Sunday, February 28, 2016

Redemption sans forgiveness, and other stories

Here are a few recent odds and ends that merit Grits readers' attention:

5th Circuit gives no incentive to prevent needlessly deadly SWAT raids
Radley Balko at the Washington Post has an excellent column about a botched SWAT raid in Abilene in which one of the business owners were gunned down. The 5th Circuit ruled the officers had qualified immunity but added, "We are troubled by the unwillingness of the City of Abilene’s counsel to concede at oral argument even that there was anything unwise about the raid, which suggests that nothing will be done to prevent a repetition of this tragedy the next time APD needs to inspect the records of a business whose owners are known to be armed." Wherein lies the problem with law enforcement getting such sweeping immunity - there is little or no incentive for officers to respect constitutional rights when they cannot be held accountable for violating them.

'Denton's scandal-prone sheriff'
Denton County Sheriff William B. Travis (despite his campaign claims, of no relation to WBT at the Alamo) sounds like quite a piece of work. The Dallas Observer offered up an extensive review of the various allegations - from infidelity to domestic violence to allegedly fudging facts for a search warrant while he was a DEA agent - dogging the incumbent headed into the GOP primary this week.

Boosting felony theft thresholds doesn't increase crime
Pew's Adam Gelb has an item demonstrating that "increased felony [theft] thresholds have not resulted in higher property crime or larceny rates." For reasons Grits does not understand, the MSM never covered Texas' move to boost property theft thresholds last session. A Texan now must steal $2,500 or more to be prosecuted for a felony; by comparison, the threshold in Virginia is $200, though in most states it's higher.

HPD disregards evidence that contradicts police shooting accounts
A lawsuit over Houston PD police shootings has revealed rarely seen Internal Affairs documents calling into question how seriously the department investigates when evidence contradicts officers' accounts, reported the Houston Chronicle:
HPD reports on five recent controversial shootings of unarmed residents by Houston police used in the case show that officers' accounts were often accepted at face value despite conflicting evidence. Some investigators who reviewed "officer-involved" shootings failed to interview witnesses or appeared to disregard statements that conflicted with officers' accounts, records show.

In at least three of the five investigative reports, officers reviewing shootings accepted explanations from HPD officers even when forensic evidence such as blood spatter patterns, locations of wounds and HPD communication records appeared to conflict with the shooters' defense of their actions.
Prioritize jail programming
In an Austin Statesman column, Diana Claitor of the Texas Jail Project lamented that Travis County Sheriff candidates aren't talking about "programming for people being held in Travis County Jail."

Profiling the Bexar CIU
Our old pal Bruce Selcraig has a good story in the SA Express-News profiling Jay Brandon, the head of the Bexar County DA's Conviction Integrity Unit.

Risk assessments improve parole decisions
Prison Legal News has an informative piece on the growing use of computerized risk assessments to assist with parole decisions.

Redemption, if not forgiveness
The Houston Chronicle's Mike Ward has a feature on "a five-year initiative by state officials to put religion inside the state's toughest lockups, using convicts with long sentences as ministers to convert other prisoners to turn their lives around by becoming Christians." Wardens say the program is helping change prison culture. Grits has no problem with the program, but as a practical matter, best case scenario, the result demands redemption without the prospect of forgiveness. The brand of Christianity within which Grits was raised emphasized both values.

On the perils of coercive interrogation of juveniles
Check out an informative article on false confessions by juveniles from the American Bar Association, honing in on how use of the "Reid technique" for interrogations poses special risks when applied to young people.

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