AUSTIN (KXAN) — An Austin man is facing felony tampering with evidence charges after he allegedly failed to call 911 while two people inside the Victory Grill in east Austin overdosed, according to court documents. One of those men died.
Documents show the man who died, Eddie Flores, talked to his wife, Crystal, a little before 6 a.m. on March 19. Crystal told police she could tell Eddie was “very intoxicated” so she drove to Victory Grill to pick her husband up, documents said.
Less than 30 minutes later, Crystal claimed she arrived at the club and found her husband and another man locked in an office and overdosing, an officer wrote. Crystal called 911 at that point; meanwhile, she told police two of the staff at Victory Grill began hiding drugs and other paraphernalia. One of those people was Rolando Ortiz Jr., according to documents. Victory Grill told KXAN Thursday that Ortiz is no longer employed with them.
Police would later find the paraphernalia the men were hiding and the drugs believed to be involved, which police said were consistent with cocaine. Officers also noted that given the victim’s sudden decline in state, the cocaine was likely laced with fentanyl.
While APD told KXAN no additional information can be released about this case, APD officials wrote that Ortiz was charged with tampering with evidence because he “removed evidence from the scene of a homicide investigation,” though Ortiz is not charged with homicide at this time.
According to APD’s report, Ortiz admitted to observing the two men either “in distress or deceased” and instead of calling for or administering help, he closed and locked the door to the office they were in. He told police he lied because he doesn’t like police and has a previous criminal history, documents said.
Ortiz is still in custody, according to Travis County’s inmate list, and is being held on a $30,000 bond alongside a parole violation. Ortiz’ court-appointed attorney did not respond to KXAN’s request for comment.
Ortiz does not appear to have previous drug charges, according to a Texas Department of Public Safety criminal history search, but he did plead guilty to aggravated sexual assault of a child charges in a 2004 case and was released on parole.
Texas’ Good Samaritan Law
In 2021, Texas lawmakers passed, and Gov. Greg Abbott signed, a Good Samaritan Law which has been in effect since September. HB 1694 protects some people from getting in trouble for small amounts of illegal drugs or having drug paraphernalia should they seek help for someone who is having a drug overdose.
But as many addiction recovery advocates testified, some is the key word — and the people protected are not the right some.
Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed an effort by Texas lawmakers to pass a Good Samaritan Law in 2015. As a result, Rep. John Raney (R) testified last year that he met with the governor’s staff and crafted legislation in 2021 that would satisfy the governor’s fear that the law would be used by repeat offenders.
That’s a concern some law enforcement officials also shared as lawmakers discussed the possibility of this protection.
“How far are we willing to go to waive the burden of criminal responsibility in exchange for getting someone to make that phone call that’s going to save a life?” Hardin County Sheriff Mark Davis told KXAN in 2018, as those discussions were being had. “I think we truly need to make a clear distinction between a person who is an addict and possessing that because they’re addicted to opioids or a substance, versus someone who is a dealer and a trafficker.”
As a product of those concerns, the resulting law disqualifies many people from protection in Texas — most notably, people who have been previously convicted of a drug offense and people who have called for medical assistance for an overdose in the last 18 months.
“When I was still active in my addiction, I can think of three or four times just off the top of my head where I was in a position where I was with somebody who was overdosing,” Joseph Gorordo, who is in long-term recovery and is now the vice president of outreach for Recovery Unplugged, said.
After bringing an overdose victim to the emergency room and being questioned by police, Gorordo says the next time he was with someone having an overdose, he did not bring that person in for medical treatment. That’s is something the Good Samaritan Law hopes to address, but it only works for people who don’t have a history.
“The people who are most likely to be present for an overdose are also the people who are very likely going to have some sort of record,” Gorordo said. “That means that you’re eliminating a big chunk of the individuals who are going to be the primary users of this.”
Gorordo says this law is new, but its loopholes are already on Recovery Unplugged’s list of priorities for the next legislative session.
Fentanyl testing strips are illegal in Texas — here’s why
In the same legislative session that saw the passing of the Good Samaritan Law, lawmakers failed to decriminalize drug testing strips, though many states around the country have.
Rep. Jasmine Crockett, a Democrat from Dallas, tried to push through a bill that aimed to remove criminal penalties for the possession of drug paraphernalia. That bill passed committee on a 6-3 vote but ultimately didn’t make it to the chamber.
That’s something Travis County Judge Andy Brown has recently been outspoken about, specifically when it comes to fentanyl testing strips.
Fentanyl testing strips can be used to test drugs, powders and pills for the presence of fentanyl, which is often more potent than other drugs and can be fatal. The strips allow people to take extra steps to protect themselves or to not take the drugs altogether.
But under the Texas Controlled Substances Act, drug testing equipment is classified as drug paraphernalia which makes it illegal for people to recreationally test.
“It’s something that from what I’ve heard, especially from the harm reduction community, that would save lives,” Brown told KXAN. “We would like to look into the possibility of making them available to the public if they were allowed by state law.”
You can read more about KXAN’s reporting on fentanyl testing strips here.
Naloxone can reverse the effects of an overdose
Texas lawmakers have previously legalized the purchase and carry of naloxone, an emergency treatment that reverses the effects of opioid overdoses. That legislation made the treatment available in Texas without a prescription at many pharmacies like H-E-B, CVS and Walgreens.
“Narcan, when it’s not necessary, there’s no risk of adverse side effects,” Gorordo said. “So you don’t have to second guess yourself, ‘is this person overdosing or not?’ Which means that a lot of individuals without training can carry Narcan and potentially save a life.”