Cameron County DA: SpaceX may be violating Texas law

Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz has written a scathing letter to SpaceX stating it may be in violation of two state laws that include closing two county roads and employing security guards that may not be licensed by the Texas Department of Public Safety to carry a weapon.

The letter was sent June 11, to SpaceX’s Shyamal Patel, a senior director, in response to a letter Save RGV sent to Saenz on June 3, claiming SpaceX is in violation of a Sept. 1, 2013, Memorandum of Agreement between the county and the state’s General Land Office, and the original 2014 Record of Decision by the Federal Aviation Administration.

“As shared with your (SpaceX) staff, be advised the actions of SpaceX and its staff/employees/agents/contractors may constitute crimes in the State of Texas,” Saenz writes.

The deadline for SpaceX to respond to the letter was Monday. The Brownsville Herald reached out to SpaceX Tuesday afternoon for comment, and as of late Tuesday the company had not replied.

The two road closures pertaining to a possible obstructing highway violation are Remidios Avenue and Joanna Street, which SpaceX ordered closed, Saenz says. Both are county roads.

Saenz states he sent some his staff out to the location to see if there was “veracity” to the complaint filed by Save RGV and that his staff was stopped and detained by Oscar Lopez, a member of SpaceX’s security team. Lopez told the DA’s staff that it could not use the road and had to turn around and return to Highway 4. “My staff informed Mr. Lopez, his supervisor, and the head of your security team, that Remedios Avenue is a public road and that neither the Cameron County Sheriff nor Cameron County Commissioner’s Court had authorized the closure of said road,” Saenz states in the letter.

Saenz also questions whether SpaceX has the authority to take over Joanna Street and rename it to Rocket Road. “My staff shared that it appears part of it may have been built over and /or closed.” He says if this road still belongs to the county actions of closing the road is “potentially taking of public property.”

The letter states that in early April 2021 Cameron County had advised Patel that this conduct was inappropriate.

Saenz also questions whether SpaceX’s security team members are licensed and authorized to carry handguns by the Texas Department of Public Safety, which is required under state law.

The DA’s office has conducted checks on the security personnel to see if they have been authorized to carry a handgun as a security officer and that neither Lopez nor SpaceX’s Head of Security “Mr. Milburn” hold any type of Texas Security license, Saenz says. “While there may be a clerical error in the records, it is important to note, failure to (employ) properly licensed security personnel may expose SpaceX and its employees to civil and criminal penalties.”

Saenz is also seeking answers as to whether SpaceX went over its allotted hours of road closures for space testing activities as outlined in the 2013 MOU. “If Space-X has indeed extended the allotted hours, then there is no longer a legal authorization to obstruct State Highway 4,” Saenz wrote.

Because of the “anomalies” detailed, Saenz said he advises his law enforcement partners not to permit any police officer or sheriff/constable deputy to work or assist SpaceX operations because that may violate Texas law.

“Any said action by a law enforcement official could potentially expose their agencies and respective political subdivisions to liability under the United States Civil Rights Act of 1871. Furthermore, it could potentially expose the officer/deputy to criminal liability under the Texas Official Oppression Statute,” Saenz states.

Saenz writes that while SpaceX is a valued member of the county this does not authorize it, its employees, agents and contractors to disregard Texas law. He added that if this conduct continues not only SpaceX’s employees and other staff could be subject to arrest but “as a Texas Business Entity, under Subchapter B of Chapter 7, of the Texas Penal Code, SpaceX could be prosecuted as well.”

Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino Jr., Sheriff Eric Garza, Precinct 1 Constable Norman Esquivel Jr., Lt. Marcus Cholick of the DPS Highway Patrol, the county’s Civil Legal Division, the Texas General Land Office and Save RGV also received a copy of Saenz’s letter.

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