By T. D. Thornton
Two weeks ago, Hurricane Harvey devastated everyday life for millions of people in metro Houston. But for at least one person with ties to the racing industry, the catastrophic flooding only served to postpone a long-anticipated day of reckoning.
Roman Chapa, 46, the suspended jockey whose felony race-fixing charges have been tied up in the Texas court system for 2 1/2 years, once again had a Sept. 8 plea hearing to resolve two criminal complaints pushed back to a later date when the entire 176th Court docket for that date was canceled.
The 20-story Harris County criminal courthouse that sits adjacent to the overflowed Buffalo Bayou has been shut down since Aug. 27 after storm winds shattered windows, the lower floors became inundated with floodwater, and sewage exploded out of sinks and toilets throughout the battered structure.
Some of the relocated criminal justice offices that serve metro Houston managed to reopen Sept. 11. But officials are still scrambling to transfer the backlog of hearings and trials to other courts and buildings in the county, because the main courthouse is expected to be closed for repairs and cleanup for anywhere between six and nine months.
This latest delay comes after Chapa’s legal team had previously been successful on 20 combined occasions to get his dual felony charges of “unlawful influence on racing” and making “false statements” pushed off the docket or “reset upon defense request,” according to the court’s electronic records database.
The felony criminal complaints stem from Chapa’s alleged use of an illegal electrical horse shocking device during a winning stakes ride Jan. 17, 2015, at Sam Houston Race Park.
In addition to the infrastructure woes, the Houston Press reported that because of lost time and manpower, the already overburdened district attorney’s office might have to re-prioritize cases and decide “which should perhaps be either dismissed or defendants offered plea deals instead.”
It is conceivable Chapa’s two charges could be among the cases that get reconsidered, based on the fact that his felony complaints are of a non-violent nature and that the case has already lingered for 969 days in the court system.
The criminal charges are separate from the Texas Racing Commission’s adjudication of Chapa’s racing rules violations; those penalties were handed down much more swiftly, in March 2015.
Chapa is already about halfway through a five-year, commission-mandated suspension of his jockey’s license. But he still faces an outstanding commission-imposed fine of $100,000, believed to be the largest monetary sanction against a jockey in United States racing history.