By Dani Marrero Hi and Eduardo Martinez
The year was 1997. Othal Brand, Sr. was voted out of office after a 20-year reign as the Mayor of McAllen, Texas. Now, 20 years later, Othal Brand, Jr. is attempting to fill the role his father once held but questions and concerns are prevalent about an incident that took place during his father’s final year in office.
According to a Feb. 24, 1996, article from journalist Barrett Marson, formerly a writer for The Monitor newspaper, McAllen police stopped by Othal Brand, Jr.’s home on Feb. 22, 1996, at 10:05 PM. Brand, Jr., who was 42-years-old at the time and in his second marriage, was arrested by police officer Ray Rodriguez for allegedly assaulting his then-wife Mary Katherine Brand.
“There were indications of red marks on her neck area and cheek,” Mitch Reinitz, McAllen Police Department spokesperson told Marson in the article.
Brand, Jr. was charged with a Class C misdemeanor and released two hours later. His father, Brand, Sr., was McAllen mayor at the time.
The Monitor article by Marson was widely circulated and reprinted in the Valley Morning Star and Brownsville Herald with different headlines like “Mayor’s son nabbed in assault” and “McAllen mayor’s son charged with assault.” It was also translated into Spanish under the title “Acusado de agredir a su esposa, Hijo de Othal Brand arrestado.”
But in the weeks to come after this incident in 1996, all anyone seemed to talk about was not what Brand Jr. was arrested for, but rather the clothing he was arrested in.
Yes, his clothing.
After searching through archives at NewspaperArchive.com, Neta found articles of Brand, Sr. and his son complaining about how Jr. was arrested while wearing “only boxers and a T-Shirt,” as reported by The Monitor.
An article titled “Officer acted properly” from March 7, 1996, noted how Brand, Sr. and Brand, Jr. met with the arresting officer to complain. According to the piece, also written by Marson for The Monitor, the rich and powerful Brand men made this situation about “unfair treatment” because Brand, Jr. wasn’t allowed to change into different clothing while being arrested.
“The officer made his best effort,” said Police Chief Alex Longoria in this story, although he went on to say that he still planned to write and send a letter of apology to Brand, Jr. for leaving him in his boxers.
The narrative slowly changed from talks about a serious assault where a woman was found with red marks on her neck and face to men talking about how Brand, Jr. “was not given his clothes in a timely fashion.”
A controversial “closed-meeting” was then held to talk about the clothing, and the details of that were discussed in Marson’s March 13, 1996, article [1, 2], “Officials grill chief in secret.” McAllen Police Department domestic violence policies were privately discussed. After the meeting was over, Chief Longoria publicly stated he would change the domestic violence policy relating to suspects and their clothing. Nothing, however, was mentioned about consequences for domestic violence.
When asked about the meeting in the article, Brand, Sr. said, “You don’t get one word out of me, so don’t even waste my time.” He continued, “That’s my business. Don’t even waste my time. This is a private matter.”
There were those that argued that this meeting should have never taken place in the manner that it did, and that it violated the Texas Open Records Act:
“An attorney who represents several U.S. newspapers on First Amendment and open government issues believes the city likely violated the Texas Open Records Act in Monday’s closed meeting with Longoria.
‘It is pretty clear based on what the city attorney (Jim Darling) says about the subject matter of the meeting that the session was convened with the aim to change police procedures, and not address specific personnel issues,’ said John Bussian, national counsel for Freedom Communications Inc. ‘That makes it a violation of the open meetings act.’”
Then-city attorney, who worked with Brand, Sr. for many years and current McAllen mayor, Jim Darling, said he disagreed and did not think that it violated those laws when asked by The Monitor in 1996.
Now, let’s go back to the arrest: What about the two hours that Brand, Jr. was held for? According to reports from The Monitor, his detention of only two hours went against departmental policies:
“Instead of detaining him for 24 hours — as is the norm for domestic violence cases in McAllen — Municipal Court Judge Dahlila Guerra-Casso was called in to arraign and set bond for the suspect. That action went against a policy Guerra-Casso instructed the police department to follow.”
The story, it seems, was mostly dropped after that by newspapers.
But twenty years later, the first part of this story regarding the 1996 arrest has resurfaced on Facebook.
A quick Google search of the words “othal brand jr arrest” brings up the 1996 article from the online archives of Brownsville Herald, which reprinted the article from The Monitor. The article, which describes Brand, Jr.’s arrest for allegedly assaulting his second wife, surfaced on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter in threads where local residents were discussing the current McAllen mayoral candidate’s alleged domestic abuse history.
Many of these threads started less than 10 days before early voting began in McAllen on April 24. Before the Brownsville Herald article was circulated, residents were relaying information about the arrest from their own memories or from stories told to them by older family members who lived in the McAllen area when Brand, Sr. was still mayor, as we observed on Facebook and Twitter.
Searching for an explanation, some residents began sharing the article on Brand, Jr.’s Facebook campaign page. Others would comment on his posts and videos on Facebook with commentary questioning whether his platform of “transparency, accountability, and open government” was compatible with his complete silence on his alleged violent history.
In a matter of minutes, those same residents who shared the 1996 article on his campaign page were blocked, losing their access to leave any further comments.
Neta confirmed at least five individuals were blocked from Brand Jr.’s campaign page immediately after they posted the article from the Brownsville Herald online archives.
In two instances, the campaign page took further action than just blocking commenters.
On April 21, the campaign shared a YouTube video sponsored by Brand, Jr., titled “Not Houston, Not Vegas!” The video referred to Mayor Jim Darling’s aspirations for McAllen to be “Houston by Day, Vegas by night” and made a direct connection from those aspirations to downtown McAllen’s 17th Street, known for its bars and clubs. The YouTube video also showed footage of what looked like someone getting beaten on 17th Street and questioned if the growth of 17th Street made the city any safer.
At the time this YouTube video was published on Brand Jr.’s campaign page on Facebook, residents had already been circulating the 1996 article of the candidate’s arrest. Some wondered how the campaign could try to address violence in McAllen without addressing Brand Jr.’s alleged violent past and criticized him of “fear-mongering.”
In a matter of hours, the video was quietly taken down by Brand Jr.’s campaign from Facebook and YouTube, and anyone who commented on it with the 1996 article was blocked from the campaign’s Facebook page.
In another instance of his campaign responding to Facebook users sharing the 1996 article, a McAllen woman told Neta that Brand Jr.’s wife, Sara Brand, personally messaged her on the social network after seeing that she had shared the article.
The McAllen woman, who asked to remain anonymous, said she and Mrs. Brand had met before but could not disclose how they had met. Mrs. Brand knew personal information about the woman and, in an attempt to stop the circulation of the article, brought up said information in the message.
“It was attempting to manipulate my vote and my stance on her husband’s past because she had personal information about my past,” the woman said. Mrs. Brand only knew about the personal information because the woman shared it with her privately and is not public record, as the woman said during her interview with Neta.
“I think it’s manipulative,” the woman continued. “She was attempting to either silence me because I went public with her husband’s past or to con me into voting for her husband despite his past.”
For some supporters of Brand, Jr., this incident from 1996 is, in their words, a thing of the past. Some see it as an isolated incident and reiterate that charges against Brand, Jr. were later dropped.
However, a lesser-known event in 1986, 10 years before the infamous arrest, challenges that defense of being an “isolated incident.”
In 1986, Brand, Jr.’s first wife, Deborah Ann Brand, filed for divorce. According to public records, she tried to place a temporary restraining order against her now ex-husband, suggesting that she felt she needed to take immediate legal action to keep Brand, Jr. physically away from her. The public document was provided to Neta by a local resident who searched Brand, Jr.’s civil record on March 10, 2017. Since then, the record has been removed from Hidalgo County Public Access.
A collective of concerned residents who learned Neta was writing about Brand, Jr.’s alleged violent past sent us an “open letter to residents of the Rio Grande Valley”:
“This is an appeal to all Valley residents. We’re aware of all the unique qualities of every single city in our community. And we recognize some, like McAllen, experience a certain level of visibility and influence that not all of the cities can claim. Local elections in influential districts have a broad effect on the Valley as a whole. The candidates for the position of McAllen mayor are disappointing, but one, in particular, stands out in his hypocrisy that we feel needs to be addressed: Othal Brand, Jr…
“One of the buzzwords for Othal Brand, Jr.’s campaign is “transparency.” We applaud such efforts towards transparency in government, truly. However, we found out through simple but careful research through online avenues that petitions for restraining orders and arrest for domestic violence are attached to his name. He has made no acknowledgment of it publicly and conveyed no remorse for his actions.
“We don’t believe in the ostracization of people who act out violently. We believe in rehabilitation and support. But first, you must acknowledge the unacceptable nature of such actions. Burying the evidence and deleting the comments online do nothing but solidify our concerns. We do not support such self-serving actions. We ask Othal Brand, Jr. to own up to his past actions as well as consult with local domestic violence and sexual assault survivor advocacy organizations for a comprehensive plan of action to counter abuse in the community. We ask him to stand by his campaign promise of transparency.”
Neta reached out to Othal Brand, Jr.’s campaign for comment. One of their representatives said they were only aware of the campaign blocking “fake profiles” from their Facebook page during a phone interview but not of citizens who were trying to discuss the alleged domestic violence history of the candidate. The representative also asked for the names and phone numbers of the people who were blocked from the page. Neta explained that we did not have permission to release that information but that the campaign could view a list of the people who have been blocked through the Facebook page’s settings.
The representative said he would check with their social media manager about the blocked profiles. Neta has not received any more information from them since.