POLK COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - Multiple ongoing investigations into people keeping too much junk on their respective properties by Polk County's environmental officer resulted in three felony arrests. They are just the first multiple suspects being arrested.
According to Deryl Oates, Polk County's environmental officer, Stormy Lee Early, 36, of Onalaska, and Franklin Joeseph Steep, 62, and Teresa Estell Stepp, 48, both of Livingston, were all charged with felony dumping. Oates said it is considered a felony if the junk is more than 1,000 pounds or more than 200 cubit feet.
Officers with the Onalaska Police Department arrested Early on the warrant on Saturday. Franklin Stepp and Teresa Stepp turned themselves into authorities Tuesday.
Oates said all three of them are accused of keeping too much junk on their property.
"I have worked for at least a year with the people we are getting the warrants on, some of them a little over a year," Oates said. "Some of them clean up a little bit, and it gets worse than it was before."
Oates said neighbors complained they were burning tires in the yard, and people were bringing brush for them to burn, which is illegal, Oates said. They also had washers, dryers, and an old junk truck in their yard, he said.
Oates also said that he has been working with Early for several years, adding that he has sent her notices and given her time to clean up her property. The Polk County environmental officer said Early was arrested on a Class B misdemeanor charge related to the junk last year.
Oates said he has been serving as the Polk County environmental officer for five years, and he now has six more active felony warrants out for people who have too much trash in their yards.
"Across the county I am working 400 cases," Oates said. "I am trying to help clean up the county. It not only looks bad, but it is also putting a lot of toxic chemicals into the air."
Oates said he gets a lot of the support from the sheriff's office and the commissioner's court.
"We let him do his investigation, and then we come in and serve the warrants," said Polk County Sheriff Kenneth Hammack said. "It is not like we are driving around looking for these yards. To get to this point it has taken time. "It is a combination of working with the environmental office, the sheriff's office and also the commissioners court."
Oates is hoping people will stop the dumping and start to care about the landscape of the county.
"It's kind of disheartening that people don't take more pride in their community," Oates said. "I try to encourage them to do what they need to do, and then they refuse. It doesn't leave me a lot of choice than to put them in jail."