Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas has said that in younger days he was twice arrested in his hometown of El Paso — once, he says, for leaping a college campus fence and the other time for driving while intoxicated.
Readers have asked us whether the third-term congressman challenging Republican Sen. Ted Cruz has a criminal history. We decided to fact-check a widely circulated mention of the arrests from a 2012 campaign ad against O’Rourke. A screenshot from the ad continues to circulate six years later now that O’Rourke is running for U.S. Senate.
The ad was run by then-U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, as he unsuccessfully tried to fend off a Democratic primary challenge from O’Rourke.
In the ad, O’Rourke’s mugshot appears next to text stating that the “facts” are that O’Rourke has a “criminal record” including burglary and DWI. The ad’s narrator says O’Rourke “has a criminal record that includes DWI and burglary arrests.”
That he does, we confirmed. O’Rourke has acknowledged as much since his first run for office.
We got our own fix on the facts by seeking documentation of the DWI arrest through a public information request to the El Paso Police Department. Martin Rodriguez, a department records specialist, said the agency had no responsive records. We similarly queried the University of Texas at El Paso about the campus arrest and didn’t hear back.
We also ran a background check of O’Rourke using the LexisNexis service. According to the results, O’Rourke’s May 1995 misdemeanor charge from the UTEP campus incident was later declined, and his September 1998 misdemeanor DWI arrest in El Paso ended up being dismissed.
That led us to an El Paso County record stating that O’Rourke was initially arrested in May 1995 and that the case was disposed of in February 1996. We saw, too, that after the DWI arrest, according to another county record, O’Rourke was referred to a misdemeanor diversion program in March 1999 and completed “DWI school” in May 1999. That document’s last entry, dated Oct. 20, 1999, says: “Misdemeanor diversion completed successfully.”
When we sought detail from O’Rourke spokesman Chris Evans, he said that O’Rourke had consistently addressed his arrests, notably during campaign stops in Paris, Sunnyside, San Antonio and Houston, where video shows O’Rourke telling a group in August that he spent a night in the El Paso County Jail after what he referred to as his 1995 arrest for criminal trespass.
In video of a campaign stop in San Antonio, a resident told O’Rourke she’d seen what someone described as his mug shot. O’Rourke replied: “More than 20 years ago, I was arrested — not once, but twice. So you should know that and we should all own that, if asked.” O’Rourke specified that he’d been arrested for attempting to hop a fence at UTEP and later, he said, for a “far more serious mistake: I drove under the influence of alcohol. There’s no justifying that.”
The oldest published account of the arrests appears to be an April 2005 El Paso Times news story about O’Rourke’s successful run for an El Paso City Council seat. When asked about the DWI arrest, O’Rourke told the Times then, “I’ve been open about that since the very beginning. I have owned up to it and I have taken responsibility for it.”
The Times further reported that court records showed that O’Rourke earlier was arrested in 1995 at UTEP on a burglary of building charge, which was later dropped. O’Rourke told the paper: “That happened while I was in college. I along with some friends were horsing around, and we snuck under the fence at the UTEP physical plant and set off an alarm. We were arrested by UTEP police. … UTEP decided not to press charges. We weren’t intending to do any harm.”
O’Rourke’s campaign later provided a photo of a document Evans described by email as the original UTEP police report on O’Rourke’s arrest there. It says O’Rourke and two other students were arrested at the university’s Physical Plant under the “burglary” portion of the state penal code, section 30.02, for “attempted forcible entry.”
A 2012 TV ad still viewable online six years later said O’Rourke “has a criminal record that includes DWI and burglary arrests.”
O’Rourke’s comments and records indicate that UTEP police arrested O’Rourke in 1995 for burglary, a misdemeanor charge disposed of the next year. In 1998, El Paso police arrested O’Rourke for DWI, a misdemeanor charge that was dismissed after he completed “DWI school” the next year.
We rate the claim True.
Statement: Says Beto O’Rourke ‘has a criminal record that includes DWI and burglary arrests.’