Friday, June 05, 2015

Parole commissioner trial scheduled Monday, million dollar biker bails, and other stories

Grits has yet to fully recover from the legislative session so blogging remains light. Here are several items which under normal circumstances likely would have made it into independent posts:

Ex-parole commissioner's record tampering trial scheduled Monday
Former Texas parole commissioner Pamela Freeman is scheduled to go on trial Monday morning at 9 a.m. in Walker County for tampering with government records, according to the Walker County records system. See background on the case from parole attorney Kevin Stouwie and prior Grits coverage. Thanks to a commenter for the heads up.

Complaint filed against JP who set million-dollar biker bails
Grits hasn't had bandwidth to closely follow the case of 170 bikers arrested after a shootout in Waco, but I'm pleased to see a complaint was filed with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct against the Justice of the Peace who ordered $1 million bonds for every defendant. Austin attorney Keith Hampton has filed a habeas corpus petition demanding that individualized bail hearings be handed off to out of county jurists. That JP shouldn't be setting bail, anyway, if he can't do so based on a defendant's individual circumstances: Sometimes it seems as though officials in the McLennan justice system don't understand they're bound by the same laws and ethical constraints that govern everyone else.

Jail phone calls and the Michael Morton Act
If a jail records all inmate phone calls are prosecutors required to vet them for Brady material under the Michael Morton Act? Tarrant County requested an AG's opinion on the issue, as reported by Texas Lawyer. Remarkably, "if the AG opinion finds that the Morton act does require prosecutors to review inmate calls, then the office might ask for a revision to the county's contract for jail telecommunication services to completely remove prosecutors' access to the calls."

You can't manage what you can't measure
See coverage from the Dallas News of legislation to gather data on police shootings and serious use of force.

Texas vs. One Gold Crucifix
See a feature from the Coalition for Public Safety on asset forfeiture abuses.

Prisoner publishing 'Arts and Letters' column
In Dallas, D magazine is publishing a series of columns on topics of "Arts and Letters" from federal prisoner Barrett Brown, who was sentenced to 63 months in prison for helping cover up in the aftermath of the Stratfor email leak. See his latest column here and also past offerings.

'Why the criminal justice system is a massive failure'
Such is the title of an op ed this week in the Austin Statesman.


Anonymous said...

I'll be interested to learn when the forensics are complete how many of the nine dead were shot by other bikers and how many by police. Maybe this was a biker riot, maybe it was a police riot. Right now seems about 50/50 which is more likely.

Anonymous said...

"if the AG opinion finds that the Morton act does require prosecutors to review inmate calls, then the office might ask for a revision to the county's contract for jail telecommunication services to completely remove prosecutors' access to the calls."

Under Morton, the defendant has a right have copies of any material evidence in the possession, custody, or control of the state or any person under contract with the state.

So the county can't prevent defense access to the recorded calls by using the old "not-in-my-file" excuse. The safest and simplest approach for prosecutors is to assume the tapes are exculpatory and produce them all. Then it becomes the defense attorney's responsibility to listen to them and seek exculpatory content.

Most criminal defense attorneys won't review the jail tapes because they don't charge enough to spend that much time turning over every stone. The same is true of patrol car recordings. Most of the people who need a criminal defense attorney are not exactly famous for their good decision making skills and don't understand that the $2000 attorney that got you deferred adjudication is NOT A BARGAIN when compared to the $8000 attorney that got the case dismissed. Especially now that you can't expunge a deferred adjudication and a criminal background history is available for $1 on the internet. You'll be paying for that bad decision every payday for the rest of your life.

Anonymous said...

Interesting letter published in the Waco Tribune paper (at

This biker incident is unfortunate for Waco. It has produced more bad press for a town that has already lagged behind. Waco doesn’t need to be famous for another mass killing.

A situation in which apparently innocent bystanders who don’t even own motorcycles, are not in any club and have no criminal history were swept up in mass arrests and their personal property seized doesn’t sit well with people who value their own freedom and possessions. The McLennan County Jail is a private for-profit business, leaving Waco ripe for criticism that people are being held there on million-dollar bonds as more of a money-making scheme for the jail than a pursuit of justice.

Allegations that the corporation that runs the jail has made contributions to the McLennan County district attorney open him up for ethical questions about his decision to set unreasonable bail amounts. Now the lawsuits against Waco have begun. This is likely going to drag on for years, during which the only stories the nation will hear about Waco are bad ones.

I have heard 18 police officers were pre-positioned with sniper equipment at Twin Peaks prior to any shots being fired. But they were all hidden, in tactical gear, with no marked cruisers in the Twin Peaks parking lot or mall parking lot or adjacent highway. Likely just one marked police vehicle with lights going would have prevented trouble, as no fight would have started in front of an obvious police presence. Sadly, the police chose to have no visible presence.

Even 18 police officers can’t break up a fight from 50 yards away; they can just send bullets into the fray, which is apparently what they did. That is what the military does, but it is not what police are supposed to do.

So we have a town that has abandoned community law enforcement in favor of military-assault vehicles and sniper weapons; private for-profit jails hungry for prisoners; and possibly corrupt officials. This is not a formula for growth.

/s/ Michael Russell, Woodway

Anonymous said...

That pretty much sums it up Mr. Russell. Not just in Waco though...all over Texas.

Jason Truitt said...

1:45 beat me to it. It's amazing to me to see how regularly the MMA is misinterpreted by prosecutors and judges. It has to be on purpose. The statute is clearly written, and not terribly wrong. It's so plain that the constant attempts to set policies that violate it can only be intentional.

Anonymous said...

Maybe something good can come from Waco. (Personally, I still get a sick feeling in my stomach when Waco is mentioned, the biker incident just makes it worse.) It makes me wonder what’s up with this? Are all 170 people being accused of shooting somebody? Or, are they being held for a million dollars just because they ride motorcycles and associate with bike club members? After reading the above article, I am convinced some of Waco’s finest need to locked up. (Too bad they can't be locked up with some pissed off bikers.)

Bikers are all around us, sometimes I notice their bandito jackets but most of the time just their motorcycles. They don't bother me and I don't bother them, just regular people who happen to ride bikes. Are we supposed to believe that 170 of these people forgot how to act once they arrived in Waco? I am sure they are NOW half-crazy and ready to kill after being locked up. Who wouldn't be? I hope they all stay on their best behavior and not rack up additional charges while in jail. (I do not really care if some of them sell drugs or launder money; given a choice, I prefer the company of this type of criminal than a corrupt law officer, any day.)
It may take a while, but surely this mass lockup will have to be an eye-opener for those who still blindly trust the police and our corrupt justice system. Don’t wait to care until someone close to you is involved – then it is too late! Start caring NOW!

The million dollar bail amounts are contrary to our criminal procedure laws -- just plain wrong -- but the people responsible for setting those amounts know that and get away with it every day. They are above the law or so they believe and besides, they are probably guilty of something and this is how bikers deserve to be treated - right? They'll eventually reduce the amounts and probably let most of them go. But, just like all wrongfully jailed defendants, it will cost them thousands and they will never get a penny of it back. From the bail bonds they pay, to storage fees on their confiscated bikes, to the hours of missed work to attend dozens of court “meetings,” it's an expensive, degrading ordeal. Besides being WRONG. Everyone is Guilty, until proven otherwise.

Something is once again very stinky in Waco, Texas.

Gadfly said...

Notes to a couple of the anonymouses.

Grits knows that Abel Reyna is a "hang em high" DA. Indeed, McLennan is reportedly one of the five worst counties in the sttate for average pretrial detention time.

Agreed this is often wrong in general.

BUT! It's not any MORE wrong in particular with the bikers.

That said, let's remember Waco is, say, 7 percent the population of Houston and McLennan County 5 percent the population of Harris County. Even with outside help, it's taking longer to plow through this.

That then said, more than half of the arrested are now free on bond. Many of them have been reduced to $25K; others to $50K; others to $100K. Some stayed at $1M even after bond hearings, though.

Oh, and 1/3 of them were free on bond at the time Grits wrote this, and you all replied, too. (I live less than an hour from Waco, and have read everything the Trib has reported.)

While bond hearings should not be taken as presumptions of guilt, or of innocence, I think it shows the idea that "it was a bunch of innocent bikers" might not be so true.

And, if an anonymous Cossack is right, there's a LOT of Bandidos who allegedly are nowhere near innocent. For my blogging on that, go here.

Gadfly said...

Otherwise, there's no excuse for claims of a police set-up. That's whether it's bikers, hardcore libertarians, gun nuts, or now, some elements of the left, making such claims:

Anonymous said...

Known outlaw biker gangs, Bandidos & Cossacks gather. Hmmm, wrong place wrong time? Maybe for some, not for most arrested. You wear the colors, you should expect the consequences. I am proud of our law enforcement in McLennan County, they probably prevented much more bloodshed & violence. While most bikers are not criminals, and ride for enjoyment, there are those who are heavily involved in organized criminal activity, and this is what all that was about on that Sunday.