Buzzer Case Languishes in Texas Court System

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By T. D. Thornton

It took jockey Roman Chapa only a fraction of a second to be captured in a finish-line photograph that allegedly showed him palming an illegal electrical horse shocking device while winning a stakes race at Sam Houston Race Park (SHRP) on Jan. 17, 2015.

But it’s taken the State of Texas 19 months to attempt to convict the 45-year-old suspended rider on dual felony charges of “unlawful influence on racing” and making “false statements” to a peace officer who conducted the investigation into the case.

During that time frame, according to records posted online by the Harris County District Court, various pre-trial proceedings have been reset on at least six occasions at the request of the defense.

That time frame was just extended two months longer on Aug. 16. Chapa’s “false statements” jury trial was on the 176th Criminal Court docket to commence Tuesday morning, but was determined to have been listed only due to a clerical error. It will be rescheduled for October in conjunction with the “unlawful influence on racing” charges, court clerk Mindy Ochsner told TDN.

Donald Ervin, who is at least the third different defense attorney retained by Chapa since he was charged, did not respond to a Tuesday voicemail requesting comment prior to deadline for this story.

According to probable cause paperwork filed by Texas Department of Safety peace officer Jeffrey Green, Chapa essentially implicated himself by contacting the track photographer the day after his stakes win, demanding the removal of what appeared to be a fairly standard inside-rail photograph from the SHRP website because it was a “bad” picture.

The track photographer initially told Chapa he had no idea what the jockey was talking about. But upon closer inspection, an enlarged portion of that photograph revealed what appears to be a tan, palm-sized device with protruding prongs in Chapa’s partially closed left hand where the underside of his fist meets the reins.

On Jan. 19, 2015, Green interviewed Chapa after being contacted by the SHRP security department. “I showed the defendant the photograph of the defendant holding the machine in the defendant’s left hand…The defendant immediately stated that the photograph had been photo-shopped and someone was trying to frame him,” Green wrote.

The “false statements” charge stemmed from Green’s allegation that Chapa had lied to him when he denied contacting the photographer about deleting the image, a copy of which Green also found on Chapa’s mobile phone.

Although free from jail on a $10,000 bond while awaiting trial, Chapa remains suspended by the Texas Racing Commission (TRC), which ruled against him for carrying the shocking device within eight weeks of the infraction.

Robert Elrod, the TRC public information officer, confirmed in a Monday email that Chapa has lost his riding license through Jan. 18, 2020, and has not paid any portion of the $100,000 fine the TRC levied against him–believed to be one of the largest monetary sanctions against a jockey in United States racing history.

Previously, Chapa was suspended in both Texas (1993) and New Mexico (2007) for attempting to frighten a racehorse into running faster with an illicit object.

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