AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A prominent Texas political donor and IBC Bank executive said Friday that state troopers harassed his family during routine traffic stops, and has now secured a meeting with the state's top law enforcement executive over those and other allegations of trooper misconduct statewide.
IBC Bank Zapata CEO Renato Ramirez said his own experiences are emblematic of larger problems at the Texas Department of Public Safety. Earlier this week, the department fired a female trooper near Dallas whose videotaped body cavity search of two women went viral on the Internet.
"These guys feel empowered to do what they want to do," said Ramirez, who said he came forward as a board member of the Texas Civil Rights Project.
The allegations made by Ramirez, 73, surfaced Thursday when Democratic state Sen. Judith Zaffirini asked DPS Director Steve McCraw about trooper conduct during a public hearing. She brought up dashcam video in July of trooper Kelly Helleson giving body cavity searches to two women, ages 38 and 24, who say in a lawsuit they were pulled over for flicking cigarette butts out the window and were searched with the same glove.
Zaffirini told McCraw a "very prominent citizen" had raised other misconduct allegations, meaning Ramirez. McCraw said he wanted to see dashcam video.
"I would love to be able to talk to him and review those tapes to see if we have acted inappropriately," McCraw said during his testimony. "I'm not saying we have. Believe me, we make mistakes."
Ramirez and McCraw are scheduled to talk next week.
Records show Ramirez has given more than $50,000 to state Republican and Democratic candidates since 2000, including Zaffirini. He has been active with the Texas Civil Rights Project for the past decade, and his high public profile includes being a key fundraiser for the Tejano Monument on the lawn of the state Capitol that was unveiled last year.
Ramirez said he has been personally pulled over "8 to 10 times" over the past few years for violations he described as mundane. But he said he was most angered by a September 2011 incident in which his son and 13-year-old granddaughter were pulled over on their way to the dentist.
According to an affidavit provided to The Associated Press by his father, Ricardo Ramirez said a trooper pulled him over for driving in a turn-only lane. Ricardo Ramirez, who is president of IBC Bank Zapata, said the trooper made him stand behind his truck and questioned his daughter over how they paid for the $52,000 vehicle.
"Even after I identified myself as President of a $500 million bank, his hostile and aggressive demeanor persisted," Ricardo Ramirez wrote. "His interrogation is a violation of my civil rights as an American citizen."
DPS spokesman Tom Vinger said the department reviews audio and video tapes of any complaints made against a trooper.
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