Saturday, May 27, 2017

Bad bills rising, how to tell if debtors-prison reform works, TX police misconduct roundup, and other stories

Here are a few odds and ends as the final days of the 85th Texas legislative session wind down:

Lawyers to rep Harris defendants at bail hearings
Grits is interested to learn what effect it will have when Harris County deploys public defenders to represent indigent defendants at bail hearings. It's never been done before so all the suggestions about what effect it will have remain unproven. But in theory, it should reduce pretrial detention at the Harris County Jail more than enough to cover the cost of the lawyers. Glad we're finally going to find out!

How to tell if debtors-prison reform bill works
The House concurred to Senate amendments on HB 351, a bill initially generated from a GFB blog post aimed at limiting debtors' prison practices. The amendments included a small item applying property thresholds to check forgery and another that lets probation departments use treatment beds for pretrial diversion clients.

It'll be easy to tell if the debtors prison portion of the bill works. The Texas Tribune reported that 3 million warrants were issued for fine-only Class C tickets in 2015. However, "judges rarely used community service to resolve 'fine-only' cases – just 1.3 percent of the time. In fewer than 1 percent of cases, they waived fines or reduced payments owed because the defendant couldn't afford to pay." If those numbers don't increase substantially, and the warrant numbers don't go down, then the Lege will need to come back in 2019 to beef up protections against jailing indigent drivers. But this is a start.

Bad Bills Rising
Among bad bills passing this session, there was a massive "hate crimes"/enhancement bill for assaults against police that Grits has argued will increase pressure on defendants to plea guilty to false convictions based on police misconduct. The Lege also approved a strange little bill creating a specialty court for prosecuting police officers, treating active duty cops like veterans eligible for veterans court services. Both of these are bad ideas, reduce accountability for police, and deserve to be vetoed, though neither probably will be.

Fed $$ coming to prevent opioid deaths
Texas will  receive money to combat opioid-related overdoses, despite Gov. Abbott vetoing life-saving Good-Samaritan legislation in 2015 and moving the goalposts to stymie the bill from passing in 2017. Reported the Austin Statesman:
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission on May 19 announced that Texas would receive a $27.4 million federal grant to combat opioid-use disorders. 
The increasing rate of opioid use continues to be an issue nationwide, and of the more than 33,000 opioid-related deaths in the U.S. in 2015, 1,186 were in Texas. The grant funds will be used for prevention, training, outreach, treatment and recovery support services and will directly help an estimated 14,000 people over a two-year period, according to the agency.
Texas police misconduct roundup
While I've got you, here are a few stories related to police accountability which merit Grits readers' attention:
  • Eva Ruth Moravec has perhaps her best feature yet at Point of Impact documenting Texas law enforcement shootings of unarmed people, this time a black man in Carthage who was shot seven times, five times in the back, by a DPS trooper. He was one of seven unarmed black men shot by Texas law enforcement last year. Scroll down to the end of her article for extensive backup documentation from the story. 
  • The mother of an unarmed man shot to death by police in Laredo says police are lying about what happened during the incident.
  • A video has surfaced showing a San Antonio police officer hitting a teenage girl. See the SA Express News coverage
  • Cell phone footage also captured a Lampasas Sheriff's deputy punching the hell out of an 18-year old suspect at a traffic stop.
  • A young woman who is currently Miss Black Texas and an intern at the Hunt County DA's Office has accused the Commerce police chief of arresting her after a motorist called her a "black bitch" in a road rage incident. Initially, she thought the chief was the driver, but he was the arresting officer. Regardless, by all accounts he took her in for evading arrest because she refused to apologize to the racist who berated her and tried to walk back to her car. What an embarrassment.
  • In Baytown, an officer is under investigation for soliciting nude photos from female drivers in exchange for letting them off of traffic tickets.
  • In Fort Worth, two police commanders were demoted for allegedly releasing bodycam video made secret under a bad 2015 Texas law. They claim they've done nothing wrong. The CATO Institute has commentary on what the punishments say about police priorities.
  • Another leaked bodycam video shows that the Balch Springs officer who shot Jordan Edwards previously tasered a handcuffed man. Police are investigation the leak, instead of investigating how such a person was retained on the force after such behavior.
  • An SAPD officer was suspended 45 days for disabling his bodycam and one additional day for telling a crime victim that police officers "hate citizens."
  • An Ector County Sheriff's deputy pled guilty to tipping off a game room operator about investigations and raids.
  • In San Juan, a police officer was arrested for stealing three packages of cocaine from a drug bust. See the federal criminal complaint against him. His partner was arrested last month for allegedly lying to the FBI about the missing evidence. 
  • See Texas Tribune coverage of new legislation punishing law enforcement agencies which don't report officer-involved shootings to the AG with a $1,000 per day fine. Criminal penalties for failing to report incidents to the Attorney General's death-in-custody database - including about 25% of police shootings over the last decade - have never been used.


Ray Collins said...

opiod [sic; opioid]

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Thanks Ray, fixed the typo.

Anonymous said...

Dear Grits,
Thank you for all the work you do providing information and updates reguarding criminal justice reform and political news. Your site is a major source I follow for issues that are of importance to me. One of which is the DRP. At this point I have accepted, of course that there will be no repeal at this time and may be never if these money grubbers are just left to their own devices. As with the judges abusing their power and the people coming before them for bail hearings in Harris Co courts someone will have to make these predators mind. It's simply a disgrace. So for now this pack of wolfs have a reprieve. I will continue to search for an answer to the question of what kind of litigation can be brought (if any) against whom and by who (private attorney or an agency) to find a remedy to stop this deliberate rape of defenseless people. Rather than being called "the defendant" we should be called "the defenseless" a court room is certainly an adversarial setting conducted in a secret and dead lanuage. My favorite is legal fiction or maybe ex-party you don't even have to present in order to be framed!
But to the point of this text I have the following guestions:

1. I see on the Grits blog that in 2010 Mimi Coffey filled a lawsuit against the DRP and in 2011 Daniel ---- filled a write against the DRP but I have not been able to find results. Since the DRP is still in effect I know the outcome must not have been favorable but can you please tell me where I can find this information?
2.Re: SB 1913 and HB 351 does Grits think that the Gov will sign both? If I understand correctly that is where they both are heading.
3. Although it might be presumptuous on my part would or could Grits please expound or clarify some of the differences/similares of these bills/acts?

Thank you

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Thanks, 7:30. You'd probably have to check the county courthouse where Coffey's writ was filed.

I haven't heard that the Gov had problems with HB 351 or SB 1913, but you never know. With the TSC Chief Justice behind them, I'd think they'd be okay. I'm planning on rounding up session results soon and will try to go through the amendments then.

Anonymous said...

Police are investigating the leak, instead of investigating how such a person was retained on the force after such behavior.


Sound familiar?

Anonymous said...

Im right here in Hunt county watching all this mess unfold. The driver in Commerce was his 14 year old daughter or son,,,, they don't give driving permits (learners) to a 14 year old that I'm aware of. Kid should not be behind the wheel for another year. He was teaching the kid to drive on a dangerous highway and from what I've heard, the kid was all over the road. Ms. Black Texas passed them because she didn't feel safe. I'd done the same thing. Apparently, that's what pissed off the chief.

Orwell wrote a book called Animal Farm. In Animal Farm, the pigs explain that all animals are created equal, except some animals have more rights than others. That is so true here. It is an embarrassment. Who in their right mind would demand an apology after using a racial insult? I call you a "black bitch" and expect an apology? C'mon man. Yet it's Hunt County. SMH...

Schrodinger said...

Anon 5/27/2017 07:30:00 PM...

Remember, sir/ma'am, that Texas' governors don't have pocket-veto power, so he can't pigeonhole a bill in the hope it will just die on its own. Thus if Greg Abbott neither signs nor vetoes HB 351 or SB 1913 within 10 days during the session or 20 days after, not counting Sundays, those bills become law by default even 'without' his signature come September.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Schrodinger
Knew about the 10 days but not the 20.
Anon 5/27/2017