Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Lies, police shootings, and the disinfecting sunlight of dashcam video

While everything is fluid at the capitol, here are a few items from outside the pink dome that merit Grits readers' attention:

Twin Peaks fiasco dragging on endlessly, expensively
Two years after the Twin Peaks biker shootout in Waco, there are "no trials in sight," reported the Waco Tribune Herald. Grits hopes we've seen the last of state-government bailouts in the form of Governor's grants to McLennan County covering costs in this case. The rest of the state shouldn't have to pay for the McLennan District Attorney's bravado and buffoonery. The reason for the outlandish cost is primarily the decision by DA Abel Reyna to charge dozens of people just for being there even though most people who've seen the discovery agree that the actual shooters were all killed by police snipers. Federal litigation has already ensued. Most of these cases should have been dismissed long ago. Let folks in Waco pay for it.

In favor of innocence reforms
Attorney Charles Eskridge had a nice letter to the editor in the Houston Chronicle articulating support for innocence reforms in HB 34 by Smithee, which arose from the Timothy Cole Exoneration Review Commission.

Parole revocations not Texas' big problem (probation is)
Grits wasn't surprised to learn from the Marshall Project that Texas doesn't rank high on the list of states that revoke parolees for technical violations. After the 2007 decarceration reforms authored by Sen. John Whitmire and Rep. Jerry Madden, parole revocations for technicals plummeted. It was probation departments, where revocation decisions are made by local elected judges, where revocations for technical violations have remained stubbornly high.

Lies, damn lies, and (not always) secret video
Here's another case, this time out of Bell County, where an unarmed man was shot and law enforcement lied about what happened. Last August, "Bell County Sheriff Eddy Lange told media representatives gathered at the scene that [Cpl. Shane] Geers shot [Lyle P.] Blanchard during a “gunbattle.” But dashcam video showed Mr. Blanchard was unarmed, 40 yards away. This is another prime example why police records including video should be subject to the Public Information Act even in cases where a conviction was never obtained. Those are exactly the instances - like this one, where the subject of the video is dead - where there's the greatest public interest in that information being made public.

Questioning the rise in frequency at which 'unarmed men allegedly reach for empty waistbands when facing armed officers'
An incident in Houston was the subject of a dissent by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor decrying the court's one-sided jurisprudence when it comes to police shootings. See coverage from the Houston Press. The ABA Journal reported:
Sotomayor lobbed her complaint in a dissent from a cert denial (PDF) in an excessive force case. The dissent, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, included a footnote that read, “Some commentators have observed the increasing frequency of incidents in which unarmed men allegedly reach for empty waistbands when facing armed officers.” 
Sotomayor argued that the court should have accepted a case that involved Ricardo Salazar-Limon, who was shot in the back by a Houston police officer as he walked back to his car. The officer said he shot Salazar-Limon in October 2010 because the suspect ignored his order to stop, turned toward the officer, and raised his hands toward his waistband. Salazar-Limon had said he was trying to walk away from a confrontation. 
The shooting happened after Salazar-Limon was pulled over for suspected drunken driving and then resisted being handcuffed. Salazar-Limon sustained “crippling injuries” as a result of the shooting, according to Sotomayor. 
Because there were competing accounts of the incident, the case should not have been decided by summary judgment, Sotomayor said. 
The cert denial, Sotomayor wrote, “continues a disturbing trend regarding the use of this court’s resources. We have not hesitated to summarily reverse courts for wrongly denying officers the protection of qualified immunity in cases involving the use of force. … But we rarely intervene where courts wrongly afford officers the benefit of qualified immunity in these same cases.”


Anonymous said...

Thank you Gritz for keeping attention on the 4th Amendment issue of police video in police shootings. There is no justification for keeping these videos away from journalists and concerned citizens and forcing them to only come to light after an expensive civil lawsuit forces the issue.

Gritz, could there be any chance of this issue making it into legislation this year? Any advice on how to keep a spotlight on this?

Also before we drop the topic: yes the officers lied but more importantly the sacred Texas Ranger investigation did not surface the discrepancy and almost certainly never got presented to the grand jury. Therefore represent the case to a grand jury. Perfectly legal. Also, these so called investigations should themselves be the subject of reform. They should be uniform across the state and should be the vehicle for dash cam release.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

HB 3234 (Moody) was heard this week in Govt Transparency and Operations and addresses open police records for deceased subjects. It needs a quick committee vote if it's going to become law this year. Consider calling the chair and/or the committee clerk and asking them to move it quickly.

On the Rangers, I understand your concern but at least they released the video. Left to their own devices, Bell County never would have.

Anonymous said...

No, parole doesn't revoke people, they just send them to ISFs. Here's information from the Legislative Budget Board's January 2017 report on Recidivism and Revocation Rates:

Three year rearrest rates:
ISFs – 59.2%
Prison – 46.4%
Parole Supervision – 44.2%
Probation Supervision – 35.9%

It can be argued that sending offenders to an ISF makes them more likely to commit a crime than if they just went to prison. Now that's keeping the community safe, huh?

JJ said...

No doubt the Rangers conducted their investigation and presented their findings to the DA. What more are they supposed to do? It has to go through grand jury and given that now 2 local elected officials are involved, this is where it starts going sideways.

Anonymous said...

The Texas Rangers were also called to investigate the APD crime lab in 2010 -- botched that one as well. What are they good for?

Bill Habern said...

Another addendum to the above writer's comments about parole revocation hearings resulting in the decision to send violators to ISP or other temporary units of detention as a final decision rather than to revoke parole is considered by the Parole Board to be only a sanction. The board suggests rather than that being a temporary revocation of parole this "sanction" is considered by the board to be no more than an amended parole condition. It is not considered as a parole revocation. Nevertheless the results are that the parolee's limited liberty interest (which was established by the granting of parole) is terminated and he/she is removed to a detention facility for what could be up to a period of 6 months. Since the decision is not considered a revocation of parole, the parolee is denied the right to file an administrative appeal from the decision to go to jail for 6 months. The decision to place that parolee in a temporary detention facility is nonetheless a term of detention, and I personally find this rule offensive to the concept of Due Process since one's limited liberty interest is suspended by forced detention, with no ability to administratively appeal any errors which may be present arising from the revocation hearing which resulted in detention. Of course one might attack the decision in a court of law via habeas corpus, but such litigation would not likely be completed until long after the 6 months of detention has expired, thus the prospect that the habeas litigation would be dismissed as moot before a court could finally rule on any anticipated constitutional errors of due process alleged in the writ.

Bill Habern