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Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke of Texas has said that in younger days he was twice arrested in his hometown of El Paso--once, he says, for leaping a campus fence and the other time for driving while intoxicated.
Readers have asked us whether the third-term congressman challenging Republican Sen. Ted Cruz has a criminal history. We decided to fact-check mention of the arrests in a 2012 TV ad that also was screenshot for an April 2017 Texas Tribune news story.
In the ad, sponsored by then-U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, text next to what looks like O’Rourke’s mugshot states that the "facts" are that O’Rourke has a "criminal record" including burglary and DWI. The ad’s narrator says O’Rourke "has a criminal record that includes DWI and burglary arrests."
That he does, we confirmed, which he’s acknowledged since his first run for office.
We tried to phone and email Reyes about his claim and failed to connect. Next, we attempted to get our own fix on the facts by seeking documentation of the DWI arrest through a public information request to the El Paso Police Department. Martin Rodriguez, a department records specialist, said by email the agency had no responsive records. We similarly queried the University of Texas at El Paso about the earlier arrest and didn’t immediately hear back.
A background check
Separately, we ran a background check of O’Rourke using the LexisNexis service. According to the results, O’Rourke’s May 1995 misdemeanor arrest on the UTEP campus was later declined and his September 1998 misdemeanor DWI arrest in El Paso was dismissed.
The check gave us case numbers for the arrests enabling us to fetch an El Paso County record stating that O’Rourke was initially arrested in May 1995 and that case was disposed of in February 1996. We saw too that after the DWI arrest, according to another county record, O’Rourke was referred to a misdemeanor diversion program in March 1999 and completed "DWI school" in May 1999. That document’s last entry, dated Oct. 20, 1999, says: "Misdemeanor diversion completed successfully."
Campaign: O’Rourke often confirms arrests
When we sought detail from O’Rourke’s spokesman, Chris Evans, he said by email that O’Rourke had consistently addressed his arrests, notably during campaign stops in Paris, Sunnyside, San Antonio and Houston, where O’Rourke told a group in August 2018 that he spent a night in the El Paso County jail after what he referred to as his 1995 arrest for criminal trespass.
In San Antonio, a resident told O’Rourke she’d seen what someone described as his mugshot. O’Rourke replied: "More than 20 years ago, I was arrested--not once, but twice. So you should know that and we should all own that, if asked." O’Rourke specified that he’d been arrested for attempting to hop a fence at the University of Texas at El Paso and later, he said, for a "far more serious mistake: I drove under the influence of alcohol. There’s no justifying that."
April 2005 news story
The oldest published account of the arrests appears to be an April 2005 El Paso Times news story about O’Rourke’s successful run for a seat on the El Paso City Council. The story, which we found by searching the Nexis news database, quoted the incumbent, Anthony Cobos, stressing O’Rourke’s DWI arrest. Cobos, who later served as county judge before being convicted on embezzlement charges, said at the time: "I think you lead by example and his example speaks for itself."
According to the story, O'Rourke was arrested on a DWI charge in September 1998 that was dismissed in 1999 after he completed a court-recommended DWI program. "I've been open about that since the very beginning. I have owned up to it and I have taken responsibility for it," O’Rourke told the paper.
The Times further reported that court records showed that O’Rourke earlier was arrested in 1995 at UTEP on a burglary of building charge, which was later dropped. O’Rourke told the paper: "That happened while I was in college. I along with some friends were horsing around, and we snuck under the fence at the UTEP physical plant and set off an alarm. We were arrested by UTEP police. ... UTEP decided not to press charges. We weren't intending to do any harm," he was quoted saying.
O’Rourke’s campaign later provided a photo of a document Evans described by email as the original UTEP police report on O’Rourke’s arrest there. It says O’Rourke and two other students were arrested at the university’s Physical Plant under the "burglary" portion of the state penal code, section 30.02, for "attempted forcible entry."
Congressman Reyes’ TV ad
Seven years later, then-Rep. Reyes unveiled his ad, which was still viewable online as of Aug. 22, 2018.
A May 2012 Times news story on the ad quoted O’Rourke saying that he was driving an intoxicated friend home when he was arrested for DWI. The story said that according to police records, O’Rourke completed a diversion program and the charge was dismissed.
In August 2017, more recently, O’Rourke described the arrests to an East Texas newspaper. The Palestine Herald-Press quoted him saying: "Some 20 years ago, I was charged with driving under the influence and, during my college years, I jumped a fence at the University of Texas at El Paso which resulted in a burglary charge," O'Rourke said. "I was not convicted of either.
"Both incidents were due to poor judgement and I have no excuse for my behavior then. However, since then, I have used my opportunities to serve my community and my state. I'm grateful for the second chance and believe that we all deserve second chances."
A 2012 Reyes TV ad still viewable online six years later said O’Rourke "has a criminal record that includes DWI and burglary arrests."
O'Rourke's comments and records indicate that UTEP police arrested O'Rourke in 1995 for burglary, a misdemeanor charge disposed of the next year. In 1998, El Paso police arrested O'Rourke for DWI, a misdemeanor charge that was dismissed after he completed "DWI school" the next year.
We rate the claim True.
TRUE – The statement is accurate and there’s nothing significant missing. Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.
"Character Counts" TV ad from Silvestre Reyes U.S. House campaign, May 2012 (viewed online Aug. 20, 2018)
News story, "Rep. Beto O'Rourke, in long-shot bid for Senate, is no stranger to 'calculated risks,'" Texas Tribune, April 7, 2017
Email, Chris Evans, communications director, Beto O’Rourke campaign, Aug. 22, 2018
News stories, El Paso Times, "Tax relief, revitalization motivate South-West district candidates; Downtown revitalization, tax relief among issues," April 20, 2005; "New Silvestre Reyes ad attacks Beto O'Rourke's character," May 23, 2012, (Nexis news search, August 2018)
News story, "U.S. Senate candidate seeks national platform for change," Palestine Herald-Press, posted online Aug. 15, 2017 (Nexis news search)
Email, Martin G Rodriguez, police records specialist, Open Records Section, El Paso Police Department, Aug. 21, 2018
Excerpt of background check, Beto O’Rourke, LexisNexis (downloaded Aug. 22, 2018)
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