Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Bexar DA Susan Reed prosecuting needle exchange nonprofit volunteers

Though health policy activists in Bexar County had swapped clean needles for dirty ones for years in San Antonio's poor neighborhoods, reports the Express News ("Syringe swap activists handed citations," Jan. 23):

a San Antonio police officer cited Day, a 73-year-old retired commercial real estate appraiser and co-founder of the nonprofit group Bexar Area Harm Reduction Coalition, along with two board members, on a charge of possession of drug paraphernalia — a Class C misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine of up to $500.

Now police say they plan to refile the case this week with District Attorney Susan Reed as a more serious Class A misdemeanor, distribution of paraphernalia, which carries a punishment of up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. Meanwhile, a legal team that includes high-profile criminal defense attorney Gerald Goldstein is assembling to represent the three in court.

"These are enormously decent, charitable people, and what's happening with them smacks of persecution," said Neel Lane, an attorney with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, which is representing the coalition at no cost and has filed a brief with the state attorney general's office on the group's behalf.

Looming over it all is a larger legal question, one that doesn't directly involve Day or his group.

Legislation passed last year authorized local health officials to organize a pilot syringe exchange program in Bexar County. It would be the first legally sanctioned program in Texas.

The program is stalled since the district attorney declared her view that the legislation authorizing it is faulty. Both sides await an opinion from the attorney general's office.

Assistant Police Chief David Head said the legislation — if it survives the legal challenge — authorizes only Bexar County's health authority to run a syringe exchange program, not a privately run group like Day's.

"Their meetings with this chief (William McManus) and (former) Chief (Albert) Ortiz did not lead to an approval to begin operating," Head said.

Police Officer Oscar Flores said in his report that he spotted a 2003 Chevrolet van parked at South Hamilton Avenue and Vera Cruz Street just before 4 p.m. Jan. 5, "with several known prostitutes and drug addicts next to the vehicle."

Day, Flores wrote, showed him a typical syringe kit, and said he was "swapping syringes" with people on the street. He produced business cards of a sergeant working in the chief's office and Deputy Chief Ruben Garcia with the Bexar County Sheriff's Office, "stating he was given permission" to exchange syringes.

Both Head and Garcia deny that permission was given.

Well do Head and Garcia deny they spoke with the group? Did they tell them they would be arrested? Did the activists leave with the understanding, as they claim, that they could continue what they were doing? It's hard to imagine meeting with police to inform them of your illegal activities, leaving the meeting to continue them, and then not be cited for years on end without local officials' at least tacit support.

But what makes the case more venal and petty was DA Susan Reed's insistence on ramping the charges up from a Class C misdemeanor - the citation the officer wrote - to a Class A misdemeanor that carries up to one year in the county jail and a stiff fine.

Reed did so IMO not for any public safety purpose (this 73 year old volunteer is no big threat to the public), but because Reed opposes a Legislatively approved needle exchange program. So she took this opportunity to maximally harass her political opponents. That's an invalid, politicized abuse of prosecutorial authority.

If you can think of a single public safety benefit to Bexar County from jacking up these charges, please tell me what it is. ("Sending a message" doesn't count - the non-profit would likely have ceased based solely on the Class C charge, since they were operating on the long-standing, empirically accurate assumption the program was tolerated.)

To me, this seems like an abuse of the Bexar DA's position, and an example where she's failing to live up to her oath to "seek justice," and instead seeking either publicity, to score political points, or both. Unless San Antonio has no more real crimes to investigate or prosecute, Reed needs to reduce or drop these charges and refocus her attention on locking up actually dangerous people.

Via South Texas Chisme and several readers via email (thanks, folks, keep them coming!)


Anonymous said...

Ahhh - proof that no good deed goes unpunished. Literally. Texas Monthly did a great article on Needle Exchange about a year or so ago.

Anonymous said...

Is Susan Reed looking for votes? I hope the people of Bexar County see this for what it is.

Bad work!

Anonymous said...

You have got to be joking.The Law was broken...The Police Dept. rank has no auth. to say you well not be arrested.They are not above the law.Let's trade all the needle's out so they can keep putting junk in there body.Better then that let the dope head get high an fall down in the street so a driver can drive by and move over to miss him and another car head on and killing someone,it may be someone you care about.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Did you read the article, 5:52? The police didn't arrest them. The officer gave a C misdemeanor ticket. They only upped the charges after the DA saw an opportunity to get her name in the papers.

The only reason Reed is overruling the officer's judgment IMO is that she opposes the new law the Legislature passed allowing a needle exchange pilot program in Bexar County, preferring to substitute her own desires over those of the Lege. She's wrong to do so, and she's equally wrong to use some 73-year old nonprofit volunteer who's a threat to no one as a pawn in her personal pissing match with the Lege.

Finally, before you spout any more ignorant comments about needle exchange programs, you should know they work where they operate, and are among the best vehicles available for convincing hard-core addicts to enter treatment or stop using drugs. (See a more radical example I wrote about recently.) What police do now doesn't stop people from "putting junk in their body," as every cop and emergency room worker knows. Needle exchange helps make sure they live through experience long enough to grow up and quit, as nearly everybody does, without getting AIDS, Hep C, etc.

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:52 never said the officer arrested him.The Chief said the Bexar Co.Health well exchange the needle's not Day.Sound's cut and dry to me.Grits calm down and drink a beer or something.The guy was just posting his view.

Anonymous said...

Rest assured. Mr. Goldstein will right this wrong. It will take awhile, but he will do it.

Anonymous said...

Just about any adult can walk into just about any drug store in Texas and purchase needles and syringes. By the box-full if they want to. You don't even need a prescription. It is not against the law to possess a needle and syringe; it is not against the law to give them to some other person.

I suspect there are hundreds of thousands of Texans who are medicating either themselves or family members using syringes and needles; and hundreds of thousands more medicating farm animals the same way.

Grits is probably correct: That stupid DA in Bexar County is trying to make political hay out of whole cloth. I hope the voters there kick her sorry ass out of office.

Anonymous said...

If I still lived in San Antonio, I would help Suzan Reed in her next re-election campain.

I will send a nice contribution regardless. Thanks for your years of service Ms. Reed.

Anonymous said...

If I still lived in San Antonio, where I grew up, I would match yours with one to her challenger.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"Sound's cut and dry to me."

It's always cut and dried if you ignore evidence that doesn't agree with you. This nonprofit went to the police, asked permission to do this, and believed they'd received it. Then when it hit the media the PD chickened out and let the DA bully them into using this 73 year old volunteer as a political piñata. That sounds pretty cut and dried, too. And smarmy.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Oh, and Doran, the illegal part is exchanging the dirty points, not just giving out fresh ones. Of course, that's also the part that keeps used HIV or Hep C infected needles from laying around the street or the playground, etc., and improves public safety and health, but hey, whoever said we cared about those things, anyway?

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing, now, but from what you say, the possessory offense has to do with the "used" needles. Giving out new needles is ok, and there would have been no arrest of the 73 years old volunteer, if he had not collected the old, used needles. As you say, the Bexar DA and PD seem to want the old needles strewn around the ground in parks, gutters and other public places where they are a potential danger. Smart.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Yup, that's the message sent: Drop your dirties in the gutter, junkies - don't worry, the children will pick them up (perhaps in a bare foot in summertime).

I think there may also be an "intent" aspect to possessing clean ones that can get you under the paraphernalia law.

Anonymous said...

"I think there may also be an "intent" aspect to possessing clean ones that can get you"

Wow, there's a law against possession with the intent to prevent disease!?? Who knew?

Anonymous said...

This is just like her "probation is too easy" position. She panders and cares little or not at all for the "seeking of justice". The population of the Bexar County Jail on 1/21 was 4294, of that 2459 were pre-trial, of those pre-trial 619 of them were misdemedants. That is more than half of the jail population that have not been convicted of a single thing. Does she care about that NO. Maybe someone should ask why tuff on crime is even tougher on the taxpayer. Yesterday in one of the felony courts in Bexar County, a defendant pled guilty to a felony reduction (he was arrested for a felony, but the case was reduced to a misdemeanor). The defendant had already spent almost a year in jail. If he was in a regular bed, that cost to the taxpayer was $10,000. If someone in Reed's office had looked at this case a year ago they could have disposed of it and gotten this defendant out of jail. Quit pandering, let's make some progress where it will count.

Anonymous said...

Is there no other crime in Bexar county to focus on? Let's be sure and arrest those folks trying to make lives better, within the confines of a poorly drafted law. Let's also be sure to waste tons of law enforcement resources on this "crime".

If I was on a jury for one of these cases, I'd find them not guilty, and I hope the actual jurors who do serve nullify this madness and send a big fat message to DA Reed.

Wonder what's on DA Reed's {deleted} emails?

The Abolishment Movement said...

You have got to be kidding. We have had this program in Massachusetts for years. I guess Reed is two sided, she has a street gang database(who we all know are drug users) but she doesn't want this?

Anonymous said...

Apparently they do not have a serious crime problem in San Antonio if the police and the district attorney can devote their limited resources on such a minor offense.

Anonymous said...

Let's face it, we are dealing in DA Susan Reed with a woman who obviously has numerous personality flaws. She reminds me of those school age kids that no one liked and picked on and now she's settling the score. The sad thing is that the San Antonio press can't see the light of day and would rather take the easy route of being hand-fed news stories generated through her office than do some serious investigative journalism. That is the classic case where the press is too friendly with the subject of their story. While we're on the topic of "full disclosure" don't you find it interesting that she never released her medical records from her Hawaiian vacation accident several years ago when questions arose about her possible blood-alcohol level while operating a motor-driven vehicle? Where was the follow-up by the press?