August 20, 2002
Kmart Teenager Roundup gets ugly

This is really ugly: The weekend bust of a couple hundred teenagers in a Kmart parking lot was supposed to be a raid on illegal drag racing, but when no such activity was found, the order was given to arrest everyone anyway. It's such a looming disaster that cops are criticizing the bust and the captain who ordered it on the record:

"I couldn't believe we were being told to arrest all those kids. It was just utterly, utterly senseless," said one officer involved, who violated department policy by discussing the arrests and spoke on condition of anonymity.

"Captain [Mark] Aguirre was put in charge, and it went to hell in a handbasket," said a police supervisor who was at the scene, also violating department policy and requesting anonymity.


The two supervisors said police had "scout cars" and undercover officers working surveillance at the gathering spot for weeks in preparation for Sunday's raid.

"But we got out there, and no one was racing," said one of the supervisors. "So Aguirre just said, `Arrest them all for trespass.'

"It was like, `Kill them all and let God sort them out,' " said the other supervisor. "I guess we're just lucky he didn't order us to fire warning shots into the crowd or anything."

Both supervisors said many of the people arrested were not in cars. Many were eating food from the Sonic, which was open until 2 a.m., or had been shopping at Kmart.

That's bad, but what really sets me off is this quote:

Many of those arrested Sunday pleaded guilty in order to get out of jail quicker and go about the business of retrieving their cars, all of which were towed away.

Martin DeLeon, an HPD spokesman, said the tow fee is $103 and the storage fee averages about $15 a day, but some auto-storage facilities can charge more.

So not only were a bunch of law-abiding kids arrested and thrown in jail, many of them now have a conviction on their records. According to the TV news last night, these kids were advised to plead guilty so they could get out earlier. This is just wrong on so many levels.

If I'm the city attorney, I'd be in Lee Brown's office right now saying that we need to void all of these convictions, refund everyone's money for the towing and storage, and fire the captain who ordered this mess. Maybe that will stave off some of the inevitable lawsuits.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that Mayor Lee Brown was quoted on the teevee news last night about this. He basically distanced himself from the whole thing, saying that the incident was under investigation. That's a pretty sure sign that the Powers That Be recognize this for the fubar that it is.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 20, 2002 to K-Mart Kiddie Roundup

Brown's a lame duck. Legacy is meaningless. He's got as much named after him as he'll get named after him (hopefully). Why admit fault on something that you can stymie and delay until it makes the courts until after you're gone and saddle shaping up to be a non-Lanierite successor mayor with it?

Posted by: Laurence Simon on August 20, 2002 11:30 AM

My 19 year old son was among those arrested. We were in from out of town to sign the papers for my father to have hospice care, and it really tore my son up. He went out to get out of the house and try to decompress and was arrested for the heinous crime of going to the Sonic drivein to get a limeaid. (For trespassing in the Kmart lot while eating at Sonic.) They arrested people in their cars in the drivethru, impounding the cars.

I lived in Houston for years, I've seen HPD get away with throwing handcuffed suspects in the bayou and any number of shootings, but this is too much even for HPD to get by with. I expect that the judges and prosecutors are gonna be running for cover and trying to avoid the lawsuit splatter that's coming. Welcome to Houston, y'all, heh.

Posted by: Michael Gray on August 23, 2002 4:48 PM

I live in Louisville, Kentucky but I read news from all over on the internet. After hearing what went down at Kmart, Sonic, and James Coney Island I will never venture any where near the Houston area! Houston police act more like ruthless dictators than public servants. They should be ashamed of themselves!

Posted by: David Bates on April 13, 2004 6:11 PM