Wednesday, April 18, 2018

An undocumented necropolis at the (former) Central Unit, TX Supreme Court Chief Justice inspired by the Ferguson report, and other stories

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

Galveston sued over bail schedule
ACLU has sued Galveston County over its bail schedule, adding that county to Harris and Dallas as bail litigation sites. If your county still operates under a bail schedule, they'll soon have to change. Better to do it now before you're successfully sued. Ask the judges in Harris County.

Central Unit property an undocumented necropolis
Here's a postscript to the closure of TDCJ's Central Unit in Sugar Land, which long-time readers will recall was the first prison unit closed in the Lone Star State since the founding of the (Texan) Republic. When Fort Bend ISD began preparing a portion of the sight for a construction project, they began unearthing bodies. Lots of them - 22 as of when this Houston Chronicle story was written. These were inmates from the convict leasing era and later who worked for the Imperial Sugar Company as de facto slave labor through the early part of the 20th century. A cemetery on the prison site included only white inmates' remains, which led activist Reginald Moore to believe that black prisoners were buried in unmarked sites elsewhere on the grounds. Turns out, he was right. See related, earlier coverage from Texas Monthly and commentary from Grits. MORE: The number of unmarked graves discovered is now 79!

TX courts limit pretext stop searches
Following a reversal by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the First Court of Appeals issued a ruling limiting the scope of searches incident to arrest. The First Court ruling limits law enforcement's authority to arrest drivers for Class C misdemeanors as a pretext for searching their car.  The case involved a driver arrested for failure to signal a lane change. Police found drugs in his car trunk, but the courts have now ruled they had no reason to search there: "What police officers may not do, even when they conduct a search incident to a lawful custodial arrest of a recent occupant of a vehicle, is to search the vehicle when the arrestee is secured and not within reaching distance of the passenger compartment," according to the new opinion. See coverage from and all the relevant court documents.

Looks like pot to me!
A Harris County crime lab employee was fired for drylabbing marijuana samples.

Is fast track a death-trap for innocents?
Check out an innocence-based argument against Texas' petition to fast-track death-penalty appeals. Anthony Graves has rightly pointed out that he would have been executed before he ever could have been exonerated under the new rules.

Ferguson report inspired TX debtors-prison push
Marc Levin of the Texas Public Policy Foundation interviewed Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht about his decision to champion debtors-prison and bail reform issues. See also a related blog post. Hecht was introduced to the debtors prison issue thanks to the USDOJ's report on overreliance on fine revenue out of Ferguson, Missouri, he told Levin.

Murder-insurance program notches LWOP verdict
The Regional Capital Public Defenders Office, which provides representation in capital cases for counties that participate in its so-called "murder insurance" program, won a life-without-parole verdict recently in a case involving the murder of a San Antonio Police officer - the first such trial verdict in their ten-year history.

SAPD to county: We hate your new jail intake facility
Grits doesn't know enough yet to tell who is right about the dispute between San Antonio PD and the Bexar County commissioners court over whether SAPD should use the new intake center built at the jail. But my gut leans toward the county: the redundancy makes little sense for taxpayers, and Chief McManus sounds like he's more worried about the officers' convenience than enacting best practices at the jail.

Ombudsman report tallies inmate complaints
Check out the TDCJ Ombudsman report for 2017. Visitation remains the perennial main source of complaints (6,389), with another 1,424 prisoners complaining they weren't being housed in accordance with medical restrictions (48 were reassigned). But 955 offenders complained of threats or intimidation by other inmates (offenders were reassigned in 140 cases), while inmates complained 720 times of physical abuse or threats by staff (26 of those cases were referred to the Office of Inspector General). In related non-news, we're still waiting for the TDCJ Annual Statistical Report for FY 2017, which ended in August of last year.

New Houston rules aim to limit offender services
Charles Blain from Empower Texans has an item up on new Houston zoning rules aimed at excluding facilities for ex-offenders. Wrote Blain:
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and City Council passed an ordinance that bans alternative housing and correctional facilities, including reentry homes, from opening within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, or other facilities. The new ordinance also requires reentry facilities, approved by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, to apply for a city permit. The permit will identify the type of facility so local officials can “monitor” the locations of ex-offenders living in private reentry homes across the city, allegedly in the name of public safety. 
Houston’s 99 currently operating facilities will be grandfathered in under the new provision. But once the owner sells the facility or passes away and wills it to an heir, the facility must come into compliance with all of the new regulations, including the distance requirement. So, as facilities inevitably change hands over time, many will be forced to close or open elsewhere. 
Supporters claim that the regulation will improve “public safety,” but like in many other zoning disputes, it evolved from small contingents of people who felt uncomfortable with the homes in their neighborhoods. 
Comments made during the public hearing for this regulation centered largely on a fear of ex-offenders, rather than statistical public safety data.
Tuff-on-crime cluelessness
Former Texas Democratic Congressman Sylvestre Reyes has a column in the Austin Statesman decrying "How fentanyl got its grip on Texas." This commentary ignores the best research out there which says Texas has mostly avoided the fentanyl-driven opiod death spike because the cartels that sell in Texas' market distribute "black tar heroin," which is less pure and not easily combined with fentanyl. See related Grits commentary on the same hearing Reyes is discussing.

Suicides among cops continue to outpace line-of-duty deaths
A recent spate of reporting reiterated that suicides among police far outpace line-of-duty deaths in shootouts with bad guys. This has been true for a long time, and is exacerbated by a lack of suicide-related treatment services for police.


Anonymous said...

Whenever a police officer commits suicide it's almost always because he's under criminal investigation, and usually that involves a child sex crime.

Anonymous said...

re: drylabbing

I would like to know if the forensic analyst gave a reason for skipping the microscopic examination. Maybe he/she was told by a supervisor or senior lab official that it was ok to skip this step. Maybe there was justification.

Steven Michael Seys said...

The cause of so many LEO suicides stems from the cultural pressures of being a cop. The image of a selfless knight riding to the defense of the helpless is in dissonance with the reality of the peer pressure to cut corners, violate laws one is sworn to uphold and kill on the slightest pretext of danger. The psychological stew this creates for an honest LEO is enough to cause even the best trained officer to become depressed and suicidal. Changing the police culture will also save the lives of LEOs as well as innocent, unarmed people. Another benefit will be a vast reduction of innocent people charged with the crimes of others.

Anonymous said...

Trying to draw large scale cultural inferences from the intensely personal and irrational act of suicide is a dicey proposition.

The idea that police officers as a group are experiencing high pressures due to conflicting expectations and demands, and that this pressure is reflected in their suicide rate, isn't really borne out by the numbers. As a group, police are pretty much the same as the rest of us in regard to suicide, and are in a lot better position than many professions. That is not saying that nothing should be done to reduce the suicide rate among police officer. As a profession, that is absolutely something that should be done. But the root causes of suicide among police officers is probably much the same as the root causes of suicide among the rest of us.

The suicide rate in police as a profession (12 per 100,000 in 2016) is the same as in the general population (13 per 100,00 in 2016).

Moreover, the rate of suicide among police officers is a way lower than in many other professions.

-Farmworkers, fishermen, lumberjacks, others in forestry or agriculture (85 suicides per 100,000 in 2012)
-Carpenters, miners, electricians, construction trades (53)
-Mechanics and those who do installation, maintenance, repair (48)
-Factory and production workers (35)
-Architects, engineers (32)
-Police, firefighters, corrections workers, others in protective services (31)
-Artists, designers, entertainers, athletes, media (24)
-Computer programmers, mathematicians, statisticians (23)
-Transportation workers (22)
-Corporate executives and managers, advertising and public relations (20)
-Lawyers and workers in legal system (19)
-Doctors, dentists and other health care professionals (19)
-Scientists and lab technicians (17)
-Accountants, others in business, financial operations (16)
-Nursing, medical assistants, health care support (15)
-Clergy, social workers, other social service workers (14)

Anonymous said...

So, based on your numbers, the suicide rate dropped from 31 per 100,000 in 2012 (for police, firefighters, corrections workers and others in protective services) to 12 per 100,000 for police in 2016?

Anonymous said...

@11:12 -

@5:46 here.

They aren’t my numbers. They are numbers that I found from seemingly reliable sources after spending a few minutes looking. The CDC pooled police suicides with other related professions, so the CDC number isn’t going to be a good number if you are specifically interested in police. If you have better numbers, I’m sure we’d all be interested in seeing them.

Anonymous said...

I see Facebook guy and Steven are back with their usual wild assertions. The former continues his ongoing smear campaign with no peer reviewed proof and the latter projects half baked ideas that are as unproven even if they sound more credible. Anon 5:46 gives us great official numbers and suggests the reasons are the same as other people, probably true but not as well researched by profession as many would like.

Anonymous said...

re: Drylabbing

More, Different Crime Lab...