaron Johnson, who is also the Montgomery County Animal Shelter Director. The combination of those two County departments occurred when Charles Jackson became the Animal Shelter Director on December 12, 2016. Numerous individuals have told this newspaper that Coleman does outstanding work, especially in the East Montgomery County area, as an Animal Control officer.

The problem arose, however, on February 4, 2018, when Coleman was arrested for DWI for having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15 or more, as the Criminal Complaint on file with the Montgomery County District Clerk shows. Coleman was brought into the Montgomery County Jail where she went before JP Wayne Mack who set her bond and also ordered certain “Ancillary Conditions of Bond,” which included that Coleman install an ignition interlock device to make impractical the operation of any motor vehicle if the device, by lung breath analysis, detected any alcohol on Coleman’s breath.

Since an ignition interlock device requirement only occurs for a “subsequent offense” under Texas Code of Criminal Procedure article 17.441, Mack’s requirement of Coleman to use such a device suggests that Coleman’s DWI in February was likely not her first.

Only 8 days later, however, another Judge, Keith Stewart, the Presiding Judge of County Court at Law Number 5, amended the conditions of Coleman’s bond after a hearing by only requiring Coleman to install the ignition interlock device on her personal vehicle, while she was “allowed to operate work vehicles unrestricted.”

That circumstance raises several troubling questions. First, if Coleman drove the County Animal Control vehicle which she normally drives during work hours between February 4 and February 12, Coleman was required under a court order to install an ignition interlock device in the County vehicle. Second, what is clear now is that Coleman currently drives a County vehicle without an ignition interlock device, even though she is under an order to use such a device for her personal vehicle. That, of course, raises very serious questions about the County government’s liability in the event a vehicular accident were to occur while Coleman drove a County truck.

What is also very troubling is that no one in a position of authority seems to have any knowledge of this situation. Animal Control and Shelter Director Aaron Johnson told The Golden Hammer that he was not aware of any requirement that Coleman use an ignition interlock device. Johnson declined to answer questions whether he was aware of Coleman’s legal situation more generally.

Montgomery County Attorney J.D. Lambright confirmed to this newspaper that he has not received any notification from the Animal Control Department or from Coleman with respect to Coleman’s circumstances. Lambright was wholly unaware of the pending DWI case.

Similarly, Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark, who is the Chairman of the Montgomery County Animal Shelter Advisory Board, also confirmed that he has received no information about Coleman’s legal situation.

A review of the County’s Employee Manual shows that the County has no formal policy contained in it regarding reporting of pending DWI cases against County employees who operate County vehicles on a regular basis.

Coleman told The Golden Hammer last night, “Any questions you may have should be directed to my attorney.”

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