Thursday, February 10, 2011

'Blue Wall of Silence' alive and well at Houston PD

There's a classic "Blue Wall of Silence" episode playing out at Houston PD after a officers beat up a 15-year old boy in front of several compatriots and all of them failed the report the incident until an employee of a nearby business came forward with video footage. The City is under fire for withholding the video for a year until it was presented as evidence at trial, which they had the legal right to do but which was not required by law. (Once it's entered into evidence, it becomes public.) Comments from a former police chief, now on the Houston city council, sum up the common, gut-wrenching reaction:
"Having worn the uniform of the Houston Police Department for 24 years, I am thoroughly embarrassed by what I see on the tape," said Councilman C.O. Bradford.

"When you see about a dozen officers and several participating in it and not a single officer reported such a serious violation of the law - I am concerned."
Seven officers were fired and four of them indicted, but as is often the case, firings in the incident so far haven't all stuck. In the 70 or so cities opted-in to the Texas civil service code, arbitrators routinely reinstate officers in such cases, making it terribly hard even for well-intentioned administrators to bust apart that Blue Wall of Silence. (Indeed, once they're reinstated, under the civil service code their past misconduct in most cases can't even be used to justify passing them over for a promotion.) And, unlike in the rest of the state, evidence of most police misconduct is secret in civil service cities unless serious discipline is imposed, making it harder for reporters to fill in the gap with external investigations. Reporters in Dallas, by contrast, which never opted into the civil service code, have much greater access to records about the police disciplinary process under the Public Information Act (and it shows in their day to day reporting). Same goes for all Texas Sheriffs and most Texas police departments.

Just bringing civil service cities back under the Public Information Act (they were carved out in 1989, decades after voters in civil service cities "opted in" to the code), would be the most important reform that could be enacted regarding police misconduct in this state, much more so than any civilian review board, police monitor, or what have you. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and as evidenced by this example, concealing information in such cases only exacerbates the situation.

UPDATE: Another surveillance video has surfaced depicting alleged police brutality, this one showing "apparent excessive force by a Houston police officer on a handcuffed suspect."

Related Grits posts:


Anonymous said...

"Just bringing civil service cities back under the Public Information Act (they were carved out in 1989, decades after voters in civil service cities "opted in" to the code), would be the most important reform that could be enacted regarding police misconduct in this state, much more so than any civilian review board, police monitor, or what have you."

Lets go a step further and abolish the civil service statute for Texas law enforcement. This won't happen because there's no political will to do. It's purely political and to coin a phrase "ther's no place for politics in law enforcment."

Retired LE

Anonymous said...

A question for you lawyer-types:

If the cops are participating in an unrelated criminal proceeding (i.e. testimony), does this video constitute Brady Material that should have been turned over by the DA to the Defense Attorneys?

Anonymous said...

This is why the public dislikes and distrusts the police. Many are bullies, misuse their aurhority and setup/stash drugs on innocent citizens when they search cars are other ways to set up citizens. At one time a trusted agency, police have lost any real standing in the eyes of the general public.

Anonymous said...

If I read correctly, four of the seven officers were indicted for a misdemeanor offense. If the feds are not investigating, they should be.

Anonymous said...

HB 1085 is introduced and threatens the retirement pension of any public official dismissed for serious misconduct. Why is this not aimed at local government officials/police and only state officials? The concept seems fair so why not include all public/elected employees?

Anonymous said...

Speaking of the Public Information Act, you might be interested in HB 1046, which would make confidential most information in the personnel file of a deputy sheriffm, similar to the restrictions on personnel files of state troopers.

Anonymous said...

What I have always found interesting is that no one ever seems to publish the names and backgrounds of the arbitators. Putting a little sunshine on the individuals responsible for placing these officers back on the street might help them take responsibility for their decision-making, especially as most arbitrators, I believe, come from out of the community the incident happens in. :~)

Anonymous said...

Mostr law enforcement people are arrogrant, rogue style folks allowing their authority to swell their brains. It would be great to have real, LE folks with common sense and want to actually do the right thing. Where did commom sense go with LE? What happened to public servant and care for the public?

Anonymous said...

Attention, this might be a good time to join the Anonymous in replying from behind the wussie wall.

The Silent Seven or Shitty Seven are currently at the Pup getting their stories in line. One has a lap-top and is surfing for shit to print. I've never seen so much high fiving and knuckle bumping. It's just a matter of time until they get wind of their popularity and target the crowd.

The video shows one of them appearing to be a black female with a pony-tail. She's the one with a goofy right foot twitchy kick. Can anyone confirm this?

Anonymous said...

Something to suck on -

In California, all it took was one too many crack-heads of color getting beat down by gangs of cops of multiple colors. The Mexicans jumped in and broke 'em off a piece or two as they both targetted 'Whity', Asians & Police Stations across the country.*Until they ran out of crack. Now all they have to show for it is old school TVs and VCRs.

We can thank the media and churches for making police brutality a racial thang. You can thank yourselves for doing nothing about it. Don't worry, there's time to educate yourself about Police Brutality and the lack of Accountability. Check out for a free sample.

In Egypt, all it took was one too many vendors getting his ass beat by street cops for not having a permit (or not paying protection on time?). The people said enough is enough and peacefully protested. Then out of the blue, someone highjacked the protest and aimed it at the President.

We can thank the media, and politicians for their roles in allowing the incident that broke the camels' back to never get the investigation it deserves.

Quick - Does anyone (wouldn't be fair to include you Grits) know the name of the vendor, the cop, or the street? No, you don't.

How about the full names (not just initials) of the seven?