Process Server's Possibly Illegal Arrest Caught on Camera
In the latest development in an ongoing investigation into a Texas judge, a process server was arrested while attempting to serve Judge Layne Walker legal documents in a courtroom. Process server Steve Hartman was trying to serve Walker with a federal summons regarding a civil rights complaint alleging mistreatment of a local criminal defense attorney and civil rights leader at the courthouse.
According to signed witness affidavits, Hartman crossed the bench, shoved papers in a deputy's face, and tried to push past to reach the judge. The arrest, however, was captured on video through the process server’s ballpoint pen camera. It's now been revealed that the captured footage may contradict what the signed affidavits say happened.
The video can be viewed in the below report by 12News in Southeast Texas.
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Hartman’s attorney believes that his rights were violated and declares that the witness affidavits signed by Sergeant Steve Broussard (shown in the video), Deputy Sharon Williams (shown in the video), and attorney Joe Vazquez, are not truthful.
“The video contradicts all of the witness affidavits,” the attorney said in an interview with the news station. “None of the affidavits contain truthful evidence. The video is very clear on that.”
The video contradicts all of the witness affidavits. None of the affidavits contain truthful evidence. The video is very clear on that.Attorney John Morgan
Hartman’s disbelief is clear. “Here I am under the assumption that I’m on the same team as these people,” he said. “I just can’t believe it.” He was charged with hindering a proceeding by disorderly conduct. Upon his release, his possessions were return to him with the exception of the ballpoint camera pen. A mini screwdriver was in its place. Further investigation revealed that Sergeant Broussard had taken the pen home with him before entering it into evidence.
With the release of the video, an internal investigation of the incident is now underway and Sergeant Broussard has been placed on paid leave.
But according to the report, some law enforcement officials say there’s more to the video that has not been released. “They didn’t specify what it shows, but they did imply that it more clearly supports statements made by the witnesses,” the reporter said.
A longer version of the courtroom incident video was recently uploaded to YouTube. The six-minute video can be viewed below:
The differences in witness accounts and what is shown in the video are compared below.
- Hartman approached Sergeant Steve Broussard
- He then crossed the bar, the area that separates courtroom personnel from the public.
- Hartman tried to get to the judge’s bench and was intercepted by Sergeant Broussard
- Hartman attempted to push past Broussard
- Harman shoved papers in Deputy Williams’ face
- There was yelling in the back of the courtroom
The above information was drawn from witness statements by Sergeant Steve Broussard, Deputy Sharon Williams, and attorney Joe Vazquez as presented by 12news.
What the Video Shows:
- Hartman approaching the bench
- Deputy Williams approaches Hartman, who says: “I’m a process server. I need to serve process on the judge.”
- Williams whispers something that is not clear and goes to Broussard, during which Hartman says, “You can’t not allow me.”
- Broussard approaches Hartman pointing toward the door and says, “You’re going out or you’re going under arrest.”
- Hartman is taken to the back of the room and handcuffed (handcuffing not visibly shown)
- Hartman is taken into a holding room where his possessions are confiscated.
The incident took place on May 28th, but this was not the first encounter
between Hartman and Judge Walker. A complaint filed by Hartman prior to the courtroom service attempt alleges that Judge Walker pulled a gun on him while he was attempting to serve a subpoena for civil records at the judge’s home. Further investigation reveals that this is just one occurrence in a long string of events involving the judge.
According to several news sources, Judge Walker is under investigation by the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct due to allegations of corruption. Over a year ago, private investigator Philip Klein discovered that the judge may have been misusing money from the Texas Indigent Defense Fund. The same WND report shares that state and court records reveal accusations that Walker, “purportedly interfered in a child custody dispute involving an attorney he did not like.” The involved attorney, John Morgan, was representing Klein at the time. He is the same John Morgan that now represents Steve Hartman.
Hartman has been a licensed process server since 2008, and is now suing the judge, the involved deputies, and a court coordinator as well as The County of Jefferson Texas and The State of Texas. Hartman is claiming loss of income, loss of business, mental anguish, and loss of enjoyment of life, and seeks $250,000 from The State of Texas, $250,000 from Judge Walker, and $250,000 each from the involved deputies and court coordinator. Further allegations that the judge and deputies dismantled his phone, downloaded its contents, and are now calling Hartman’s contacts to intimidate them are included in the complaint. A timeline of the day’s events as well as the official complaint on the courtroom incident can be viewed below.
Timeline of events (according to the complaint):
What initially may have been the story of law officers working against rather than in aid of a process server is now another investigation into the potential corruption of Judge Walker and the Jefferson County Court. Hartman states that he chose to serve Walker at his place of employment for safety reasons, but many questions arise from the incident. Should Hartman have waited outside of the courtroom for a recess? Should the judge remain on the bench while under investigation? Were the sergeant and deputy at fault and abusing their powers or simply following orders? A number of questions remain unanswered as many details are still unclear in this case, but the overarching question of the matter is this: is this just another example of law enforcement working against process servers?
For more information on process server assault, visit PAAPRS (Promoting Assault Awareness and Protective Regulations for Servers).