Friday, May 01, 2020

Austin PD refuses to save overdosed addicts, nuther case overturned because of lying Houston PD narc, COVID spurs discussion of 'new normal' on who to jail, and other stories

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

Austin PD to overdosed addicts: Just die
Austin has seen a spike in drug overdoses, with five overdose deaths in just two weeks in April, reported KXAN. But Chief Brian Manley returned a donation of Narcan worth a quarter of a million dollars that was intended to give officers in the field tools to save these folks. That's just pointless and cruel. Add this to the increasingly long list of reasons why this guy should lose his job.

Travis DA Margaret Moore still wants pound of flesh from Rosa Jimenez
Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore has finally agreed Rosa Jimenez, a babysitter convicted of stuffing paper towels down the throat of a child in her care, deserves a new trial after numerous state and federal judges said the forensic evidence used to convict her was faulty and she is likely innocent. This should have happened many months ago. Still, Moore insists her office plans to conduct a new trial, despite debunking of the key forensic evidence which convicted her, which means Jimenez will likely remain locked up. Jimenez suffers from stage 4 kidney disease and could die before she gets a chance to have a fair day in court.

Nuther drug case overturned thanks to lying Houston narcotics cop
More fallout is emerging from the botched Houston PD drug raid last year that killed two people, got four officers shot, and turned out to be based on fabricated information from narcotics squad detective Gerald Goines in which he made up a confidential informant to falsely accuse the homeowners. Most recently, reported St. John Barned Smith at the Houston Chronicle, "A 35-year-old woman who pleaded guilty to drug dealing after a Houston police officer said he paid her $10 to buy a rock of crack cocaine has had her conviction overturned."

Expect more overturned cases. These sorts of low-level drug busts were the main thing Goines did with his time. "A Houston Chronicle investigation last year found nearly 60 percent of the charges in which Goines was the primary officer were for possessing or selling less than a gram of drugs. More than 70 percent were misdemeanors or state jail felonies, the lowest-level felony in the Texas criminal code, which typically involves well under $100 worth of drugs."

San Marcos mandates citations for pot, DWLI, most Class C cases
While several Texas cities including Austin and San Antonio have passed resolutions allowing/encouraging their police departments to issue citations instead of making arrests for several Class B and A misdemeanors for which the Legislature has allowed it (most commonly including marijuana possession and driving with an invalid license), San Marcos recently became the first to pass a full-blown ordinance mandating such citations. They also mandated citations instead of arrests for most Class C offenses, a measure which passed the Texas House each of the last two sessions but couldn't get hearings in the Texas Senate. A city council member said the resolution was necessary to “send a strong, clear message to the police union and everyone else that we would like our officers to exercise their discretion within certain parameters.” Reported the Statesman, "In 2018, San Marcos police arrested in 87% of the instances when they could have issued a citation instead, according to Hays County data. In 2019, it was 77%, according to police."

Will 'new normal' emerge on jail use after COVID crisis?
The Travis County jail population has declined by 23% in two weeks, reported the Austin Statesman. "There were 2,164 individuals in Travis County jails on March 16. By March 31, the number had dwindled to 1,670." Meanwhile, Dallas has seen its county jail population decline by more than 1,000 in the past month, according to the Dallas News, a nearly 20 percent decrease. A federal judge last week declined to require even more releases.

In a Zoom forum held by the Austin Justice Coalition this week (moderated by my wife, Kathy Mitchell, and our pal Amanda Woog from the Texas Fair Defense Project), several Travis County judges said they were learning for the first time how to scrub their dockets for people who didn't belong in jail and predicted a "new normal" may emerge when the crisis is over that could help them keep the jail population down going forward.

Travis County had already witnessed major reductions in jail bookings before the emergence of the virus, in large part because of measures instituted by the City of Austin to reduce arrests of homeless people, as well as police issuing citations instead of making arrests for marijuana, DWLI, and most Class C misdemeanor charges. Jail bookings in FY 2019 were down 26.5 percent from FY 2014 levels, according to county data.

Coronavirus cases continue to rise in TX prisons and jails
As of April 29, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice reported there were 1,050 inmates and 381 prison staff who've tested positive for the virus. More than 41,000 inmates are currently in locked down facilities because of the virus. These folks have no access to phones or visitation, and recreation time is extremely limited.

In county jails, the numbers continue to rise. As of yesterday, April 30, the total inmate cases reported to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards was at 772, up from 180 on April 19th and up from 626 the day before. That's a 329% increase in 11 days. Moreover, this is almost certainly an undercount. More than 5,000 TX jail inmates are in quarantine/isolation but are not being tested, and most county jails aren't reporting, including Travis County, which reported a jailer testing positive to the press but hasn't submitted anything to TCJS.

How to reduce needless incarceration from probation revocations
Probation revocations are a major incarceration driver for prisons, both in Texas and nationally. The Pew Public Safety Performance Project last week issued a set of detailed policy recommendations aimed at reducing probation rolls and revocation rates. Most of these will be familiar to regular Grits readers, but it's nice to see them put out there with Pew's more prestigious imprimatur.

How Oklahoma surpassed Texas as red-state #cjreform leader
After Texas passed significant probation reforms in 2007, it was hailed as the nation's red-state criminal-justice reform leader. But that hasn't been true for quite a while, and as of Texas' last legislative session, momentum for reform had completely stalled. Meanwhile, Oklahoma reduced most possession-level drug penalties to misdemeanor and has surged past Texas in terms of significant reforms. Check out an interview from Politico with the former Okie Speaker of the House who helped spearhead the bipartisan coalition that made those changes possible. We need this sort of leadership in Texas.


Gadfly said...

How long before our state's not-yet-convicted fiscal grifter, Ken Paxton, sues the city of San Marcos?

Anonymous said...

The trigger for reporting numbers to TCJS is an inmate testing positive. Travis County isn't "not reporting" so much as not required to report. Never testing the folks held in the jail means never having to report to TCJS.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

IDK, 8:16, one staffer DID test positive in Travis, according to press accounts, and the TCJS reports include staff. Seems like at least that should be reported.

Anonymous said...

Grits - if you look at the reports, every jail submitting has at least one inmate with COVID positive. If one COVID positive, then the other information is also submitted. No jail is submitting because of jailers ONLY but if COVID positive inmate, then they have to submit all the information.