Monday, December 26, 2005

Dallas man spends 15 months in jail but never charged with a crime

Hurrah for the two public defenders -- E.A. Srere and Shoshana Paige -- who sprung Walter Mann Sr. from the Dallas County Jail last week where he did 15 months without ever being charged with a crime. (See from the Dallas News: "Uncharged man silently did the time," 12-23, and "Man, 69, readjusts after jail," 12-24.)

Nobody ever visited the poor fellow while he was incarcerated, and apparently he never saw his appointed lawyer. Mann spent his first night out of jail sleeping in an abandoned truck behind his old church, wating to see the pastor or someone he knew to ask for help.

"I have never ever seen somebody held this long without anything holding them," said E.A. Srere, a lawyer in the Dallas County public defender's office.

"I think it's a case of somebody who slipped through the cracks, and nobody figured it out."

Mr. Mann's story, as told through court filings and interviews, began in summer 2002, when his 13-year-old son assaulted him. The son went to a juvenile detention center. Mr. Mann – unemployed with an eighth-grade education and on disability benefits, according to court records – was assessed a $50 monthly payment to compensate the county for housing the boy.

Mr. Mann didn't pay. In spring 2004, the district attorney's office filed a motion for contempt of juvenile court. After Mr. Mann failed to appear for a July hearing, the court issued a writ of attachment – a little-known civil order that commanded authorities to bring him before a judge.

It was that order – according to the Dallas County Sheriff's Department – that would lead to a prolonged incarceration.

Are you kidding me? A contempt citation for not paying housing costs assessed for your child's incarceration, when you yourself are indigent: Can you even imagine? How are the poor to pay for jail costs when county governments can't figure out how to do so? Then again, I guess that's why the charges were assessed in the first place -- another instance where overincarceration creates new self-reinforcing pressures to incarcerate ever-more people.

Tell me: Who in their right mind thinks incarcerating this poor fellow for any length of time, much less 15 months, improved public safety? It was his kid, after all, causing the trouble.

The Dallas County jail certainly
has it's own problems, but in this case the fault seems to lie with the judge and whoever was supposed to have been appointed counsel. "We knew he was there," a sheriff's department representative said, but Mann was being held on a legitimate court order from Judge Cheryl Lee Shannon in the 305th Juvenile District Court.

To me, this points to another benefit of a public defender system for indigent defendants -- to better ensure consistency in the quality of indigent defense counsel. In an adversarial system, somebody like 69-year old Mr. Mann with an 8th grade education desperately needs a good lawyer -- this case is the poster child for why. But PDs split indigent cases with private appointed attorneys in Dallas, so Mr Mann didn't get to use the defenders office. Instead, his case only came to light when his cellmate "told his public defender, Ms. Srere, about his cellmate. Mr. Srere told a fellow public defender, Shoshana Paige. The same day, Ms. Paige made a couple of calls. Mr. Mann was released from jail on an order signed by Judge Shannon 'I was shocked, and then part of me was shocked that I was shocked because I've read enough other stories about things like this,' Ms. Paige said. 'This one seems to be pretty egregious.'"

The modern criminal justice system is a byzantine, complicated mess. Without an attorney to advocate for him, Mr. Mann was, obviously, royally screwed. With a competent attorney in his corner, he was released within a matter of hours. In the meantime, Dallas taxpayers ate the incarceration costs for 15 months at $40 - $50 per day, while perpetrating a monstrous injustice.

What's wrong with this picture?


Anonymous said...

That story is absolutely appauling. Why every county in Texas doesn't have a properly funded public defender's office to match their District Attorney's offices is beyond me.

123txpublicdefender123 said...

Grits, just to clarify, Mr. Mann was NEVER appointed any attorney, period. The judge who had him arrested on the writ never appointed an attorney. If he had been, I doubt he would have been in jail for 15 months.

Thanks for picking up the story!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@ 123tpd:

Is tht because this was a civil, not a criminal charge, or just a foulup?

123txpublicdefender123 said...

I'm not an expert on writs of attachment, but I think it was just a foul-up.

Anonymous said...


according to my sources who work in the juvenile courts in Dallas County, this issue has been a bone of contention between the judges and lawyers. the lawyers are arguing that a) you shouldn't jail someone for failing to pay b) if you do, have a hearing now, and c) of course, APPOINT AN ATTORNEY. apparently some of the judiciary in that courthouse pooh-pooh the idea of appointed someone a lawyer on a civil contempt issue.

Anonymous said...

To whom it may concern,
Back in 2005 you published a story about a man named Walter Mann that was released from jail after spending 15 months in jail. Well I am his daughter Rosealexander Mann. While he was in jail I was in foster care(I was placed around the same time he enter jail), and I am the only one of in his family that never left Dallas, TX. I not even sure if he fully understood my economic situation at the time. The Child Protective Services refused to help me locate my daddy. I was left with a broken heart and nowhere to turn. I did not even know where to start. And when I called the Dallas police department to file a missing persons report they told me “it was not a police matter”. I aged out of care last year now I am trying to find my daddy. I miss him so much that it hurts. Life has been terrible hard without the opportunity to share some of my proudest moment without him. I am now a college student. If you can help me and my family reunited with my father I will endlessly thank you. My life has been pretty rough, but I overcame all obstacles and I am still her standing tall. My father would be so proud of me. I know that you do not know me at all. But please help me I do not think I can go on much longer without the love of my life. He is my heart and soul, I cry every night!!! I AM MY FATHERS CHILD Contact me Thank You