Here’s a troubling story out of Texas. Democrat Mike Siegel is running against Rep. Michael T. McCaul (R) in Texas’s 10th district. This evening I saw a tweet from Siegel which said: “Just learned that my field director was arrested while delivering our letter. He told police he was working for me and the officer asked, “what party is he?” Now Jacob is under 48 hour investigatory detention in Waller County.”
That didn’t seem right, especially the part about getting arrested after being asked what party he’s affiliated with. So I managed to get Siegel on the phone to get some more details.
In the 10th district, there’s a historically black university called Prairie View A&M University. There’s a long history of the local county government (Waller County) trying to prevent the students there from voting. There was even a big Supreme Court case about it in 1979. This year local officials have put a new set of obstacles in the way of the students voting.
As Siegel explained to me, Siegel’s campaign wrote a letter proposing a solution to the problem and sent a campaign staffer, Jacob Aronowitz, to deliver it to the County Courthouse in Waller County. In Texas, the County Judge (in this case Waller County Judge Carbett “Trey” J. Duhon III) is actually the county executive, not a judge as we usually use the term. In any case, Aronowitz presented the letter to a member of the County Clerk’s staff and then took a picture of himself submitting the letter as a sort of proof of service. It’s not clear whether this was County Clerk Debbie Hollan or another member of the clerk’s office. Whoever it was got upset that he’d taken a picture and called over a bailiff – she apparently thought her privacy had been violated by taking the photograph.
By this time, Aronowitz is walking out of the courthouse with his mission accomplished when he’s stopped by a county sheriff’s deputy who asks who he is and what he’s doing. Soon enough Aronowitz is surrounded by a court bailiff, a sheriff’s deputy and a city police officer. Aronowitz asks whether he is free to go or whether he’s under arrest. He also calls the candidate, Mike Siegel, who’s also a civil rights attorney. So Siegel is listening to the conversation and advising Aronowitz what to do as he’s being questioned and not allowed to leave.
Siegel didn’t say this to me in so many words. But from his description of the back and forth, it seems like that the law enforcement officers weren’t happy with Aronowitz but weren’t clear what exactly they could charge him with or if they could arrest him. After Aronowitz explained what he was at the courthouse to do and then identified himself, one of the officers asked Aronowitz which party his candidate was with.
Aronowitz told them Siegel was a Democrat. A couple minutes later the phone went dead and Aronowitz was placed under arrest for what he was told was “48 hour investigative detention.”
Notably, Siegel heard the party identification question himself, he tells, because he was on Aronowitz’s speaker phone through the whole exchange. So there are at least two witnesses to this exchange.
A local lawyer was called in and Aronowitz was released a relatively short time later. But that wasn’t the end of it. He was charged with a misdemeanor for failing to identify himself to a law enforcement officer – something Siegel said he heard Aronowitz do prior to being arrested. His court date, ironically, is November 7th, the day after election day.
I reached out to the County Clerk’s office for an explanation for why Aronowitz was arrested but haven’t received a response. I’ll update this post when I do.