Documents in sheriff’s deputy shooting death unavailable

By Andrea Salazar
The Eagle
Originally published Jan. 10, 2014

Three weeks after the shooting death of a Burleson County Sheriff’s Deputy, it is unclear where the documents detailing the incident are.

During phone calls placed by The Eagle in the past week, representatives of the Burleson County Sheriff’s Office, the district attorney, the district clerk, the Texas Department of Public Safety and District Judge Reva Towslee Corbett’s office claimed the documents were not in their possession.

Sgt. Investigator Adam Sowders, 31, was killed Dec. 19 while serving a search warrant at a mobile home near Snook.

Henry Goedrich Magee, 28, was detained that day and later charged with capital murder. He remains at the Washington County Jail under $1 million bond. His legal team did not have the probable cause affidavit for the arrest but had received the search warrant returns as of Wednesday evening.

Burleson County District Attorney Julie Renken said in an email that the returns on the search warrants, documenting the inventory found at the home, were filed with the Burleson County District Clerk’s office within three days of the search, while the probable cause statement for Magee’s arrest was at the office of Corbett, the judge who signed the warrants, or with a justice of the peace.

While the district clerk’s office released the affidavits for the search warrants issued for the mobile home on County Road 278, District Clerk Dana Fritsche said her office did not have either document, adding that she would only receive such paperwork if Magee were indicted by a grand jury.

Grand Jury selection in Burleson County is scheduled to start Monday.

Joe Larsen, a media law attorney with the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said prosecutors can “usually keep [the returns] close to their vest,” because they can contain evidence to build up a case.

However, the probable cause affidavit for the arrest and the first page of the police report are public record, Larsen said.

Local legal authorities said those documents were typically filed with the judge who signed the search warrants. However, staff at Corbett’s office said that the documents were not in their possession before asking for a written request that had to be filed in person.

The Eagle filed an open records request for the returns and the probable cause for the arrest on Wednesday with the Burleson County district attorney, district clerk and Corbett’s office in Caldwell.

Under the Texas Public Information Act, government agencies have 10 days to respond to open records requests.

The district clerk’s office responded in writing on Thursday stating it “does not handle the returns of search warrants nor do we maintain any probable cause statements.”

On Dec. 18, Sowders obtained a warrant for Magee’s home, after an informant told investigators he had seen 12 to 15 marijuana plants inside and possible stolen weapons.

In the affidavit for the search warrant, Sowders asked to enter the property “without first knocking and announcing the presence and purpose of officers executing the warrant” because he had reason to believe knocking would “be dangerous, futile or would inhibit” the investigation.

More specifically, Sowders referenced an interview with the informant during which he reportedly said Magee was not afraid to use his weapons, had an aggressive dog and could destroy evidence before the officers entered the home, according to the affidavit.

But as Sowders and his team of eight deputies made entry into the home before 6 a.m. on Dec. 19, Sowders was shot with an AR semi-automatic rifle and no evidence was found that the deputies returned fire, according to a joint press release from the Burleson County Sheriff’s Office and district attorney issued on Dec. 23.

Magee’s attorney, Dick DeGuerin, has said Magee was defending himself, his pregnant girlfriend and his property from an unknown intruder.

The Texas Rangers were called in to investigate the officer-involved shooting and obtained a second search warrant for the home in an effort to gather weapons used by or against the officers and any evidence related to the deputy’s slaying, including shell casings and DNA.