The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department is investigating the potential theft of Southeast Texas Record newspapers following weeks of their suspicious disappearance.
Last week the Record reported its newspapers were being removed from a news rack outside the Jefferson County Courthouse during the same period of time as a five-week-long asbestos trial involving DuPont and the family of a former employee, Willis Whisnant.
Staff members at the Record had observed Port Neches resident Jerry Little removing stacks of newspapers from the rack outside the courthouse. Little, who had been sitting in the Whisnant trial, freely admitted to taking the papers and vowed to continue.
Jurors in the Whisnant case began deliberating last Thursday, and as of noon Tuesday, they were still out.
Sheriff’s deputies Gilder and McClellan interviewed Record editor Marilyn Tennissen and reporter David Yates Tuesday morning after the Beaumont Police Department was unable to investigate because the courthouse is under county jurisdiction.
Tennissen said newspapers in the rack outside the courthouse went missing again at the start of this week. The rack had been filled with about 100 newspapers by around 6 a.m. Monday, and by 8:30 a.m., the papers were gone, she said.
On March 17, Tennissen and Yates witnessed Little remove more than half of the papers from the courthouse news rack and take them into the first floor men’s room.
When Little exited the men’s room moments later, he was empty handed.
When asked about it, Little said that he was keeping the papers in the men’s room so that “he could give copies to his children.”
Yates later found the papers in the trash can of the men’s room.
A few minutes later, Little removed the rest of the papers from the rack and placed them in his truck parked near the Jefferson County Courthouse.
After replenishing the rack, Yates observed Little removing the new papers from the rack.
“As long as you (Yates) refill them, I’m going to keep taking them,” Little said.
Little told Tennissen, “If I’ve committed a crime, then charge me.”
Last week a Beaumont police sergeant began investigating the incident, but was doubtful the perpetrator could be charged with a crime because the papers are free.
Snatching free copies of the Southeast Texas Record newspaper may not have gotten Little in trouble yet, but it could.
It did for a University of Texas at Austin student who in 1995 pleaded guilty to stealing copies of the Daily Texan and served six months probation.
In 1995, University of Texas student Carrado Giovanella pleaded guilty to theft charges after campus police arrested him for stealing 5,800 copies of the university’s free paper, the Daily Texan.
According to a Sept. 8, 1995 report in the Daily Texan, Giovanella told police he took the papers after the newspaper published an article about his arrest on an outstanding warrant for writing bad checks. Police had discovered the outstanding warrant after learning Giovanella had forged a letter of recommendation when applying to the university.
Texas Student Publications pressed charges against Giovanella, “more for the principle of the theft than the value of the loss, estimated at $1,450,” the Daily Texan reported.