Saturday, July 11, 2015

Veteran Waco cop 'randomly' chosen foreman of Twin Peaks grand jury

In Waco, District Judge Ralph Strother selected "longtime Waco police officer James Head" to serve as foreman of the grand jury panel that consider the Twin Peaks biker cases.

Supposedly, reported the Houston Chronicle (July 10), "It was McLennan County’s first randomly selected grand jury since legislators eliminated a 'pick-a-pal' system in which judge-appointed commissioners nominated prospective jurors." And it's just random that a veteran cop made the cut the first time out in the highest profile case in the county's history.

Ironically, the new law eliminating Texas pick-a-pal system was created in large part because of the Alfred Brown case in Houston, coverage of which earned Lisa Falkenberg a Pulitzer Prize. A police officer was foreman in that case and it later turned out the grand jury improperly bullied and intimidated Brown's girlfriend into withdrawing her testimony as an alibi witness.

So for the first post-pick-a-pal jury in the county's highest-profile ever case to have a cop foreman beggars belief. The Chronicle quoted state Sen. John Whitmire, who authored the grand  jury reform legislation, blasting the decision:
“It’s exactly those types of circumstances that the new law was meant to do away with,” Whitmire told the San Antonio Express-News on Thursday. “You can’t get that objectivity, in the eyes of the public, if you don’t get that impartial grand jury. You’re starting with a built-in problem, and Waco needs a dose of transparency.”
Even if it's purely random, Judge Strothers should have the sense to bypass Mr. Head and pick somebody else to ensure there's no appearance of impropriety. As things stand, this move reinforces the view that we're witnessing a rigged game in Waco.

MORE: Local lawyers weigh in. AND MORE: From Murray Newman. UPDATE: Via the Houston Chronicle, see a motion filed objecting of Det. Head's participation in the grand jury, which included this old Far Side cartoon characterizing the rigged proceedings:

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

So now we're going to start precluding certain classes of people from grand jury service or being a foreman based purely on their occupation? Will this apply to regular jury service as well? Perhaps we could also permit such discrimination based on other factors as well such as race, gender, religion, educational background and so on. It's obviously well known that certain classes or groups of people can never be objective in certain types of cases.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

No, I suggested excluding him based on eliminating the appearance of bias from having an active police officer judging his colleagues' work. This is a straight-up conflict, not about excluding "certain classes of people." You wouldn't want the defendant's long-time work colleagues on a jury, either.

Anonymous said...

Either way, Scott, you're stereotyping. Who's to say that some police won't hold their colleagues to an even higher standard? When Whitmire forced this random selection process on the entire state, clearly there was a risk that this type of circumstance could occur. If you don't want judges "stacking the deck" in one situation, then don't expect them to do it in others. You can't have it both ways.

George said...

@Anonymous,

You know damn well what Scott meant and if you don't know what's going on in Waco then you're also a damn fool. When it comes to Texas "justice" it has, and most likely will be for some time, a stacked deck because the "good ole boy" network runs deep throughout the entire state.

The DAs in this state especially are hell-bent on winning cases no matter the consequences and there are many judges that were former persecutors with the same mentality. Passing laws in this state will not immediately change any of this. The son of a bitches need to be handed out some of the same justice that they've been dealing out for much too long.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:44,
You are aware the judge has the right to excuse anyone that could be biased for or against anyone being considered for indictment? Yet instead of removing a detective of Waco PD from the grand jury, Strother doubled down and appointed him the foreman. Truly a corrupt system operating in Waco.

As for allowing or disallowing someone on the grand jury, who in their right mind considers allowing a detective to be on a grand jury that may very well be reviewing his own police department (and drinking buddies) for illegal actions during the shootings.

And if you think no one should be excused from grand jury service based on occupation, guess you believe appeals court judges should serve, even if the case can end up on their desks at a later date? We know that an appeals court judge served as a commissioner under the old system, so why not also as a juror?

Sorry but you are simply trolling - and you know it.

Anonymous said...

It's not a "right".
The Judge has a G-damned duty to dismiss someone with an obvious conflict. This ass couldn't stop at screwing the pooch. He doubled down and appointed the guy foreman.

If anyone thinks this is a grey area, here's a quote from the DA.
"We're gonna get to the bottom of it and law enforcement is all working together as a team, and I'll bet on our own gang before I bet on their gang,"

Robert Langham said...

The Waco story, from folks in LE around the state, seems to be that the WACO police did all the shooting and killing and the bikers none. One policeman shot and so they all shot. They MUST cover this up or suffer the financial and perhaps legal consequences. Unfortunately, they saw the Feds pull the same thing and get away with it during the Branch Davidian debacle, so they are hopeful.

We've seen, continue to see and will probably see in the future, extreme actions to protect the Waco PD and city.

Soronel Haetir said...

One problem I see (to which I have absolutely no solution on offer) is how exactly is a grand jury to be empaneled in a random manner? I mean mostly what kind of voir dire is performed? (Also I find it strange that with a grand jury the foreperson is appointed while with a petit jury who fills the position is chosen by the members).

I see enormous potential for abuse if a random grand jury empaneling process still allows peremptory strikes.Especially as only the prosecution (or perhaps even only the judge I am not sure) would be present and most likely that record would be sealed.

Unfortunately as the interview piece Grits posted not too long ago pointed out there aren't really any good options. Both grand jury and preliminary hearing have problems, and it's not like one or the other even has less trouble just different trouble.

Anonymous said...

Just change the law next time to make active duty cops ineligible to serve. Simple.

Anonymous said...

Soronel,

Random doesn't mean that the judge can't exercise his judgement as to the potential for a member to be biased and then have them excused. If the judge does his job, and the DA does hers, the citizens of a grand jury can then do theirs - the determination of probable cause.

Every other state that uses a grand jury seems to be able to make it work (including the feds) but for some reason, Texas continually screws the pooch when it comes to the justice system. All have their problems but Texas seems to be the poster child of dysfunction if not outright malfeasance.

Anonymous said...

George @9:04 you are right. Changing laws will not crack the ole boy network. The only solution will come when they start seeing their pals in prison beginning with this Siegler lady. Trust me she is not going down by herself.

Anonymous said...

Hey guess what? Law enforcement officers get summoned for jury duty al the time. Why should a grand jury summons be any different?
Putting "randomly" in quotes is asinine.

Anonymous said...

yes cops, should never ever be chosen for jury duty, or their families, do I need to explain why

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@ 10:38, he may have been randomly selected but it's not "random" he's foreman, the judge chose him.

Anonymous said...

I'm not buying that ocean front property in Arizona either...

Anonymous said...

This is another example of the "Texas virus" where following the law is fine unless it is inconvenient. What kind of crazy cowboy justice thinks that allowing an active police officer to sit on a Grand Jury hearing dozens and dozens of local criminal indictments makes sense? At this point Waco looks like Texas right out the 1950's, congratulations!

Anonymous said...

Herd himself is in an untenable position. If he votes to indict people, many in the public will think he did it only because he is a police officer. If he does not vote to indict, his police friends will think he has betrayed them.

If there is testimony critical of the police, he will be under pressure from his friends to warn the officers involved even though the testimony is supposed to be secret. If he keeps quiet, his colleagues will think he is a traitor.

Soronel Haetir said...

Umm, the secrecy of grand jury proceedings should help with that. There should be no public record of whether he voted to indict in any particular case. Even if the case spirals into something like the Michael Brown investigation where various materials are released that are normally held back the voting record of each member should still be kept confidential. I would not be surprised if the individual votes aren't even recorded, only the total.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Soronel, I disagree. Inferences can be more devastating than facts because they can't be refuted. Secrecy will mean all sides will read into the grand jury's actions what they please and rumors will predominate because they can't be confirmed or denied. 10:47's point IMO is entirely valid.

No one is alleging impropriety but its appearance, and secrecy about individual votes won't change the outward appearance.

Oh, and to clarify, it was Alfred Brown, not Michael.

TriggerMortis said...

No way his was a random selection. It defies the laws of probability. Since this case involves police misconduct as much as anything, the odds of a cop being empaneled on this particular grand jury would be in the billions.

Nancy Botts said...

And they are excused by agreement or they are successfully challenged for cause all the time, too.

Soronel Haetir said...

Sorry Alfred Brown is a Texas case but not the item I had in mind. Michael Brown was the young black man shot in Missouri by a cop where the prosecutor release most if not all the grand jury testimony basically right after the no-bill was returned.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

My bad, Soronel, this blog suffers from Lone Star myopia.

Anonymous said...

I dont believe this was a random selection. 'Anonymous' said: "Law enforcement officers get summoned for jury duty all the time. Why should a grand jury summons be any different? " Really? Cause Im not an officer and havent been selected in over 10 years, so maybe the selection process isnt as random as you'd like to think.

Lee said...

I guess Webster mistaken as to the definitions or random and conflict of interest.

KBCraig said...

"It was McLennan County’s first randomly selected grand jury since legislators eliminated a 'pick-a-pal' system in which judge-appointed commissioners nominated prospective jurors.”

Since SB-135 doesn’t take effect until September 1, 2015, there is no requirement for McLennan County to use a random selection process yet. While they’re claiming that they did so in this case, it defies belief that they did.

As for the claim that police are summoned for jury duty “all the time”, sure they are. And most are promptly dismissed, either after qualifying questions, or during voir dire.

lovely destruction said...

Siegler..who dat?