Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Are there ever circumstances when Houston cops are accountable for needless shootings?

Here's another example from The Texas Observer's Emily DePrang of how (even if "why" remains elusive) it's nearly impossible to hold Houston police officers accountable for shooting unarmed people. Her article opened:
On October 24, the Houston Police Department announced the results of its yearlong investigation into the shooting death of Brian Claunch, a mentally ill double amputee killed by an officer last September after refusing to drop a pen. HPD cleared the officer, Matthew Marin, of any wrongdoing.

That may not come as a surprise, since HPD hasn’t found a single police shooting unjustified in at least six years. Between 2007 and 2012, HPD officers fatally shot 109 people and injured another 111. All those shootings were found justified. (For the full story on HPD shootings and beatings, read the Observer investigation here.)

But some expected this case to be different. Claunch was wheelchair-bound and had one arm and one leg. He was definitely aggressive—officers were on the scene because Claunch was agitated, shouting threats and demanding soda and cigarettes—but he was also obviously disabled. HPD reports that Claunch backed an able-bodied officer into a corner and slashed at her with a shiny object, prompting her partner, Matthew Marin, to shoot him. But it’s difficult to visualize Claunch simultaneously moving effectively and posing a serious threat with one arm, even if he had been holding something more deadly than a ballpoint pen. Claunch was also known to be mentally ill; he lived at a small group home for men with mental illness. For all these reasons, some observers expected this shooting to be considered unacceptable.
But it wasn't, at least according to the Houston PD. See the full story for more details.


Anonymous said...

I don't know about Houston, but around here, but around here they are severely punished. Usually 2 weeks off with full pay.

Anonymous said...

Why are we the people allowing the police and fire departments to police themselves vs. mandatory D.O.J. and FBI external investigations?

Will someone please post the Law that provides them this loophole?

We are teaching kids, terrorist and punks with grudges that - If you really want to kill someone and get away with it, be a cop.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

12:28 - The DOJ and FBI are federal agencies and don't have jurisdiction over internal PD matters outside of civil rights violations.

As for the law that governs IA investigations, many or most of the problems IMO are created by Local Government Code Ch. 143, the state civil service code. Of special concern is 143.089 that makes most disciplinary records secret in civil service cities. Because of that, we can't even know about most of the problems, much less get enough information to meaningfully hypothesize solutions.

Anonymous said...

The FBI can investigate just about any case it wants under civil rights violations. They do investigate a helluva lot of shootings and killings in other jurisdictions besides Harris county. The problem seems to lie with the Special Agent In Charge at the local office here. I was told by a former assistant DA that he has family members in the HCDA office and we all know how that place operates when it comes to prosecuting cops. Once again, the incestuous relationships within the law enforcement community in this part of Texas gets in the way...

Anonymous said...

What you all are missing is the motives of the district attorney to not file charges when a officer murders somebody. There are two primary reasons, one being that the district attorney relies on a close relationship with officers in order to get convictions. And the other is the age-old motive of money. If an officer is indicted and convicted the door is wide open to huge paydays for the victim's family. And a third reason is no one in law enforcement from the judges down want the public to doubt the actions of police. You begin second guessing every shooting after that. I'm actually shocked that the cop in Montgomery county was indicted for killing that shoplifter. Had the autopsy not shown the kid was shot in the back of the head, this officer would have gone free. He still might, too, because Montgomery county jurors chosen to hear the case will all be white, middle aged republicans who blindly support police officers.

Anonymous said...

The FBI has limited resources when it comes to investigating such events unless they are directed to do so by someone high up the food chain in office. In almost all cases, they simply review the local department's investigation for obvious errors and that is it.

In this case, a mentally ill man who was admittedly agitated and aggressive, wielded a weapon of sorts at an officer. How she let him get the drop on her is a question we all might want to ask, but it is not a criminal question. HPD has made great strides in dealing with the mentally ill over the last ten or fifteen years but ultimately, if you call them to handle a dangerous person, handicapped or not, you run the risk that they legally eliminate him from the gene pool.