By John Waters
[This article originally appeared in the September 2018 print edition of the Big Bend Gazette.]
On July 23, Alpine Mayor Andres “Andy” Ramos was charged by Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson with the crime of “Obscene Display or Distribution” of pornography. The charge stems from an image Ramos sent on March 31 via Facebook private message.
The charge was referred to Brewster County Justice of the Peace Gilbert Valenzuela, who fined Ramos $25 for the Class C Misdemeanor and assessed the defendant $67 in court costs and $12 in fees, a total of $104.
According to Ramos, “Ronny [Sheriff Dodson] said the Class C was like a traffic ticket.”
Class C misdemeanors do include traffic offenses. Unlike evidence in traffic offenses such as a photo of a vehicle accident, however, the Gazette will not publish the pornographic image Ramos sent, in the interest of not further distributing pornography. The picture is, seemingly, a woman’s hands stretching her own vaginal labia to an extreme, to look like rabbit ears emerging from her vulva. Along with this image, Ramos sent through FB message, he wrote, “Happy Easter, my brother.”
In a telephone interview with the Gazette, Ramos said he “accidentally” forwarded the image, thinking it was a cartoon. “I thought it was a Happy Easter cartoon with a bunny on it, “ said the mayor. He also said he had apologized to the recipient who complained about it, and thought the matter was “done.” Ramos added he did not hear back from the complainant.
Ramos said the incident was “an oversight on my part; not intentional. An accident on my part…. When you pay a traffic ticket, is it news?”
This reporter asked the mayor, “Have you ever sent any other pornographic images over the Internet?”
Ramos responded, “Everybody does it, but everybody does it.”
This reporter then asked, “Have you ever sent a pornographic ‘selfie’ via the Internet?”
“No,” responded Ramos. “I know better than that…. My intent was not to be malicious. It’s a political thing that she [the complainant] has [with me].”
According to documents from J.O.P. Valenzuela’s office, the Texas Penal Code section 43.22 states: “A person commits an offense if he intentionally or knowingly displays or distributes an obscene photograph, drawing, or similar visual representation or other obscene material, and is reckless about whether a person is present who will be offended or alarmed by the display or distribution.”
Normally, the Gazette would follow standard journalistic practice of not revealing the identity of victims or complainants of crimes related to pornography or sexual harassment or abuse. In this instance, however, the complainant sent the Gazette an unsolicited email describing the event, and subsequently agreed to an interview—and asked the Gazette publish her identity.
Gwin Grimes, the complainant in the offense with which the mayor was charged, is an Alpine resident, and former editor of the local newspaper, The Alpine Avalanche. Grimes said she is willing to come forward in the hope that other victims of crimes of this nature step forward.
The following is Grimes’ account of the exchange:
“At 5:33 pm on March 31, 2018, the Mayor of Alpine sent me a photograph depicting hardcore pornography, via Facebook’s messenger service.
This was more than a little surprising since, while I certainly know who he is, I have never met him in person. (FYI, my tenure at the [Avalanche] overlapped his campaign and election somewhat, but [fellow reporter] Jim Street always interviewed him and covered city hall, while I wrote about the school board and hospital district.)
I immediately reported the message to Facebook, and later received an email confirming that Ramos had been warned against ‘this type of behavior.”’
I also posted to his public Facebook page that I’d received a disturbing message from him. He never responded or commented on the post. [Another woman responded to this, and commented on Facebook that she, too, had received the pornographic message.] The image was also sent to at least two other women.
On April 12, I sent an email to [his] address listed on the City of Alpine’s website. He responded the same, that he didn’t ‘look at [the photograph] correctly’ and thought he was sending an ‘innocent’ Easter greeting.”
Ramos responded to Grimes from his City of Alpine email account: “Gain [sic], I will meet with you at your convince [sic]. I just saw a bunny rabbit n [sic] the Happy Easter. Later I realized it was very obscene. I sent my apologize [sic] to as many FB friends as I could. I am so sorry for that posting n [sic] take full responsibility for not realizing what I reposted. I humbly apologize again n [sic] will meet with you face to face. I thought it was an innocent post.”
After realizing the image had been sent to other women as well, Grimes decided not to meet with Ramos.
Grimes has many questions around this incident which remain unanswered:
“Why is okay for the mayor to traffic in hardcore pornography on social media or any other way?
How can the mayor represent half of his constituency [women] when he treats them as nothing more than sexual objects? How many more women has he harassed?
Shouldn’t the residents of Alpine be aware that their mayor has such poor judgment that he cannot tell hardcore pornography from ‘innocent’ photos, and that he blithely sends obscene images to male friends on social media?
Is he visually impaired or [does he] have dementia, or some other disability that would prevent him from carrying out his duties?
Even if the mayor ‘accidentally’ sent me this image, what does this say about the competency and judgment about social media and/or email if he can’t tell the difference?
If you can look at what I perceive as an obscenity and not recognize it as such you either have an impairment or you’re careless, is what I would say. I think it is extremely disrespectful not just to women, but to everybody. I don’t think it falls within societal norms.
Alpine deserves a mayor who is respectful of all residents and is competent to do the job. The only right thing for him to do is to step down and apologize to ALL Alpine residents.
I’m no prude but, like the Supreme Court Justice [Potter Stewart] famously said, ‘I know it when I see it.’ I don’t have anything to hide, and I am coming forward, publicly, in part to empower other women who have been harassed to do the same. This is far from ‘resolved’ as the mayor is quoted as saying. I am not a vindictive person, but sexually harassing women—even by ‘accident’ because you want to send porn to your male friends—is not okay and must end. Elected officials should uphold high standards of conduct. Distributing hardcore porn does not meet that standard.
I have no hesitation about bringing this up during the public comment section of an Alpine City Council meeting and showing the photo, if necessary, to council members, if only to END victim blaming. And if I have to stand outside Porter’s and collect signatures for a recall petition, I’ll do that, too. If he’s okay with his ‘innocent’ photo, then he won’t mind me showing it all over town. Voters deserve to know what their mayor is really like.
When asked if Grimes thought Ramos was unfit to remain as Mayor of Alpine, Grimes responded, “Based on his response to [this], yes. Now I definitely do not think he should serve. If you don’t know when it’s time to step down and you’re okay with bringing on more and more and more scandal, that only makes the city look bad. Apologize to everybody and step down.”
Ramos did not respond to numerous requests by the Gazette for a follow-up interview.
Update: Since this article originally appeared in print, Mayor Ramos called Gazette Publisher John Waters and said the article was accurate and agreed to a follow-up interview. When Waters contacted Ramos on September 18 to set up the interview, Ramos said he is now lawyered-up and referred all questions to his attorney.
On August 27, The Gazette filed an open records request with the City of Alpine seeking all emails Mayor Andy Ramos has sent from his official City of Alpine email address. On September 6 the city responded that to complete the request it would cost the Gazette $330. On September 17, the city informed the Gazette the cost had increased to $944. No reason or explanation was given by the city for the cost increase. In the original filing on August 27, The Gazette requested a fee waiver noting the release of the requested information is in the public interest. In the fifteen years the Gazette has filed open records requests with local, county, state and federal agencies, this is the second instance of a government agency not granting a fee waiver. The fees were waived in all other requests for documents as their release was deemed to benefit the public interest.
Publisher’s Note: This article relies on documents obtained under open records requests with Brewster County Justice of the Peace Gilbert Valenzuela, Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson, and interviews with Alpine Mayor Andy Ramos, and with Gwin Grimes.