Friday, December 22, 2006

(SA) Current events in criminal justice

Three items in this week's issue of the San Antonio Current may interest Grits readers, two by reporter Dave Maass, and one from our friend Vince Leibowitz of Capitol Annex fame:

"A Good Country Ass Whoopin"
First, Maass reports on an Orange County DA investigator who received an unwelcome birthday visit from a Kerrville car burglar, and who is probably (or should be) in a lot of trouble at his job. Maass writes:
You gotta love Texas justice, such as this kind request posted on a Texas prosecutors’ messageboard on Saturday: “Please put a good country ass whoopin on whoever is wearing [my badge], prior to placing them in jail,” wrote Kevin Breshears, an investigator with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. In addition to Breshears’s badge (#610), the “low life” who broke into his car while Breshears was having dinner with his son in Kerrville also nabbed his .45 semi-automatic Sig Sauer P220 handgun, laptop, and $600 digital camera, plus a “large and expensive array of lenses.” And on Breshears’s birthday, no less! Apparently, the Kerrville Police Department wasn’t sympathetic: “I can’t believe how I was treated there by the detective and the brass!” Breshears wrote. You’d think they gave him a good country ass-whoopin for introducing a firearm into the criminal stream.
From this screed, Mr. Breshears sounds like he's perhaps a few bricks shy of a load, as my father would say. His elevator doesn't appear to go all the way to the top. Who leaves an expensive gun, the office laptop (with perhaps informants, undercover officer names and God knows what else on it), thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment, and his BADGE in the car outside a restaurant? (Why not leave the keys in the ignition while you're at it?) And he's mad at the Kerrville cops! This guy deserved to be fired even before he requested that his fellow officers violate a defendant's civil rights on a public internet message board.

UPDATE: Breshears has edited his comments to say his call for retaliation was a jest:
"Just in case someone wonders why I edited a comment from my post, Apparently someone read my post and did not understand that we are all professionals and would know the comment was off handed humor." Real funny, and professional, too. Ha. Ha.

Tent jails a politicized cop out
Maas also follows up on Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson's continued quest to use "tent jails" for prisoners in San Antonio, a topic Grits has discussed previously. I'd hoped this was just an election season gimmick that would die down after November, but apparently the San Antonio Democrat still wants to pursue this boondoggle. Mr. Adkisson now has a new meme he's spreading - some jail inmates WANT to be incarcerated!
Adkisson’s catchphrase (repeated half a dozen times during our interview): “Six to 10 percent of our jail population, which is about 400 inmates, go [to jail] for three square meals, air conditioning, color-cable television, and medical attention in a secured setting.”
Uh huh. If you're homeless and mentally ill, maybe, but probably not even then. Sorry Mr. Adkisson, that dog won't hunt. I challenge Commissioner Adkisson to show any data that backs up that claim, from any source - IMO it's pure hogwash with made up statistics, an uneducated guess with a percentage attached to it to make it sound official.

A lot more inmates than that are low-level offenders who are in jail awaiting trial,
many with no priors. Indeed, as I've previously mentioned, Bexar County incarcerates half again as many misdemeanor inmates awaiting trial as does Harris County, which is more than twice as large! Even if Adkisson could substantiate his numbers - and I REALLY want to see a source on that 6-10% figure - there are much bigger sources of overincarceration in Bexar County that officials are ignoring.

From an economic standpoint, it's easy to understand politicians' desire for a tent jail: Commisioners and judges get to grandstand as "tuff" in the media, and they wouldn't have to change problematic criminal justice practices or take responsibility for an expensive, failed system in a jail bond election. The ideological arguments Adkisson suggests for a tent jail, though, are both non-substantive and mutually exclusive. Reports Maass:
Adkisson’s selling his idea with contradictory pitches. On one hand, he denounces our current jails as luxury resorts for criminals for whom incarceration is calculated into the cost of doing business. ... On the other hand, Adkisson claims inmates actually love Arpaio’s Tent City, going so far as to suggest that female inmates think to themselves that the sheriff is “the father we missed having when we were raised.”
So inmates both will hate tents so much they won't want to go there, and love it so much they'll come to view the sheriff as a father figure! Yeah right. Both Grits and others have suggested numerous ways Bexar County could reduce its jail population without harming public safety. See especially recent suggestions from the Bexar County Jail Administrator. All of his suggestions should be implemented before a tent jail is even considered. The tent fad is nothing more than a politicized cop out - an admission of failed leadership and a vacuum of ideas.

The Bloggers vs. Vicki Truitt
Finally, Vince Leibowitz has an item on the recent dust up between bloggers and state Rep. Vicki Truitt over her internet libel bill. Give it a read. I let this one blow over without blogging about it, but that doesn't mean I don't have a few opinions.

On the one hand I liked Vince's coverage because it didn't focus, like the MSM did, on "oooh, bloggers used dirty words." Truitt's was a meaningless, do-nothing bill from the get-go, but it did indeed from its language appear to focus on bloggers, whatever the representative's ill-conceived intent. Vince took the issue on its face and reported it like an adult, which gives him a leg up on the Fort Worth Startlegram.

But the dirty words and personal insults are part of the story too, IMO just for different reasons than have been portrayed. I think the Star Telegram took the wrong lessons from L'Affaire de Truitt. In an editorial on the subject they wrote, "The mostly anonymous criticism from bloggers -- a mixture of bombast, crude humor and frenzied groupthink -- was largely as meaningless as most of the bill itself."

Certainly the bill was meaningless, but the bombast and crude humor was not. Commenters on In the Pink Texas were making a point, and a quite valid one: Politicians can't control the blogosphere. You can't control blog commenters. You can't eliminate satire. You can't stop someone who identifies themselves as Roaming Gnome or even "anonymous" from making fun of politicians, who are considered "public figures" under libel law and thus fair game for all but the worst calumnies. Of ITPT commenters, I thought the lovely and talented 'lurkette' put it best:
Two defenses to libel:

The Truth, and The Funny. Otherwise known as facts and parody.

If either of those are present, it’s not libel.

Bring. On. The. Funny.

Indeed, read the comment string from In the Pink Texas that the Startlegram criticized - none of those are libels! All of it is protected speech! Is some of it crude? Sure. Some of it is also hilarious. But it wasn't meaningless. Taken as a whole, "groupthink" or no, it sent a message, the same one US colonists sent by flying the Gadsen flag:

7 comments:

TexPD4Parity said...

One thing that seems to get lost on the powers that be when doing the 'tough on crime' rant with respect to county jails is that a lot of these individuals haven't been convicted of ANYTHING yet. So it's okay to treat them like dogs on the assumption they're guilty anyway? I'm afraid the presumption of innocence is really an affirmative defense here in Texas.

Proximo said...

Scott,

Regarding Breshears....here's where you and I don't seem to be on the same wavelength. First, you can't actually believe he wanted officers to literally kick this perp's ass? Yeah, Breshears probably should have secured his stuff....but, the tone of your post is the classic blame-the-victim and I-prefer-the-company-of-outlaws rhetoric. I am a victim advocate by profession. Though, at the same time I agree suspects should be treated professionally and afforded human dignity. I get the sense that in this Mad Max Thunderdome kind of world we live in, we are losing ground to the radical civil libertarians at the expense of public safety. If I'm not reading you right, then I apologize in advance.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Proximo - why wouldn't I believe he wanted cops to literally kick the perp's ass? He said it, he didn't qualify it. I think he meant it.

I also think Breshears got the same treatment as every other burglary of a vehicle victim from the Kerrville PD, but he wanted special treatment. They probably didn't give it to him because, like me, they thought he'd have to be a pretty big fool to leave all that expensive stuff lying in the car. I wouldn't even leave a stack of Christmas presents in the back seat in a restaurant parking lot, much less all that stuff. What else was KPD supposed to do for him, anyway?

Finally, I'd guess he lost a great deal of confidential material on the laptop including information that might even compromise officer safety, ongoing investigations, etc.. He should be fired, and would be if he worked for a defense company, say, and had that happen.

I don't know why it makes me a radical libertarian to want competent cops on the street. At a minimum this guy's thoughtlessness put other officers potentially at risk. At worst he's advocating violating a suspect's civil rights in retaliation for his own negligence.

I don't know whether you and I are on the same page or not, Proximo, but I don't see this fellow in too sympathetic a light. even if his car was broken into, that doesn't excuse his part of this.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Proximo, I should caveat - if it turned out this stuff was in the trunk, then I wouldn't be as critical and might even owe Mr. Breshear an apology on the allegation of "negligence," if not the "ass whoopin" part. From his description, though, it sounded like a regular old car burglary where the stuff was stolen from the interior, in which case I continue to have very little sympathy. Best,

Anonymous said...

All I can say is Breshears better hope whoever arrests the guy with his badge handles him with kid gloves. If he comes in battered and bruised at the arresting officers' hands, this message will come back to haunt him big time.

Anonymous said...

On the ass-whoopin story, of course he meant it! The only shock is how stupid it was to post the comment publicly. I'll bet there are some not-so-public email listservs where they talk like that all the time.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, I live in the same county as this moron Breshears and I can tell you that he meant what he said about the "ass whoopin". Breshears is known as a low life himself by many in this county, you just wouldn't believe all the stories. Why would someone 200 miles from home decide that he needed to take $5,000 worth of county equipment in his vehicle anyway? Wasn't he there just for some quality time with his son? Yeah, right...