The war veteran’s charge of carrying a gun into suburban Valhalla, the high school football stadium, had a complication – public intoxication
Midway – The Waco suburb of Hewitt takes its football and its school district as seriously as any buttoned-down, upwardly mobile community in the nation.
The stadium and the pass-fail and university entrance stats are the pride of the couples who locate here. An ultra-modern library dominates the civic center with its City Hall and Police and Fire complex tucked in the middle of a big field where multi-family condos and apartments are going up like mad off the main drag.
And then Vincent E. Sampson, a hard-charging Balkan War veteran of the Kosovo campaign, Army drill instructor, recruiter, and football player from the Boston Suburb of Wakefield, Massachusetts, showed up at a Freshman game his son was playing in with his bulldog on a leash and a Glock semi-auto roscoe sticking out of the waist band of a pair of walking shorts in October, 2016.
Jeffrey Foley is a Hewitt Police Officer who is permanently assigned to the Midway school system as a school resource officer. A big part of the job is keeping order, and seeing to it that kids are safe during sporting events at the athletic compound that dominates a spot on the hill in the middle of town.
The stadium has two entrances to its Home seating area; both surmount a system of concrete steps and ramps at the 30-yard line either side of the 50, on a level where you either go up the stands toward a towering press box, or down to the primary seating so close to the field you can see the Quarterback wipe the beads of sweat off his face with a towel attached to the Center’s belt and wipe his hands dry when he begins to call the play at the line.
They take it seriously. Sgt. Sampson should know. His dad retired as a football coach at his alma mater back in Massachusetts.
Something that emerged in his jury trial Wednesday afternoon for public intoxication when Foley caught him with the pistol at a school boy sporting event is that most of Hewitt’s cops know Vinnie. He’s a loud and profane professional soldier from one of the Yankee-land’s most pugnacious, brawling metropolitan areas – Bean Town’s Southie.
Yeah, That place, where Ted Williams slugged it out, year after year..
Where they had the Tea Party, fired the shot heard round the world..
Sergeant Vincent E. Sampson, war veteran, Army employee
When the cops come to his door, he’s no shrinking violet. He makes a lasting impression on the peace officers. Just ask them. On Wednesday, you didn’t have to ask. They volunteered the information.
Foley told Vinnie they were going to take a stroll to parking lot, put his gun in the trunk of his car, and he could come back to talk to Mrs. Sampson, a veteran public school teacher who was manning the hot dog stand, and enjoy the game.
As they strolled, Sampson decided to take the pistol out of the waist band of his shorts and slip it into the pocket of his shorts.
Foley freaked out. You can see it on the surveillance video. He had his gun out and pointing smack dab between the man’s eyes in one, swift move. Bingo!
Vinnie tossed the Glock to the ground behind him and tried to walk away with Bowser, who was getting out of town fast.
Foley told him to get on the ground, pronto, tracking his nasal-ocular cavities with the muzzle of his Glock, and that got the Yankee’s attention. He hit the deck and the bulldog unassed the leash and collar, slick as a whistle, cowering and circling, sidling away and turning.
When Officer Joe Jones, a veteran K9 officer and Patrolman showed up to cuff Vinnie, you could see he was pumped up. He recalled for jurors that he has had numerous conversations with Sampson, some in which, surprisingly, he is just as cogent and congenial as he can be. There are other times when – Johnson just shakes his head as his voice trails off.
It’s like that.
Jones told the city prosecutor when asked, the dispatcher sounded animated, excited. “He said, Vinnie Sampson just pulled a gun on Foley at the football stadium,” That got his attention. He responds to domestic calls about Vinnie; Foley is a brother officer.
Somehow, the subject of Vinnie’s drinking came up, and guess what. As a Drill Instructor, the Army’s finest are known to get loud – not a good thing down south, but try to tell the Army Veterans of Massachusetts something like that.
Jones charged him with the Class C misdemeanor of Public Intoxication to top off the Class A offense of carrying the pistol on school district property during a sporting event.
From there, the situation deteriorated to the point that – well – let’s let Carol Jo Mize’s recollection speak for the record. She’s an Educational Officer from the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. She said she doesn’t know Foley or Vinnie, either one.
But she couldn’t help noticing what happened when Foley leveled his pistol on the area between the soldier’s eyes.
She saw him go by with “a big, aggressive-looking dog,” and then, she saw “Foley turn him around” and frog march him back down the sidewalk.
She was on her cell phone, she said, and told her acquaintance she was hanging up because she somehow felt she would be serving as a witness for whatever was going to happen next.
“I knew I was the best witness to the situation.”
Vinnie wouldn’t get on the ground. He wanted to talk it over.
“He seemed to have a delayed reaction to requests,” said Ms. Mize. “He was unable to follow instructions.”
Cody Cleveland is a young attorney with a clear vision of what it takes to convict a defendant, something honed by years of serving as an Assistant DA in the Falls County seat of Marlin.
During the examination of the venire, he introduced himself by saying that he is married and that he spent his first anniversary waiting at the hospital for his wife to domino with their first child, a boy. His second anniversary, he said, was spent the same way, but that time, Mrs. Cleveland gave birth to a girl.
He got the message across with style. He is a busy man, and when the prosecution and he made their strikes for cause and for peremptory purposes, a panel of six ladies were seated at the exclusion of all the men in the room. They eased out the door with backward glances and knowing looks at one another. Ladies who were not chosen from the original venire of 16 walked with their heads held high, determined to show they were unfazed by their rejection.
Behold, Cody Cleveland, Esquire, defense attorney, dressed in a gray woolen suit and a tasteful tie knotted in the collar of a white business shirt.
He has the level head and clear logic of an experience professional. Catch his act. You will learn something. Depend on it.
As he made his opening statement, he told the ladies that it is a matter of fact that Sampson took a loaded pistol to a high school football game, and he added something very important.
“They loaded him with this charge of public intoxication, which they can’t prove.”
As he questioned the witnesses, he let the jurors learn from the witness that Foley was too busy keeping Sampson away from the gun he threw down and the dog away from his legs and buttocks to smell any alcohol on his breath or evaluate his behavior for signs of inebriation.
Jones, it was learned, not only made no field sobriety test, he did not have his blood or breath alcohol concentration checked, when all such remedies were available.”
Jones also made no written report of his findings. He admitted as much when asked, answering by saying, rather vaguely, “I don’t know what happened to that.”
He was too busy helping Foley take witness statements, recovering the weapon and checking its load, and keeping people away from the crime scene.
Asked about the sole purpose of making a written report of a violation, he agreed with Cleveland; it’s all about being able to remember exactly what happened. He blithely dead panned his answer with a level gaze at the attorney.
As each witness testified, the ladies of the jury got a load of the dialogue, then turned as a group to stare at Sampson, who alternately tried to engage the bailiff and others in the courtroom in conversation, sat with his head in his hands, and muttered to himself constantly that, “He’s lying!”
To a woman, they sat with their arms crossed over their breasts, defending their hearts and vital organs from what they clearly perceived as terror.
During a break, Sampson explained that his continued career as a transportation specialist in the Military Entrance Processing Center at the Earl Cabell Federal Building in Dallas depends on a favorable resolution to the charges. He was needing an acquittal on the intoxication charge if he hoped to be able to support his wife and son the way he has been able to over the years previous.
He transferred out of his former employment fielding calls for the people needing information from the VA at their Regional headquarters in downtown Waco when he took the job offer commuting to downtown Dallas.
During his cross examination, Cleveland made it clear that Sampson is a combat veteran who suffers from the kind of bone-crushing injuries that explosives cause.
He is challenged to walk a straight path due to injuries to his legs and a hip joint. He confided with this reporter that it was an improvised explosive device that blew his vehicle sky high when the enemy detonated it. He habitually speaks in a loud tone of voice, his torso and chin thrust forward. there are discolorations on his scalp and the sides of his face that could be mistaken for birth marks, but on closer inspection you realize the man was hurt badly when he was wounded.
“I have a lot of pieces of metal in me,” he said. Magnetometers are not friendly to Vincent E. Sampson. The security officers who man them are even less inviting. They could never explain why they let him walk through unchallenged, or at least without further investigation. It’s a daily reminder of who he is – and what happened on foreign soil where he earned a Purple Heart, inscribed, “For Valor,” the first medal created by General George Washington, Commander in Chief of the Army of the United States of America.
He receives 100 percent compensation and pension for his service-connected condition of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, something that makes him seem boorishly aggressive, loudly defiant when his sensibilities are challenged by differing opinion.
In the end, the complaining witness, Jones, agreed with the defense counsel that his reports of Sampson’s aberrant behavior is really just Sampson being his normal self.
The posture of the ladies in the jury seats softened. Most of them uncrossed their arms, sat back in their seats; the worried expressions melted from their faces.
To prove public intoxication, said Cleveland, one must prove an impairment of physical faculties and a blood alcohol content of .08 or more, as well as an impairment of mental faculties, the ability to figure 2 plus 2 equals four with normal rapidity.
“Two of those are out, aren’t they?” he asked Jones. The officer ruefully agreed, sucking a canine tooth with an expression of resignation.
“Vinnie Sampson normal is not a normal person,” said Cody Cleveland, attorney at law, who had been forced to turn his back on Sampson at the defense table, concentrating on his notes and listening intently to the direct examination of the prosecutor.
Clearly, his seeming alienation from his client was helping jurors form an opinion, just the impression he was looking for.
In his jury summation, he said, “The officer who wrote the ticket didn’t even bother to write a report.”
Jurors deliberated for less than a half hour – something more like 15 or 20 minutes when you count the bathroom break.
They returned a unanimous verdict of not guilty.
As Sampson left the parking lot to get into his souped-up Shelby Cobra Mustang, a lady from the panel stopped him as she sat in the driver’s seat of her soccer mom SUV.
She asked, “Vinnie, don’t you have a son who was playing football in that game?”
He said yes.
“Well, I have a son who goes to school at Midway. Did you know that?”
He told her, “No.”
“I would like it if you never take a gun to the school again. Will you do that for me?”
Then he said, “And if I do carry it concealed, not act like a total moron?”
She said, “No, Vinnie. No. You cannot carry a concealed weapon on a school property sporting event, remember? That’s against the law. Okay?”
He said, “Okay. I tried to get away with it, but the answer is no. You’re right.”
They parted as friends.
Sampson chatted with Judge Francis, a veteran jurist who more often than not accepts guilty pleas and conducts judge trials.
He explained the difference between the level of proof and the totality of circumstances considered by jurors, as opposed to a judge acting alone.
It was a congenial conversation. This is what it sounded like.
It occurs to The Legendary that in the end, it’s the judges who teach the law – to one student at a time.
We will cover Vincent E. Sampson’s jury trial for the offense of unlawfully carrying a firearm onto a school district property where a sporting event is in progress at County Court at Law No. 2 in the future.
Cody Cleveland, father of two. Vinnie Sampson, a Veteran of Wars