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Crime and Punishment

Of course people are harassing the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office now

This is the world we live in.

Hate mail and calls are rushing into the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office after Sheriff Javier Salazar announced an investigation into how 48 South American migrants were “lured” onto a flight to Martha’s Vineyard.

A sheriff’s office spokesman said the agency received an influx of calls to both the dispatch and administrative offices, along with hateful emails.

He said precautionary measures will be taken for the safety of all personnel, as is done in any instance when the office receives “threats.”

On Monday, the sheriff said its organized crime division is working to determine what crimes were committed — possibly human trafficking — in Bexar County by a person who was paid a fee to recruit 50 migrants on Sept. 14 from the city’s Migrant Resource Center, 7000 San Pedro Ave.

Salazar said the migrants, many Venezuelan asylum-seekers, were preyed upon by someone from out of the state and offered jobs and a stay at a hotel in Massachusetts. Instead, they were shuttled onto two chartered jets for what was ultimately a photo opportunity, which the sheriff said was wrongdoing from a human rights perspective.

See here for some background. A reminder, in case anyone needs it, the people at the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office who are answering the phones and maintaining their Facebook and Twitter pages are not the decision makers. Hurling racist abuse and violent threats at them is like threatening a McDonald’s cashier because the Shamrock Shake is not a year-round menu item. Not that you should ever hurl racist abuse or violent threats at anyone, of course. You are a terrible person if you do those things, and if the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office decided to make what you said public and/or arrest you for the threats, they would be entirely justified in doing so. Also, too, there may also be a Homeland Security/Justice Department investigation of the DeSantis debacle, so just stopping the Bexar County Sheriff won’t be enough. So there. TPM has more.

Enough with the “pregnant lady in the HOV lane” schtick

Nothing good comes of this. Please stop.

When a pregnant North Texas woman was pulled over for driving alone in a high-occupancy vehicle lane, she protested.

“I just felt that there were two of us in [the car] and I was wrongly getting ticketed,” the driver, Brandy Bottone, told The Dallas Morning News in July.

Bottone argued that under Texas’ abortion laws, which went into effect after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion, a fetus is considered a living being. She argued the same should be true when it comes to the state’s traffic laws.

“I’m not trying to make a political stance here,” Bottone said, “but in light of everything that is happening, this is a baby.”

Dallas County officials are now facing unprecedented legal questions about what defines “personhood.” While the district attorney’s office dismissed Bottone’s first citation, she was ticketed a second time in August.

Legal experts, meanwhile, warn that this traffic incident is just a small piece of a larger puzzle considering what it means to treat a fetus the same as a person. Debates about “fetal personhood” have been happening nationwide since the 1960s, when many abortion opponents started championing the idea. In Texas, abortion opponents are divided over whether a fetal personhood law is worth pursuing. But the concept is gaining traction nationwide and could become increasingly salient in Texas, where nearly all abortions have been banned and fetuses already have some legal rights.

“Historically, conversations about fetal personhood have been about introducing increasingly harsh penalties for people who either perform abortions or ‘aid and abet’ abortions,” said Mary Ziegler, a legal historian focusing on abortion at University of California Davis School of Law. “That isn’t the only way you can think about personhood.”

[…]

Kimberley Harris, who teaches constitutional law with an emphasis on reproductive rights at Texas Tech University School of Law, warns that the ultimate impact of fetal personhood laws would be to regulate the decisions of pregnant people.

“If the fetus is now a person,” Harris said, someone who consumes alcohol while pregnant “could be guilty of child endangerment.

“You could potentially be guilty of manslaughter or murder if you had a miscarriage and weren’t taking proper precautions,” she said.

Already, such cases are underway in states like Alabama, where voters have adopted a constitutional amendment protecting fetal rights. The state can legally sentence women to up to 99 years in prison for using drugs during pregnancy and then miscarrying. At least 20 women in the state have faced the harshest possible criminal charges for using drugs and then suffering pregnancy loss, The Marshall Project reported.

Rebecca Kluchin, a reproductive health historian at California State University, Sacramento, said that fetal personhood laws hark back to the era of forced sterilization, when states could forcibly sterilize people deemed unfit to procreate. She said that if fetal personhood is more widely recognized, more women could be forced to undergo unwanted medical interventions, such as cesarean sections, if a doctor believes that treatment is in the interest of the fetus.

“A doctor can say, ‘You need this to save your fetus,’ and it doesn’t matter what you want,” Kluchin explained. “And that takes women’s ability to consent out.”

Brandy Bottone has now made this argument that she can legally drive in the HOV lane all by her pregnant self twice. She says she’s not trying to be political, but that’s naive bordering on contemptuous at this point. Please stay out of the HOV lane until your baby is actually born.

Bexar County Sheriff to investigate the “immigrants lured to Martha’s Vineyard” saga

Good, because this whole thing is not only weird and creepy but it’s not hard to see how at least some aspects of it could have been illegal.

Sheriff Javier Salazar said Monday the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office is opening an investigation into whether people who “lured” migrants onto planes to Martha’s Vineyard did so “under false pretenses.”

Two flights of migrants departed San Antonio’s Kelly Field last week and landed at the Massachusetts resort island. A 27-year-old Venezuelan migrant told the San Antonio Report a woman paid him to recruit other migrants for the flights, telling him the people would be sent to “sanctuary states.”

Some of the migrants who made the trip said they were promised jobs, English classes and housing, none of which materialized.

“What infuriates me the most about this case is that here we have 48 people who are already on hard times, right?” Salazar said via a hastily called Zoom press conference.

“They are here legally in our country, they have every right to be where they are, and I believe they were preyed upon. Somebody … preyed upon these people, lured them with promises for a better life, which is what they were absolutely looking for.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has taken credit for the flights, saying, according to NPR, that the migrants who accepted the flights had been identified as wanting to relocate to Florida. The state has allocated $12 million “to facilitate the transport of unauthorized aliens out of Florida.”

None of the migrants who spoke to the San Antonio Report mentioned wanting to relocate to Florida or being asked whether they were planning to go to Florida. All said they were excited by the prospect of getting work.

Salazar said he believes there is a “high possibility” that Texas laws had been broken, and perhaps federal laws as well. “We will work with any and all agencies” that might also be investigating the incident, he said.

I don’t know what will come of this. If in the end this goes nowhere, it won’t surprise me. But the basic idea here is that these folks were transported across state lines under false premises, and that sounds awfully sketchy to me. There’s already been a lot of reporting and talk on Twitter about this – TPM has been on it and has cited the San Antonio Report a couple of times. There’s now a cash reward being offered to identify “Perla”, the person who initially approached the migrants with the false promises that led them to board the plane. I’ll be interested to see where this goes, that’s all I’m saying. And if there were laws broken along the way, sure seems to me that enforcing some consequences for that would have a bunch of salutary effects. NPR and the Trib have more.

Now we’re dealing with hoax shootings

A new thing we need to be prepared for.

Texas and other states have experienced hoax shootings, but experts say these threats shouldn’t be taken lightly. Research shows that if someone is going to commit a mass shooting there is a good chance they’ll drop hints beforehand.

Sometimes it’s just a student testing the system, said Julia Andrews, director of Harris County Department of Education’s Center for Safe and Secure Schools, an organization that develops best practices for school security systems.

“Sometimes, it can mean getting out of school early, avoiding a test or just seeking attention,” Andrews said. “We are now seeing a lot of copycat threats, but we must take all threats seriously.”

However, schools need to be prepared when that isn’t the case, she said.

An analysis of 170 perpetrators of mass shootings found that nearly half leaked their intention to act violently, with 44 percent of them leaking specific details of their plans, according to a 2021 study from the Journal of the American Medical Association, a peer-reviewed medical journal.

For decades, school’s have experienced bomb threats, but this many shooting threats — happening at the same time — is unusual, said Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers.

“For false bomb threats we have those better figured out, but with a false active shooter situation we’re not there at all,”Canady said, “because we’re dealing with this new trend.”

[…]

In recent years, these threats have likely become more prevalent with the rise of social media, said Zachary Kaufman, the co-director of the Criminal Justice Institute at the University of Houston.

“Social media and (cell) phones have enabled such hoaxes to be made easier, quicker,” Kaufman said, “and seemingly more genuine than ever.”

See here for the background. As the story and my Facebook commenters noted, there were other hoax reports that day (in Waco, Eanes, and Pflugerville) and the next day, in Klein ISD. That feels a lot more precarious and unsettling than a one off to me. I don’t know what to do about it, I’m just flagging it for your attention. I’m glad to see there are people in the field who do have expertise in this. I really hope they won’t be called on to use it very often.

The active shooter hoax at our neighborhood school

This made for a super eventful Tuesday afternoon.

Police and panicked parents scrambled to Heights High School Tuesday afternoon, in frantic response to a false report that a gunman had shot 10 people in a room on the 2,400-student Houston ISD campus.

The school went into lock down around 1 p.m., and police officers found the room locked and immediately breached the door, according to Chief Troy Finner. Two sweeps of the school found nothing, according to the Houston Police Department.

“We have no injuries here,” Finner said at a news briefing as a crowd of parents stood at an intersection near the high school. “Thank god for that.”

Officials intend to determine who made the hoax call and hold that person accountable. Finner said police believe the call may have come from outside the school.

“There was no active shooter here — there was a fight,” said Constable Alan Rosen.

An email notified parents later that Heights High, as well as nearby Hogg Middle and Harvard and Travis Elementary schools, were placed in lockdown.

“As a precautionary measure, we went into lockdown mode,” Heights Principal Wendy Hampton said in an email to parents. “Houston Police Department and HISD Police are onsite and continue to investigate, though no evidence has been found to substantiate the threat. We take all threats seriously as the safety of our students and staff is always our top priority.”

As it happens, I had to go into the office Tuesday afternoon. I was headed out a little after 1 PM, and was on Studewood going towards the I-10 entrance when I saw three HPD cars with lights and sirens going headed the other way at full speed. I didn’t give it much thought until after I had arrived at the office, took a minute to check Twitter, and found out what was happening. I don’t currently have any kids at Heights or the other schools that got locked down, but my kids have friends there and I have friends and neighbors who have kids at all of them. It was pretty stressful, to say the least, and I had the luxury of not having to be frantic about my own kids. My thoughts today remain with those parents and those kids.

Shannon Velasquez burst into tears on Tuesday afternoon as she waited on the sidewalk near Heights High School, where her daughter and hundreds more students were locked down in their classrooms after someone made a false report about a mass shooting.

The mother knew her daughter was fine — she had spoken with the sophomore student on FaceTime as she sped to school from work.

Still, she could not shake a horrible feeling, and her frustration bubbled over as she heard conflicting information from parents and officers about where she should go to reunite with her child.

“As if this isn’t bad enough?” she said. “I just can’t wait to put my arms around my kid.”

Anxiety, panic and confusion erupted on Tuesday afternoon in the residential streets surrounding Heights High School. Personnel from at least eight law enforcement agencies sped to the scene with lights and sirens. Panicked parents rushed from jobs and lunch appointments. Some drivers ditched their cars on the grassy median along Heights Boulevard, and walked or ran several blocks to the school.

Parents gathered information from their children, other parents, news reports and officials — eventually learning that their kids were safe and the massive frenzy actually stemmed from a false alarm.

Still, some parents said they were frustrated by sparse communication from the school, district or law enforcement agencies, although HISD and law enforcement agencies have defended their response.

[…]

Luis Morales, HISD spokesman, said notifications went out to parents 23 minutes after the district became aware of the situation.

“We were able to get that out a quicker than we have before,” Morales said, adding that the district must verify information before sending out notifications.

Chief Troy Finner said during a news briefing on Tuesday afternoon that he sympathized with parents who were frustrated. But safety comes before notifications, he said.

“We have to search the school. That is the most important thing — to stop the threat if there’s a threat,” he said. “We don’t have time to call. Once we make it safe, we start making those calls.”

Houston Fire Chief Samuel Pena said more than two dozen units from HFD responded to the scene. The first unit arrived two minutes after HFD received the call, he said, and quickly began coordinating a rescue team with police.

“The community expects the first responders to get on scene quickly, to get on scene and coordinate and start taking action as soon as they get on scene,” he said. “That’s exactly what we did.”

I have nothing but sympathy for the parents here. I was scrambling around looking for accurate information too, and the stakes were much lower for me. I have no doubt I’d have been out of my mind and super upset at how long it took to get updates. I also have a lot of sympathy for HISD and HPD, who were understandably reluctant to get out ahead of what they knew. I don’t have a good answer for this.

As relieved as we all are that this turned out to be nothing, we have to talk about the law enforcement response, since that is an obvious item of interest after Uvalde. In addition to HPD, there were deputies from the Precinct 1 Constable and the Sheriff’s office at the scene, and I assume there were some HISD cops as well. We do know that HPD entered Heights HS in search of the alleged shooter, which is good to know, but we don’t know more than that about who was in charge and who was making what decisions. Given what we know about the thoroughly botched response in Uvalde, this should be used as an opportunity for HPD and HISD to review their processes, make sure they have agreements in place, and so on. In the end, thankfully this was just a drill. We damn well better learn from it.

The one big question DPS still hasn’t answered about Uvalde

The Trib gets at something that I’ve mentioned a couple of times.

Ever since the Uvalde elementary school shooting left 19 students and two teachers dead, blame for the delayed response has been thrust on local law enforcement. The school police chief was fired and the city’s acting police chief was suspended.

But the only statewide law enforcement agency, the Texas Department of Public Safety, has largely avoided scrutiny even though it had scores of officers on the scene. That’s in part because DPS leaders are controlling which records get released to the public and carefully shaping a narrative that casts local law enforcement as incompetent.

Now, in the wake of a critical legislative report and body camera footage released by local officials, law enforcement experts from across the country are questioning why DPS didn’t take a lead role in the response as it had done before during other mass shootings and public disasters.

The state police agency is tasked with helping all of Texas’ 254 counties respond to emergencies such as mass shootings, but it is particularly important in rural communities where smaller police departments lack the level of training and experience of larger metropolitan law enforcement agencies, experts say. That was the case in Uvalde, where the state agency’s 91 troopers at the scene dwarfed the school district’s five officers, the city police’s 25 emergency responders and the county’s 16 sheriff’s deputies.

The state police agency has been “totally intransparent in pointing out their own failures and inadequacies,” said Charles A. McClelland, who served as Houston police chief for six years before retiring in 2016. “I don’t know how the public, even in the state of Texas, would have confidence in the leadership of DPS after this.”

Instead of taking charge when it became clear that neither the school’s police chief nor the Uvalde Police Department had assumed command, DPS contributed to the 74-minute chaotic response that did not end until a Border Patrol tactical unit that arrived much later entered the classroom and killed the gunman.

“Here’s what DPS should have done as soon as they got there,” said Patrick O’Burke, a law enforcement consultant and former DPS commander who retired in 2008. “They should have contacted [the school police chief] and said: ‘We’re here. We have people.’ They should have just organized everything, said, ‘What are all of our resources?’ And they should have organized the breach.”

[…]

[Despite testimony from DPS director Steve McCraw], DPS has sprung into action time and again when disaster strikes in Texas, which has proved key during mass shootings and public emergencies, local officials across the state said.

More than three decades ago, for example, state troopers helped local law enforcement confront a gunman after arriving within minutes of a shooting at a Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, about 60 miles north of Austin. The shooter killed himself after a brief exchange of gunfire.

“They knew that people were dying, and so they acted,” said Suzanna Hupp, a former Republican state representative whose parents died during the 1991 Luby’s massacre. She said that didn’t happen in Uvalde, adding that “clearly there was a command breakdown there.”

In a 2013 chemical explosion in West, about 70 miles south of Dallas, state troopers immediately took control of the law enforcement response at the request of the county’s emergency management coordinator. And in the 2018 shooting at Santa Fe High School, about 30 miles south of Houston, state troopers quickly fired at the gunman, according to local law enforcement officials who initially responded. The rapid engagement by school police and DPS was key to the gunman surrendering, district and county officials said.

“DPS had a tremendous role in Santa Fe of stopping the killing because they were among the first to arrive and they actually did what they were supposed to,” said Texas City Independent School District trustee Mike Matranga, the district’s security chief at the time of the shooting. He added that, in Uvalde, DPS supervisors “should have essentially asked [Arredondo] to stand down due to his ineffectiveness and taken over.”

Police experts and lawmakers pointed to clear signs that they believe should have alerted emergency responders that no one was in control. Arredondo, who resigned from his elected City Council seat in July and was fired from the school district on Aug. 24, remained inside the hallway on the phone during the shooting. He said he was trying to find a key to the classroom that the gunman was in. Investigators later determined that the door was likely unlocked. The school police chief did not identify himself as the incident commander and told The Texas Tribune he never issued any orders; his lawyer later said his firing was unjust. In a letter, Arredondo’s attorneys said the police chief “could not have served as the incident commander and did not attempt to take that role” because he was on the front lines.

Separately, no command post was set up outside of the school, which lawmakers noted should have been an indicator to responding officers that no one was in charge.

[…]

The disconnect over who should take charge and when exemplifies a need for detailed planning and frequent training between larger law enforcement agencies and smaller departments, police experts told ProPublica and the Tribune.

Larger agencies with more personnel, equipment and training should have agreements with school districts that clearly state that they will assume command upon arriving at critical incidents that include active shooters, hostage situations and explosive devices, said Gil Kerlikowske, a former Seattle police chief and CBP commissioner until 2017. He and other experts said that even if school police are designated as the lead, the role of every law enforcement agency in the region should be specified.

San Antonio, one of the state’s biggest police departments, has such agreements with local school districts and universities that name the bigger city police agency as the incident commander in the event of a mass shooting. After the Uvalde shooting, San Antonio police Chief William McManus met with school officials in his city and reminded them that his agency would take charge in an active shooter situation.

McManus, whose officers arrived in Uvalde after the gunman was killed, said in an interview that because of the confusion at the scene, he felt the need to emphasize how his department would respond to such an incident in San Antonio.

It is unclear what, if any, involvement DPS or another law enforcement agency had with the Uvalde school district’s mass shooting plan because those governmental bodies declined to release such documents or answer questions. The state police did not have a written memorandum of agreement with the school district outlining its role in such situations, according to DPS records.

Who’s in charge in these situations is a question I’ve raised a few times in writing about this, when the legislative report was released and when the HISD board addressed the question. This is an area where I believe the Lege can and should take action, by requiring school districts (and hell, colleges and universities and community colleges) to have some kind of agreement with either local or state law enforcement agencies and ensuring some minimum standards are met. It’s also a big question for DPS to answer: Why didn’t you take over at Uvalde? Steve McCraw has addressed that already, but I don’t think we should believe him. Certainly, not as long as DPS is being sued over its refusal to release its information to the public about their actions, anything McCraw says should be taken as self-serving first and foremost. And those same questions also go to Greg Abbott, who is McCraw’s boss and patron. Both of them have gotten away with doing nothing for a long time. We need to make sure that time runs out.

Five DPS agents being investigated for their Uvalde actions

It’s a start. It just can’t be the end.

Five Texas Department of Public Safety officers who responded to the Uvalde school shooting in May will face an investigation into their actions at Robb Elementary, the agency said.

The officers were referred to the inspector general’s office, which will determine if they violated any policies in their response to the deadliest school shooting in Texas history, said DPS spokesperson Travis Considine. The inspector general’s office will also determine if the five officers will face disciplinary actions.

The investigation was first reported by the Austin American-Statesman and KVUE.

[…]

The announcement of an investigation into five DPS officers coincided with the first day of classes for Uvalde students, which marks 15 weeks since the shooting. Following Arredondo’s firing, residents called for further accountability from public officials, including the firing of school district employees.

Arnulfo Reyes, a Robb Elementary teacher who was shot and injured in Room 111, said the investigation into DPS officers “will give the families a sense of accountability” that they’ve demanded.

Reyes didn’t go back to teach his fourth-grade class Tuesday because he is still mentally and physically recovering from injuries to his left arm and lower back. Before the gunman was confronted, Reyes could hear officers outside of his classroom trying to negotiate with the 18-year-old. When officers stopped talking, Reyes thought the officers had “abandoned” him and his students.

He added that he hopes other agencies’ officers are also investigated.

“It’s a glimmer of hope that there will be justice served,” Reyes said.

The story goes into the House committee investigation and report, and the responses from DPS director Steve McCraw, among other things with which we are familiar. I say this is a good start because there needs to be a transparent investigation into everyone’s actions on that horrible day. It’s not just Pete Arredondo and the local cops, and it’s also not just DPS. We need a full accounting of what happened, with consequences as needed for those who should face them. Until then, this is all unfinished business.

More evidence of misdemeanor bail reform’s success

Lower costs, fewer wrongful incarcerations and guilty pleas, less recidivism. What more do you want?

Fewer misdemeanor defendants went on to commit crimes in Harris County after federal litigation in 2017 aimed at curtailing the jailing of low-income people charged with low-level offenses, according to a recent study.

A 13 percent rise in pre-trial releases within 24 hours of a defendant’s arrest also followed the judicial injunction, the court order that researchers found led to positive reforms in Houston’s criminal justice system. Judicial jurisdictions elsewhere have watched the progress of Harris County’s reforms to create their own, researchers with the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania said.

“I think that it shows that misdemeanor bail reform, when implemented properly, can work,” said Paul Heaton, academic director for the Quattrone Center — a research and policy institute with the University of Pennsylvania. “It led to less costly punishment for the defendants and tax payers — it didn’t increase crime.”

The findings come amid years of tense debate over the bail reform’s implications and whether it has any connection to the local rise in homicides and other violent crimes, which increased nationwide during the pandemic. Prosecutors, law enforcement, bail bondsmen and victims’ rights advocates are among the opponents of the changes.

Houston police on Wednesday said that non-violent crime had decreased by five percent since this time in 2021 — and violent crime had dropped 10 percent during the same time frame.

Researchers went through about 517,000 misdemeanor and felony cases in Harris County filed from 2015 until last May, but focused on the months surrounding the start of the injunction — prior to the havoc that Hurricane Harvey and the pandemic caused in the courts. Unresolved cases increased later in 2017 — likely because of court closures in the storm’s wake, according to the study.

Conviction rates dropped by 15 percent, and the length of jail sentences for those low-level offenses also declined by 15 percent after the injunction, the study found. The injunction stemmed from several defendants lodging a federal lawsuit arguing that the bail practices in Harris County were unconstitutional. The county settled the lawsuit in 2019 with the arrival of Democratic judges and a federal jurist issued a landmark opinion, prompting the O’Donnell consent decree and independent monitoring group to issue reports on the effects.

Misdemeanor Judge Darrell Jordan, who helped shaped the consent decree, said the Quattrone study, mirrors the progress noted in the mandated monitor reports. He commended the decision for having allowed some defendants in his courts and others to get out of jail within 24 hours of their arrest. The alternative was worse, he said.

“They lose their house, car, families, jobs and they come out of jail in a state of chaos,” said Jordan, who oversees the Criminal Court of Law No. 16. “They have to find a way to get back on their feet and make a living.”

If the reforms are working in Harris County — one of the most populous counties in the U.S. — they can be implemented elsewhere, the judge said.

[…]

A report issued in March by Brandon Garrett, a professor for Duke University’s School of Law tasked with overseeing the decree oversight, found that repeat offenders, those arrested for misdemeanor offenses, “remained largely stable in recent years.” The same study also found that, from 2015 to 2019, convictions declined and the number of dismissals and acquittals doubled.

The fifth report from Garrett’s team is slated to be released Saturday.

You can see the UPenn report here. Brandon Garrett has been issuing reports as the overseer for the past two years. We’ve had two years of data on this now, and the findings are clear. I suppose it could change tomorrow, but unless that happens there’s just no reason take the critics of misdemeanor bail reform seriously. Bloomberg News has more.

Arredondo fired

Took awhile, but there it is.

The Uvalde school board agreed Wednesday to fire Pete Arredondo, the school district police chief broadly criticized for his response to the deadliest school shooting in Texas history, in a vote that came shortly after he asked to be taken off of suspension and receive backpay.

Arredondo, widely blamed for law enforcement’s delayed response in confronting the gunman who killed 21 people at Robb Elementary, made the request for reinstatement through his attorney, George E. Hyde. The meeting came exactly three months after a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers at the school.

“Chief Arredondo will not participate in his own illegal and unconstitutional public lynching and respectfully requests the Board immediately reinstate him, with all backpay and benefits and close the complaint as unfounded,” Hyde said in a statement.

Arredondo didn’t attend the meeting, citing death threats made against him.

But about 100 people, including relatives of the shooting victims, showed up for the vote. Many chanted “coward” and “no justice, no peace.” Four people spoke during a public comment period before the seven-member board went into closed session to deliberate Arredondo’s employment, criticizing the decision to not discuss the matter in front of the public.

[…]

In his statement Wednesday, Arredondo’s lawyer said that the school district violated his constitutional due process rights by failing to provide him notice of the complaints against him and conduct an investigation of his response to the mass shooting ahead of the termination hearing.

Arredondo’s lawyer said that he received an email from the district on July 19, recommending his termination based on his failure to establish himself as the incident commander during the shooting, but argued the letter should have been sent earlier and in a physical format.

Arredondo was listed in the district’s active-shooter plan as the commanding officer, but the consensus of those interviewed by the House committee was that Arredondo did not assume that role and no one else took over for him, which resulted in a chaotic law enforcement response.

See here and here for some background. I wasn’t particularly inclined to be sympathetic to Pete Arredondo, though I do agree that not all of the blame for the law enforcement response at Robb Elementary is his and I will push back against DPS’ self-serving efforts to scapegoat him, but that’s about as far as I’ll go. Seeing him refer to this as a “lynching” and whining about his “constitutional rights” in an employment matter confirms to me that I’m in the right place. Go away and find another line of work, dude. We’ll all be better off that way.

There’s still a lot of confusion about how Texas’ abortion ban will be enforced

There will be chaos, in addition to the fear and danger to pregnant people that already exists.

Abortions are already effectively outlawed in Texas, where clinics closed after the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe vs. Wade. But a new law takes effect Thursday that makes performing the procedure a felony, punishable by up to life in prison and fines of at least $100,000. There are no exemptions for rape, incest or fetal anomaly — only for when the pregnant person’s life is in danger.

It’s not clear how many prosecutions will materialize or even how police will handle complaints. But the first cases will test the bounds of a sweeping new law that is prompting fear and confusion for patients, their families and the medical community alike. Experts say the few abortions that do occur in Texas are now carried out in hospitals during emergencies, or at home with medication obtained online or through other means. Pregnant women cannot be prosecuted.

“Are they going to be going after doctors who perform emergency abortions? What does that look like?” said Joanna Grossman, a professor at Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law.

So far, Attorney General Ken Paxton has been the most bullish about enforcement. His office can only enforce the six-figure civil fines, but he offered to help local prosecutors bring criminal charges under the state’s abortion ban.

“I will do everything in my power to protect mothers, families, and unborn children, and to uphold the state laws duly enacted by the Texas Legislature,” Paxton, aRepublican up for a third term in November, said in an advisory.

[…]

In Tarrant and Denton County, officials said prosecutors will evaluate each case and present it to a grand jury only if the facts warrant prosecution. Neither office specified what circumstances might qualify.

“Prosecutors do not make the law – we follow it,” Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney Sharen Wilson said in a written statement. “We followed Roe v. Wade when it was the law and we will follow Texas state law now.”

“Police agencies bring us cases, we don’t go out and investigate cases ourselves,” said Denton County First Assistant District Attorney Jamie Beck. “If an agency brings us a case that deals with this issue and these laws, we will treat it like any other case.”

Yet, how the police will handle complaints remains a question mark.

Some city councils, including in Dallas and Denton, voted to restrict the resources that can be used to investigate abortions or request that police deprioritize those cases. Several police groups said they don’t know how enforcement will work, and one questioned whether law enforcement would want to be involved at all.

“They are extremely difficult investigations and there’s all kinds of politics surrounding it,” said Kevin Lawrence, executive director of the Texas Municipal Police Association. “It’s a lot easier to say something is illegal than to actually prosecute someone for it.”

In Dallas, Police Chief Eddie García said that depending on priority and call type, there will be instances “that we may have to respond and take a report.” But he echoed the uncertainty, saying it’s “too soon to tell how the state plans to enforce this new law, and who will be enforcing it.”

While almost every felony complaint is looked into, final decisions about how to proceed rest with district attorneys, said James McLaughlin Jr., executive director and general counsel for the Texas Police Chiefs Association. “What proof would they want to see in order to accept a case?” he said. “We’re pretty used to filing burglary cases, robbery cases, homicide cases, but this is different.”

We’ve talked about this in various forms. Dallas County’s DA, along with several other large county DAs (not, as far as I know, including Harris County, at least at this time), has said he won’t pursue prosecutions of abortion-related charges. Which is nice and noble and morally correct and certain to be turned into roadkill by the next Legislature if they have the power to do so. It’s interesting to see what these cops are saying about investigating abortion-related allegations – as we have discussed, they can seek out evidence in various privacy-intruding ways, but we just don’t know yet what they actually will do. Again, the Lege is sure to meddle in this if they can. We also have the TDCAA’s analysis and guidance on Texas’ new laws that criminalize abortion, which among other things show that the zeal to continuously be passing anti-abortion laws has introduced quite a bit of chaos and more than a little potential for contradictions and double jeopardy possibilities. The courts are going to have so much fun with all this. That touched on the vigilant bounty hunter law SB8, which so far as served only as a tool of intimidation rather than of enforcement. But with the “trigger” law going into effect today, it’s a whole new ball game. And just a matter of time before someone gets arrested.

UPDATE: The Trib now has a story on the enabling of the trigger law. The 19th notes that four other states have similar laws coming online this week.

Hopefully the last time she will appear before a judge

For her sake, I hope it is.

Years of legal trouble for a former Harris County civil judge have come to an end with three years probation.

Alexandra Smoots on Wednesday wept as Judge Chuck Silverman granted her deferred adjudication on an aggravated assault with a deadly weapon charge — an offense stemming from her decision in August 2020 to fire a shotgun during an argument with her ex-husband’s girlfriend. The incident exacerbated a downward spiral marked by laundry list of personal woes, including a breast cancer diagnosis, chemotherapy treatment, infidelity, divorce, foreclosure on her home and a federal indictment for wire fraud.

The indictment prompted her suspension from the bench in the 164th District Court.

She pleaded guilty to the federal charges later in 2020 and the case in the 183rd District Court represented the last hitch to moving on.

Smoot’s fate in the assault case was expected to be decided Wednesday during a pre-sentencing investigation, but the judge told both parties that he had already settled on a punishment and the hearing would be a “waste of time.”

“I don’t think it’s a benefit to this court and society to idle along,” said Silverman, who addressed Smoots as judge throughout the appearance. “I would like everything to continue on the up for you.”

[…]

Smoots, first elected in 2008, can no longer practice law because of her felony convictions. She now works as a legal consultant, [her defense attorney Juanita] Jackson said.

Federal investigators caught wind that Smoots was siphoning campaign money from 2013 to 2018 to purchase a Zales engagement ring, two Prada handbags, and for mortgage payments and private school tuition for her two sons.

The jurist in that case, Lynn N. Hughes, sentenced her to the 36 days she had spent jailed for a bond violation connected to the assault charge, as well as three years of supervised release.

Prosecutors in that case requested a sentence within the guideline range of 18 to 24 months in prison, saying the defendant abused her power and authority as a sitting judge. It was not known what state prosecutors planned to recommend to the judge as a punishment.

As part of her probation, Smoots must undergo 80 hours of community service and have no drugs or alcohol. Anger management therapy is also part of the court’s conditions.

Smoots’ federal plea and sentence came in September of 2020, about a month after this incident. To be honest, I don’t remember reading about it at the time, but then we were all kind of busy around then. As I said before, I hope she is getting her life back in order, and I hope the next time I hear about her it’s for something positive.

A long look at the lack of accountability in Uvalde

CNN has a very long piece about how there are many investigations going on about the Uvalde massacre but seemingly little to hold anyone accountable for it. Uvalde residents, especially the parents of Robb Elementary children, are increasingly frustrated with the lack of information and the lack of action.

At Uvalde school district and city council meetings this week, community members again pressed their elected officials on why officers at the school that day haven’t been relegated to desk duty or fired. The school district superintendent also was asked why he had not sought an independent investigation into the tragedy, and the mayor was pressed on how and why the city chose an Austin, Texas, investigator to lead its internal review.

“We have yet, almost three months later, to hear any answers or to see any accountability from anybody at any level — from law enforcement officers, to campus staff, to central office and beyond,” Uvalde resident Diana Olvedo-Karau told the school board. “And we just don’t understand why. I mean, how can we lose 19 children and two teachers tragically, just horribly, and not have anybody yet be accountable.”

“It’s approaching three months, and we are still being placated with tidbits or being outright stonewalled or being given excuses” about the city police department’s response, said resident Michele Prouty, who passed out complaint forms against Uvalde police at Tuesday’s city council meeting. “What we have instead — what we are traumatized again and again by — is an inept, unstructured national embarrassment of a circus tent full of smug clowns. These clowns continue to cruise our streets sporting their tarnished badges.”

A looming US Department of Justice after-action report has perhaps the strongest chance of giving a clear understanding of how the day’s horrific events unfolded, experts who spoke to CNN said. Such reports tend to home in on opportunities for improvement, while discipline typically must be backed by precise allegations that would hold up if challenged by an officer or subject to court hearings or arbitration processes.

But it’s not clear precisely what parameters those who are overseeing reviews of the city and school district police departments are using to identify systemic failures or root out findings that could lead to discipline for officers.

The Texas Department of Public Safety has said its wide-ranging internal review could result in referrals to an inspector general. The agency also is conducting the criminal investigation into the Uvalde massacre itself — probing details such as how the shooter got his guns and his online communications before the attack — separate from the internal review of its officers’ conduct at Robb Elementary. Part of that work, it has said, is “examining the actions of every member of (a) law enforcement agency that day.” But it’s not clear whether officers are cooperating with the inquiry.

The district attorney reviewing the criminal investigation, Christina Mitchell Busbee, said she would “seek an indictment on a law enforcement officer for a criminal offense, when appropriate, under the laws of Texas.” But it’s not clear under what law any officer might be charged or whether evidence so far supports charges.

Meantime, how Texas DPS has cast its own role in the tragedy already has come under scrutiny. Its officers were at Robb Elementary earlier than previously known — and longer than Texas DPS has publicly acknowledged — materials reviewed by CNN show, with at least one DPS trooper seen running toward the school, taking cover behind a vehicle and then running toward an entrance within 2-1/2 minutes of the shooter entering. The agency’s director instead publicly has focused on when the first DPS agent entered the hallway where classrooms were under attack.

Further, a Texas DPS spokesperson who made three phone calls to a DPS sergeant inside the school during the 70-plus minutes officers waited to confront the gunman later gave journalists a narrative that quickly unraveled. Since then, news organizations, including CNN, have sued the Texas DPS for access to public records related to the massacre.

Amid the inconsistencies, the head of the state’s largest police union, along with a senior state lawmaker, have questioned Texas DPS’s ability to investigate itself. “I don’t know that we can trust them to do an internal investigation,” Charley Wilkison, executive director of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, told CNN.

“It would be best if the investigation were headed up by an outside independent source that the public can have total confidence in,” said Wilkison, whose union represents law enforcement officers across the state, including some in Uvalde. 

[…]

It’s not clear whether any internal city investigation was underway between the May 24 massacre and the announcement of the internal investigation, though best practices for investigations dictate they usually begin as close to the incident as possible.

Then at a July 26 city council meeting, city officials said they’d hired the firm of Jesse Prado, a former Austin police homicide detective, to lead their review. Council members said their investigator should finish his work within two months, then Prado will make recommendations — possibly including disciplinary actions — to the council.

“If there’s any officer that’s in violation of any policy or procedure that they needed to act on and did not and might have caused these children to die, these teachers to die, I can assure you, heads are going to roll,” Uvalde City Councilmember Hector Luevano said during the session. Prado declined to comment for this story.

City officials, meantime, have refused for nearly two weeks to answer questions about their review of officers’ actions that day. Tarski Law, listed on the city council’s website as city attorney, also declined to comment and referred questions to Gina Eisenberg, president of a public relations firm that specializes in “crisis communications” and was hired by the city to field media requests. Eisenberg said the city would not comment. McLaughlin, the mayor, said Tuesday he couldn’t characterize the city’s relationship with Eisenberg, who hired her or who is paying her bill, saying, “I don’t know anything about her. I have nothing to do with it.”

Eisenberg also declined to answer questions about the city police department review process. McLaughlin was certain such a process existed but wasn’t aware of related procedures, he told CNN on Tuesday. The internal investigation led by Prado was launched August 1, Eisenberg said. The city attorney chose Prado for the job without a bidding process and based on word-of-mouth recommendations, the mayor told CNN; Tarski Law referred CNN to Eisenberg, who wouldn’t provide a copy of its contract with Prado’s firm, explain what the department’s internal affairs process was before the shooting or say whether that process was used at any time before Prado was hired. Eisenberg said the city would not release further information or comment.

The full scope of Prado’s investigation also isn’t clear — whether he’s conducting an after-action review meant to identify failures for future understanding or investigating specific allegations of broken rules in response to internal complaints, or some hybrid. Prado will have “free range to take the investigation wherever the investigation takes him,” McLaughlin told CNN on Tuesday. While it’s unlikely Prado’s source materials will be released, the mayor said, he vowed to make Prado’s report public after first sharing it with victims’ families — “if I have any say in it.”

“When we see that report, whatever it tells us we need to do and changes we need to make — if it tells us we need to let people go or whatever it tells us — then that’s what we will do,” McLaughlin told CNN.

[…]

While it’s unclear when any of the reviews of law enforcement’s response to the Uvalde massacre will wrap up, the Texas DPS probe — like the others — could have implications for its own and other officers, raising the stakes for how impartially and transparently it’s handled. As with the other probes, too, how it’s conducted and what it concludes will impact what closure families of the slain in this small, tortured city can receive.

Texas DPS “was fast to wash its hands, to point fingers and to make sure that the general public, particularly the elected officials, knew that they were spotless, blameless and that this was a local problem,” said Wilkison, the police union chief.  ”No one created this environment, (in) which everyone’s to blame except DPS. No one did that except them. If we’re to never, ever let this happen in Texas, we have to know what happened, exactly what happened.”

Even with that long excerpt, there’s a ton more at the link, so go read the whole thing. I can’t say I’m a big fan of CLEAT, but Charley Wilkison is right that the report DPS is working on is deeply suspect. I expect that the Justice Department probe will be the most useful, but all they can do is make recommendations. They have no power to change anything. That’s up to DPS and the locals themselves, and it’s clear none of them are particularly motivated to examine themselves.

As I see it, there are two paths to actually making things happen. One is through lawsuits, filed by the parents of the murdered children. File against DPS, against the city of Uvalde, the Uvalde police and the Uvalde school police, and so forth. This will be painful for them, it will take years to get to a conclusion, and it will be a massive fight to get the kind of information they’ve been demanding released, but the discovery process once it kicks in will be a very effective provider of sunlight. The downside is as noted – it will take years and be traumatic over and over again for the families – but in the end I would expect to finally get a real view of what happened, and maybe some financial penalties for the malfunctioning government entities.

The other is through elections. The people of Uvalde should give strong consideration to voting out their entire city and school district governments. Maybe some of those same parents might want to run for one or more of those offices. You want transparency, put some people in power who are truly committed to it. Along those same lines, voting in a new Governor would be the most direct route to getting transparency from DPS. I feel quite confident that Governor Beto O’Rourke will be delighted to appoint a new head of DPS with a mandate to clean house and make public all of the things that department did wrong in this debacle. Nothing like a little regime change to make things happen.

If “bad apples” are the problem, then shouldn’t getting rid of them be a high priority?

This San Antonio Report story is about the nine-year saga of the Redus family to get justice for their son Cameron, who was killed by University of the Incarnate Word (UIW) police officer Christopher Carter in 2013 outside Redus’ apartment. Carter has said in reports and depositions that he observed Redus getting into his car late at night while appearing to be drunk and followed him home to his apartment complex. (Redus happened to be a UIW student, which Carter didn’t know as he first observed him.) At the apartment complex, Carter shot and killed Redus, claiming that Redus had attacked him. All the evidence that has been found about the shooting contradicts that claim. By any reckoning, the shooting of Cameron Redus was completely unjustified.

The wrongful death litigation has been ongoing for several years, with UIW declining to settle despite a lot of pressure being put on them to do so. The lawsuit just survived a motion to dismiss by the 4th Court of Appeals, which led to this overview of the case by the San Antonio Report. I want to highlight the bits in there about Carter’s record as a police officer.

If the case finally goes to trial, Carter’s troubled past as a peace officer and UIW’s failure to conduct a background check before hiring Carter in 2011, or provide him with significant training afterwards, will come under the spotlight, according to pretrial depositions.

So will a number of incidents involving Carter during his time at UIW, including a middle-of-the-night intrusion into a female student’s dorm room under the guise of investigating a campus fender-bender, an episode that occurred two months before the Redus shooting. A formal complaint by the student’s family resulted in Carter’s supervisors acknowledging the officer’s unacceptable behavior and warning the student to avoid on-campus encounters with Carter.

Other allegations reported by fellow UIW officers: Carter twice unholstered his service weapon on campus in inappropriate shows of bravado and took part in an illegal, on-campus shooting of pigeons after police vehicles were soiled by the birds. Carter was formally reprimanded by his supervisor for verbally abusing and intimidating people on the Incarnate Word High School campus while directing traffic.

None of his transgressions or past issues in other law enforcement jobs led to serious disciplinary actions or a decision to terminate him from the campus force, even though other officers and UIW employees have told me Carter was widely regarded as a pariah unsuited to carry a gun or wear a badge.

[…]

Pretrial depositions raise serious questions about UIW’s hiring practices for its police force. Sources at UTSA and Trinity University told me Carter applied for positions there at the time, but his evident inability to hold a job led them to ignore his application.

Carter said he worked as a convenience store clerk and pawn shop manager trainee after earning a criminal justice degree from UTSA in 1997. He attended San Antonio College’s Law Enforcement Training Academy from 2003 through 2004 where he earned his peace officer’s license.

From September 2004 when he was hired as an unpaid reserve deputy for the City of Marion until May 2011 when he was hired as a full-time campus police officer for UIW, Carter held nine different law enforcement or security jobs, most only for a matter of months, according to his deposition testimony.

Carter said he lasted six months in the unpaid position with the City of Marion; eight months as an unpaid reserve officer with the City of Cibolo; six months as an unpaid support deputy with the Bexar County Sheriff’s Department; three months as a paid deputy with the Atascosa County Sheriff’s Department; six months as a paid court bailiff with the Bexar County Sheriff’s Department; six months as a licensed private investigator for Hub International insurance company; five months as a part time reserve officer for the City of San Antonio’s Marshal Unit, working nights as a municipal court bailiff; seven months as a night patrol officer for the City of Mathis, where he was fired for reasons Carter said he cannot recall; and six months as a code enforcement officer and peace officer for the City of George West.

Carter was hired by UIW as a campus police officer in May 2011 and was placed on paid administrative leave after fatally shooting Redus in December 2013. One year later, university officials allowed him to resign in good standing.

Since then, after applying without success for dozens of positions with various area law enforcement agencies, including applications to the City of San Antonio and Bexar County, Carter was finally hired in December 2015 for a part-time job in the City of Orange Grove in Jim Wells County, which he held for six months until May 2016. Carter was then rehired by the City of Mathis, but was fired after 11 months in March 2017.

Carter’s last job in law enforcement was with the City of Poteet, where he began as a reserve officer before moving into a full-time position. That employment ended after three-and-a-half years in November 2020 when he said he “retired” to return to San Antonio to care for family members.

A UIW panel that conducted a single pre-employment interview with Carter in April 2011 did not press him about his inability to hold a job for long, and did not ask why he was terminated by the City of Mathis, Carter said in his deposition. Carter said UIW did not require him to take any verbal or written tests, and he was never shown the university police department’s 113-page policy and procedures manual.

Carter said he did not meet UIW Police Chief Jacob Colunga prior to his hiring, and initial on-the-job training was limited to shadowing another UIW officer for two weeks. Colunga was demoted in 2014, months after the shooting.

Author Robert Rivard, who has been a longtime critic of UIW for its behavior in this incident, turned that into an editorial decrying the common practice of cops being able to go from one job to the next even as their performance demonstrates their inability to do that job. Even a cursory glance at Carter’s career would make one wonder why any law enforcement agency would hire him, and if they did hire him why they wouldn’t train him relentlessly to make sure he was up to snuff. The consequences for not doing those things are predictable and tragic. And all of this is before we take race into account – Cameron Redus, unlike many other high-profile victims of police violence, was white. These consequences so often and so regularly fall on people of color, and for the most part are invisible to many of us. But they’re very much there.

The “bad apples” explanation for police violence is woefully inadequate, but it is the case that a small number of police officers at any agency are disproportionately responsible for unjust and violent actions. It’s hard enough getting those officers off the force, but when that does happen – often through non-official means, which allows said officers to resign in good standing – they can almost always find employment elsewhere, with few to no questions asked. Tom Coleman, the undercover cop responsible for the arrest and conviction of dozens of innocent Black residents of Tulia, Texas, is another prime example of this. It’s long past time for us to ask the question why this is so, and what we should be doing about it.

The Fresh Start program

I approve of this.

The possibility of finally putting a misdemeanor from 1993 behind her brings 53-year-old Jennifer Sigers to tears.

“I’m more excited than anything that this too shall pass,” said Sigers, who was among at least 100 people who showed up to a north Houston community center for the opportunity to remove certain non-violent misdemeanors from their criminal records. The event on Saturday morning was the latest resource fair affiliated with the new Fresh Start program with Harris County Courts.

“I’m ashamed of it,” Sigers said about the incident from roughly 30 years ago that’s still on her criminal record, which occurred after she said police misidentified her while pursuing someone else who had been evading police at her sister’s apartment complex.

“I’m a kind, gentle person. And when you have people that ask you ‘do you have a background’ and you tell them, they turn around and look down on you like, you’re this bad person. I’m not a bad person,” said Sigers, who drove from her home in Spring to participate in the program and brought both her sons to see if they could benefit as well.

More than two hours before the Harris County Courts Fresh Start event began, people were outside to sign up, indicating significant community interest in the programs offered — records sealing as well as receiving free children’s backpacks, free enhanced library cards, COVID-19 vaccines and immigration consults.

Saturday’s event is the third Fresh Start community outreach event by Harris County Courts for sealing records, which can be a burdensome, costly process, according to Harris County Criminal Court Judge Raul Rodriguez.

“A lot of times, many don’t know how to do it so they hire a lawyer to do it, and so there’s fees there. So, this particular program allows these individuals to be able to seal their records without having to hire a lawyer,” Rodriguez said.

[…]

Hundreds – even thousands – of individuals are likely eligible to seal their criminal record, according to a rough estimate from Harris County Courts Office of Court Management.

Sealing records is available for people with a completed deferred adjudication for low-level, non-violent misdemeanor offenses.

Under the Fresh Start program, “sealing your record” means that qualifying individuals can get orders of non-disclosures, which means their criminal charge isn’t required on public disclosures, like apartment or job applications. However, criminal justice agencies are still able to view the charges.

The program was created as an extension of the restorative justice initiative Bayou City Community Court and is aimed at bridging the gap between the community and the criminal justice system, according to Harris County Criminal Court Judge Toria Finch.

“We believe that if we give people resources, we give people opportunity, we give people purpose, that also combats crime. And so a lot of people cannot get jobs, a lot of people cannot move forward with their life because of a mistake that may have happened years ago,” she said.

Details of the Fresh Start program, for which there will be another event before the end of the year, are here. This is a great idea, and should be emulated by other counties. One of the points of the criminal justice system is to get people who have transgressed to go back to being lawful citizens. When they do, they should be able to officially put their past behind them, for if they cannot then what’s the point? Given how cumbersome and time-consuming the process to seal one’s record can be, offering it as an occasional service makes a lot of sense. Kudos to all for doing this.

William-Paul Thomas

This is bad. The question is how much worse might it be.

William-Paul Thomas, the mayor’s council liaison, was offered more than $13,000 by a local bar owner to help him pass a building inspection and fast-track a new permit to reopen a bar as a restaurant, newly unsealed court documents show.

Thomas contacted the “relevant” fire official to ensure the unnamed business owner passed the inspection in May 2020, prosecutors wrote, and then he used his position in the mayor’s office to “pressure other officials” to approve the permit in July, as well. He was paid an undisclosed amount of money for his efforts.

Thomas pleaded guilty on July 25 to one federal count of conspiracy to accept a bribe. He will appear for sentencing before U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen on Nov. 28. His lawyer, Monique Chantelle Sparks, did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The documents were sealed until Wednesday morning at the request of the U.S. Attorney’s office. The Chronicle published an article about the allegations Tuesday night. Thomas’ plea deal, however, remains sealed.

It is unclear whether federal investigators are looking into the unnamed city officials Thomas allegedly worked with to get the certificate and permit approved, or if they are conducting a broader inquiry into City Hall affairs.

Sean Buckley, a legal expert on federal judicial procedures, said Thomas’ quick guilty plea and his willingness to forgo a probable cause hearing before a grand jury means he likely agreed they had strong information against him. It also suggests Thomas may be part of a wider investigation by the Justice Department.

Thomas abruptly resigned from his City Hall position last Wednesday, one day after pleading guilty. He told the mayor in an 11:30 p.m. email he was retiring due to health reasons.

[…]

City Attorney Arturo Michel said later Wednesday the office of the inspector general is opening its own investigation, based on the document’s charges that Thomas worked with officials in the fire department and permitting office to approve the requests.

Prosecutors say the bar owner — whom they did not name — needed to pass a city fire inspection to get a temporary certificate of occupancy in May 2020. He turned to Thomas for help.

“Thomas, in his official capacity, placed calls to the relevant Houston Fire Department official to ensure that COMPANY 1 would pass its fire inspection and be issued its TCO,” the charging document says. The owner then paid Thomas an undisclosed amount of money after he got the certificate.

It is not clear which fire department official Thomas contacted. Fire Chief Samuel Peña said it difficult to identify the person without the name of the business.

The business owner reached out again in June 2020, after his bar — a separate business — was shut down by the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission. COVID-19 restrictions around that time ordered bars to close but allowed restaurants to continue operating with limited capacity.

“On July 6, 2020, BUSINESSMAN 1 offered THOMAS up to $13,0000 to have the necessary permit issued quickly so that COMPANY 2 could reopen,” the document says. “THOMAS agreed to use his official position to pressure other officials to issue the permit quickly, all in exchange for money.”

Thomas then used his position to “pressure other officials” to grant the necessary permit, and the owner was allowed to open as a restaurant. It is not clear which specific permit the owner was seeking from the city; the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission was responsible for classifying bars and restaurants based on the percentage of sales that came from alcohol.

Buckley, a federal defense lawyer who represented former U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman and authored a book on federal criminal rules and codes used by trial attorneys across the country, reviewed the court documents at the request of the Houston Chronicle. He is not involved in the case.

“He’s obviously cooperating because no one who is a target in a federal investigation would ever agree to plea to a criminal information unless there have been extensive discussions between the target, his lawyer and the government leading up to that decision,” Buckley said.

“Either the government lawyers showed him what they had or he knew what they had. He knew he had everything to gain by cooperating and agreeing to plead guilty without forcing the government to get an indictment from the grand jury, and much to lose by not cooperating.”

Buckley said it also clear the investigation, by prosecutors from the public corruption unit, has been going on for months and there likely is a wider-ranging investigation underway involving multiple defendants.

“My read on this is that this person has something of value to the government,” Buckley said.

He said the documents also indicate “there is an environment in the city of Houston that allows this type of thing to take place.”

I will say up front that I am acquainted with William-Paul. As is the case in this kind of situation, I’m shocked to see the story. I don’t know him well enough to say more than that, but as I have met him and talked to him, I wanted to say so.

I Am Not A Lawyer, and I have no experience in these matters, but it seems to me unlikely that there would be only one such transgression like this. If nothing else, I would think the FBI wouldn’t prioritize a case with one crime of this nature. I’d expect that the bribe payer and whoever was involved with the Fire Department and permitting office will be implicated next. The big question is then whether it goes beyond that, and if so how far. There is certainly the potential for this to be big, but we won’t know until the FBI tells us, and as we know from other experiences that may take a long time. In the meantime, I wouldn’t want to be BUSINESSMAN 1 or anyone else who might be implicated. Don’t take or give bribes, y’all.

News orgs sue DPS over Uvalde info

Same annoying story, part whatever. Getting public records about this tragedy shouldn’t be this hard to do.

More than a dozen news organizations filed a lawsuit against the Texas Department of Public Safety on Monday, accusing the agency of unlawfully withholding public records related to the May school shooting in Uvalde.

The organizations — which include The Texas Tribune and its partner ProPublica and other local, state and national newsrooms — have each filed requests under the Texas Public Information Act for information detailing the response by various authorities, including law enforcement, to the massacre.

DPS has refused to release records in response to these requests, even as the agency has selectively disclosed some information through public testimonythird-party analyses and news conferences.

“In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, and continuing throughout the ensuing two months, DPS has declined to provide any meaningful information in response to the Requests regarding the events of that day — despite the unfathomable reality that some 376 members of law enforcement responded to the tragedy, and hundreds of those were in the school or on school property not going into the unlocked classroom where the gunman continued killing helpless youth,” the lawsuit states. “At the same time, DPS has offered conflicting accounts regarding the response of law enforcement, the conduct of its officers, the results of its own investigation, and the agency’s justifications for withholding information from the public.”

[…]

DPS is claiming an exemption for records related to an ongoing investigation, but the news organizations argue there is no such investigation, given the guilt of the gunman is not in dispute and authorities say the 18-year-old acted alone. The local prosecutor, Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Mitchell Busbee, has acknowledged that she is not conducting a criminal investigation.

The records requested include emails; body camera and other video footage; call logs, 911 and other emergency communications; interview notes; forensic and ballistic records; and lists of DPS personnel who responded to the tragedy, among other information.

The plaintiffs include The New York Times Company, The Washington Post, NBC News, CNN, ABC News, CBS News, Scripps Media and Gannett. The Texas Tribune and ProPublica, who also joined the suit, have filed about 70 records requests.

See here and here for some background. It’s not just been DPS that has been resistant to releasing information, but they’ve definitely dug in their heels. However this ends up, expect it to be fought till the bitter end in court.

Perhaps one reason why DPS is so reluctant to give up any of their information is because any time any data about the Uvalde massacre gets released, law enforcement just looks bad.

On July 17, the city of Uvalde released nearly 3.5 hours of video from city police body cameras. The stream of recordings came only hours after a special Texas House committee investigating the massacre issued a report that condemned the law enforcement response as a jumble of missed opportunities and unlearned lessons from past mass shootings.

The recordings — from seven Uvalde officers’ body cameras — show officers anxious, frustrated or confused by conflicting information. Several frantically searched for a master key for Room 111’s door, which apparently was unlocked.

The footage also shows a steadily increasing flow of police officers from other local, state and federal agencies into Robb Elementary, beginning less than 10 minutes after Ramos began shooting inside the classrooms. Some of the police carried rifles. Some wore body armor or full protective gear.

The recordings — especially of the radio message at 12:11 a.m. alerting officers that wounded victims were trapped in the rooms with Ramos — could become pivotal as prosecutors weigh whether to charge some of the responding officers with a crime because of their failure to confront the shooter much earlier in his rampage.

“They’re looking hard at when officers learned about kids being in the classrooms,” said one law enforcement source familiar with the conversations of prosecutors looking into the case. “At what point did (officers) know when the kids called from inside the classrooms?”

Christina Mitchell Busbee, district attorney of Uvalde and Real counties, has declined to comment on the investigation.

The Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Rangers are handling the probe, with input from Mitchell’s office. In August, the agencies are expected to hand over their findings to Mitchell, who will decide whether to file any charges.

I don’t know that any of the responding officers should be held criminally liable for their response, but I can damn sure imagine some civil lawsuits against the various agencies involved. But good luck building a case if you don’t have enough evidence.

A Skeet Jones update

NBC News does us the favor of an update on Skeet Jones, the (allegedly) cattle-rustlin’ County Judge of Loving County.

On a December day in 2021, Loving County Judge Skeet Jones, 71, climbed atop an oilfield tank surrounded by wide-open Texas desert dressed in a business suit and toting a pair of binoculars, hoping to spot an elusive black bull.

What Jones most likely didn’t realize from his steel perch as he scanned the horizon: He, too, was being watched as part of a cattle-rustling sting operation devised by special rangers with the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.

The backstory of what led to the arrests of Jones, a former sheriff’s deputy and two ranch hands in May is chronicled in a stack of warrants obtained by NBC News. The documents detail a yearlong investigation, replete with confidential informants and a sting operation involving a reddish-brown cow, her calf and the black yearling bull — all equipped by the special rangers with microchips.

The warrants allege that Jones and the ranch hands rounded up stray livestock in Loving and Pecos counties and sold them at auctions in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico without first notifying the Sheriff’s Office to find their rightful owners — a violation of a state law.

Jones, the scion of a prominent ranching family and the top elected official in this sparsely populated West Texas county for the past 15 years, is charged with three felony counts of livestock theft and one count of engaging in organized crime — potentially facing decades in prison if convicted. (Jones and the other defendants declined to comment. Jones’ lawyer did not return phone calls.)

But Jones’ supporters say he was set up. “There’s no question about that,” said Steve Simonsen, who is the Loving County attorney and married to a cousin of Jones’. “If you’re a special ranger and you’re really interested in stopping rustling, you don’t sneak out in the middle of the night and unload a bunch of cattle that you secretly microchipped,” Simonsen said.

Jeremy Fuchs, a spokesman for the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, a cadre of peace officers who specialize in agricultural crimes, said the organization stands by the arrests of the judge and the other defendants. Fuchs said the investigation is ongoing and could result in more charges.

Randy Reynolds, the district attorney in charge of prosecuting felony cases, did not return phone calls.

None of the defendants have been indicted by a grand jury, which is the next step in the legal process. Loving County, the least-populated county in the continental U.S., had 57 residents as of the latest U.S. Census Bureau estimate. Simonsen said the county hasn’t successfully empaneled a grand jury in about a year.

The latest attempt on July 7 to get enough qualified grand jurors failed for two reasons, he said. Under Texas law, grand jurors cannot be related by blood or marriage. And they are required to reside within the county, which has become a flashpoint since the Loving County justice of the peace in May sent four prospective jurors — including Jones’ son and a county commissioner — to jail on a contempt order for allegedly not living there.

“Who wants to show up for jury duty, which a lot of people don’t really want to do anyway, and get a free trip to the jail house?” Simonsen asked.

Jones and his family members — through blood or marriage — have a tight grip on the local government, serving as judge, clerk, county attorney and constable. This fall, Jones is running unopposed for re-election, but some of his allies, including his sister, are facing challengers for the first time in years, amid heated debate over how the county should be run.

See here and here for the background, and be sure to read the rest because as I said in that first post, the word “bonkers” is what keeps coming to mind about all this. Among the things I learned:

1. Skeet Jones’ father, who served as Loving County Sheriff for 28 years, was known as “Punk”. You keep on West Texasing, Loving County.

2. The penalty for killing a stray cow is the same in Texas as it is for stealing one – up to ten years in prison.

3. Nearly twice as many people are registered to vote in Loving County as live there. You should read that story, too.

4. The bit at the end about some other elected members of the Jones family facing challengers in the November election made me want to look at who’s running for what in this famously Republican county, but suffice it to say that the Loving County elections page is not up to the task; Google wasn’t any more help. It may be that some of the characters involved here are still listed as Democrats, in the ancestral way that nearly all of Texas was once Democratic, but with Loving voting 90% plus for Republicans in federal and state elections, that doesn’t mean much. Nonetheless, I’d really like to know more about this.

5. Yes, there were bait cows involved in this sting. Really, read the whole story.

I actually got a press release about this one – I guess someone at NBC News had noticed my previous blogging on the topic. If that’s the case, all I can say is keep up the good work, y’all. I cannot wait till the next chapter in this story.

Arredondo won’t be fired just yet

Gonna have to wait a little longer.

Uvalde school officials have postponed a scheduled Saturday meeting to decide whether to fire police Chief Pete Arredondo at the superintendent’s recommendation.

Arredondo’s lawyer asked the district to postpone the meeting amid due-process concerns, the district announced Friday afternoon. The district did not announce a new meeting date.

Arredondo remains on administrative leave.

See here for the background. This was the early-breaking story, so there may be more to it by now. Whatever the case, this will eventually happen. I don’t think Pete Arredondo can put this off for too long.

Uvalde school superintendent recommends firing Arredondo

I suspect he’ll get his wish.

Uvalde school officials will decide the fate of district police Chief Pete Arredondo during a special meeting Saturday after Superintendent Hal Harrell recommended the police chief’s firing.

The meeting falls almost two months after Arredondo was among the first law enforcement officers to arrive at the scene of Texas’ worst school shooting.

Blame for the fiercely criticized response to the massacre — during which law enforcement waited more than an hour to confront the shooter — has largely fallen on Arredondo. The district placed him on administrative leave roughly one month after the shooting.

[…]

Much of Uvalde residents’ anger over the delayed response to the shooting has been directed toward Arredondo. In a school board meeting Monday, residents chastised school officials for not already firing Arredondo. They also criticized officials for what residents saw as slow attempts to improve campus safety.

Arredondo’s actions at the scene were also criticized in a Texas House committee report released Sunday, though the report also points to the failure of other agencies to respond appropriately. Arredondo was among 376 law enforcement officers from local, state and federal agencies on the scene. The responding officers, though, lacked clear leadership, basic communications and sufficient urgency to take down the gunman, the report states.

The consensus of those interviewed by the House committee was that either Arredondo — or no one — was in charge at the scene, which several witnesses described as chaotic.

In an interview with The Texas Tribune, Arredondo said he did not think he was the incident commander on the scene. Yet according to the school district’s active-shooter response plan, authored in part by Arredondo, the district chief would “become the person in control of the efforts of all law enforcement and first responders that arrive at the scene.”

See here and here for some background. I agree that Arredondo bears a lot of responsibility for the response – it’s mind-boggling that he didn’t think he was in charge, especially without having explicitly handed over command to DPS or Border Control or whoever – and I’d vote to kick him if I were on the Uvalde school board, but he’s hardly the only incompetent here. The report was clear that DPS and the other law enforcement agencies on site were part of the chaos, and we have previous and more recent reporting on DPS’s failures. Maybe someone should suggest to Greg Abbott that he do Steve McCraw next? But then Abbott would have to admit some responsibility as well, and we know that’s not going to happen.

On a more practical level, the “I didn’t think I was in charge here” issue is something that the Lege can and should address. It may be a matter of handing the issue off to a committee or an agency – ironically, DPS might be best suited for this – and then mandating that the process and its details be drilled into every current and future cop. Because Lord knows, until we actually get serious about curbing gun violence, situations like this will come up again. And we’ll have even less of an excuse for not knowing how to handle it. Texas Public Radio has more.

Now DPS is checking on its officers that were at the Uvalde mass shooting?

I have one simple question about this.

The Texas Department of Public Safety is reviewing how 91 state troopers and Rangers responded to the Robb Elementary School shooting to determine if any violated policies or laws.

The agency’s announcement Monday that it had formed an internal committee for the inquiry comes nearly two months after an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 students and two teachers in Texas’ worst school shooting — and one day after a Texas House panel report found that 376 law enforcement officers from several agencies descended on the scene in a chaotic, uncoordinated response that stretched for 73 more minutes.

The DPS committee, formed last week, will also determine “where the department can make necessary improvements for future mass casualty responses,” according to a department statement.

“No additional information will be available until the committee has completed its full review of the department’s response,” the statement said.

See here for the background. My one simple question: Did DPS not already know how many of its officers were there on the scene? That seems like a very basic fact that they should have been aware of from the beginning. What else does DPS not know about what its officers are doing? I sure hope we find out when they release their committee’s report. They will release it, right? Right?

House committee report on the Uvalde massacre

The special State House committee that was tasked with investigating the response to the Uvalde mass shooting released its report yesterday. The report identified numerous failures, in law enforcement and in the school and in other systems, though it’s clear to me that they studiously avoided mentioning one particular type of failure. I’ll get there in a minute. First, the law enforcement failures.

The 18-year-old who massacred 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde on May 24 had no experience with firearms before his rampage began. He targeted an elementary school with an active shooter policy that had been deemed adequate but also a long history of doors propped open.

No one was able to stop the gunman from carrying out the deadliest school shooting in Texas history, in part because of “systemic failures and egregious poor decision making” by nearly everyone involved who was in a position of power, a new investigation into the shooting has found.

On Sunday, a Texas House committee is releasing the most exhaustive account yet of the shooter, his planning, his attack and the fumbling response he provoked.

The 77-page report, reviewed by The Texas Tribune, provides a damning portrayal of a family unable to recognize warning signs, a school district that had strayed from strict adherence to its safety plan and a police response that disregarded its own active-shooter training.

It explains how the gunman, who investigators believe had never fired a gun before May 24, was able to stockpile military-style rifles, accessories and ammunition without arousing suspicion from authorities, enter a supposedly secure school unimpeded and indiscriminately kill children and adults.

In total, 376 law enforcement officers — a force larger than the garrison that defended the Alamo — descended upon the school in a chaotic, uncoordinated scene that lasted for more than an hour. The group was devoid of clear leadership, basic communications and sufficient urgency to take down the gunman, the report says.

Notably, the investigation is the first so far to criticize the inaction of state and federal law enforcement, while other reports and public accounts by officials have placed the blame squarely on Uvalde school police Chief Pete Arredondo, for his role as incident commander, and other local police who were among the first to arrive.

The report also reveals for the first time that the overwhelming majority of responders were federal and state law enforcement: 149 were U.S. Border Patrol, and 91 were state police — whose responsibilities include responding to “mass attacks in public places.” There were 25 Uvalde police officers and 16 sheriff’s deputies. Arredondo’s school police force accounted for five of the officers on the scene. The rest of the force was made up of neighboring county law enforcement, U.S. Marshals, and federal Drug Enforcement Agency officers.

The investigators said that in the absence of a strong incident commander, another officer could have — and should have — stepped up to the task.

“These local officials were not the only ones expected to supply the leadership needed during this tragedy,” the report said. “Hundreds of responders from numerous law enforcement agencies — many of whom were better trained and better equipped than the school district police — quickly arrived on the scene.”

The other responders “could have helped to address the unfolding chaos.”

The three committee members — Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock; Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso and former state Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman — said they sought to create a comprehensive account the Legislature can use to craft policies aimed at preventing future massacres. The trio also sought to present an accurate narrative to the public, in contrast to several conflicting and retracted accounts provided by other officials, including the governor and state police, in the seven weeks since the tragedy that have undermined residents’ trust in the ongoing investigations.

They dedicated the document to the 21 people killed in the shooting, and first unveiled their findings during a private meeting with Uvalde residents on Sunday.

“The Committee issues this interim report now, believing the victims, their families, and the entire Uvalde community have already waited too long for answers and transparency,” the report reads.

The report is not yet public, or at least it wasn’t when I drafted this post on Sunday. The chain-of-command failure seems like one for which there ought to be an objective solution, which could be mandated by state law or recommended via a state or federal agency. I mean, we all know there are going to be more of these mass shootings, so the least we can do – the very least we the public can reasonably expect – is that law enforcement agencies have their act together and know who’s in charge when this happens. It makes sense to me that the locals start out in charge, but there ought to be some mechanism and process for either handing that off to another agency or having it taken by them if the situation warrants. I’m no expert and don’t know what the best answer may be, but any idiot can see that what went down in Uvalde was absolutely unacceptable and must not be allowed to happen again.

The report also looked at the shooter, the ways he was failed as a child by those around him, and the warning signs he was giving off before the murders.

A year before the Uvalde school massacre, the gunman had already earned the nickname “school shooter” — a running joke among those he played online games with. He had also started wearing all black and making over-the-top threats, especially toward women, who he terrorized with graphic descriptions of violence and rape.

[…]

Salvador Ramos — who the committee is only referring to as “the attacker” so as to deny him the notoriety and fame he desired — also shot and wounded his grandmother, Celia Gonzales, before storming the school.

He was born in Fargo, North Dakota but moved to Uvalde as a child with his sister and mother, who struggled with a long history of drug use. A former girlfriend interviewed by the FBI said she believed the shooter had been sexually assaulted at an early age by one of the mother’s boyfriends but that she didn’t believe him.

Relatives described him as someone shy and quiet who was reluctant to interact with others because he had a speech impediment. When he started school, his pre-K teacher described him as a “wonderful student,” always ready to learn and with a positive attitude.

Then, something changed. He started falling behind in school but never received special education services, despite being identified as “at-risk” and having someone request speech therapy for him, according to the report, citing school records.

Family and friends told the committee he was bullied throughout the fourth grade over his stutter, short haircut and clothing. He often wore the same clothing day after day. One time, a girl tied his shoelaces together causing him to fall on his face, a cousin said.

Beginning in 2018, he was recording more than 100 absences a year, along with failing grades. But the report authors said it was unclear whether a school resource officer ever visited his home. By 2021, when he was 17 years old, he had only completed ninth grade, the report’s authors wrote.

When students started to return to school following the pandemic, he dropped out. Instead of trying to fit in, as he had done in the past, he grew more isolated and retreated to the online world. Uvalde High School officials involuntarily withdrew him on October 28, citing “poor academic performance and lack of attendance.”

[…]

Online, the report authors said, he started to show an interest in gore and violent sex, sometimes sharing videos and images of suicides and beheadings. He became enraged and threatened others, especially female players, when he lost games.

Privately, he wrote about his challenges connecting with others or feeling empathy for them, saying he was “not human.” His search history, the authors of the report wrote, suggest he was wondering whether he was a sociopath. His internet searches led to him receiving an email about obtaining psychological treatment for the condition.

Attacking women became a pattern. He was also fired from his job at a Whataburger after a month for threatening a female coworker. And later he was let go of his job at Wendy’s.

Despite losing his jobs, living at home allowed him to save money. By the end of 2021, when clues of his plans first surfaced, he ordered rifle slings, a red dot sight and shin guards, as well as a body armor carrier he wore the day of the Robb Elementary massacre. But because he was still 17 at the time, he wasn’t legally allowed to buy the weapons and at least two people he asked refused.

He started becoming fascinated with school shootings and increasingly seeking notoriety and fame on social media, the report said.

[…]

He confided in an older cousin who was also staying with their grandmother that he didn’t want to live anymore. But the cousin told authorities she thought she’d gotten through to him after a lengthy “heart-to-heart.”

Instead, Ramos began to buy more firearm accessories beginning in February, including 60 30-round magazines. As soon as he turned 18, on May 16, he started buying guns and ammunition. In the end he bought two AR-15-style rifles and thousands of rounds. In total, he spent more than $6,000, the committee found.

He had no criminal history nor had he ever been arrested. There was nothing in his background that kept him from owning the weapons. And while multiple gun sales within a short period of time are reported to the ATF, the committee report authors point out that the law only requires purchase of handguns to be reported to the local sheriff.

“Here, the information about the attacker’s gun purchases remained in federal hands,” they wrote.

Online, the shooter started to reference a timeline, foreshadowing his plans.

Emphasis mine. To me, the single biggest failure is that this guy was able to buy all this stuff, without which there could have been no massacre. Why should any minor be able to buy the paraphernalia he bought, and why should anyone at any age be able to buy AR-15s with thousands of rounds of ammunition? I’m not making a constitutional argument here, I’m making a moral one. I say we’d be living in a healthier and safer society right now if no one outside the military had access to such weaponry.

I don’t expect such a statement to be in a report like this, but the much milder suggestion that maybe limiting the sale of most guns and gun accessories to people over the age of 21 is an idea worth exploring would have been appropriate. The longer we refuse to take any kind of proactive steps to reduce mass shootings, the more extreme and extensive the reactive steps we will be forced to take to try to mitigate them. We can fixate all we want on the laxness of door-locking at Robb Elementary, or we can try to make it harder for people to stockpile weapons in sufficient quantities as to intimidate police departments.

Anyway. A brief summary of the highlights from the report is here. The House committee can write a report and make recommendations, but only the Governor can call a special session to pass laws that those recommendations suggest. Don’t expect much of a response from Greg Abbott et al.

UPDATE: Here’s one response: A Uvalde police lieutenant who led the department the day it was part of the fiercely criticized response to the worst school shooting in Texas history has been placed on administrative leave, according to Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin. We’ll see if DPS or any other agency sees similar fallout.

Uvalde video to be released

This is the right thing to do.

Rep. Dustin Burrows

The Texas House committee investigating the Uvalde school shooting plans to release video footage of the incident on Sunday, Rep. Dustin Burrows said.

Burrows, a Lubbock Republican and the committee’s chairman, said Tuesday that “we feel strongly that members of the Uvalde community should have the opportunity to see the video and hear from us before they are made public.”

Burrows will lead a private briefing for victims’ families in Uvalde on Sunday morning, allowing them to see the hallway video from a Robb Elementary School surveillance camera and discuss the committee’s preliminary report.

In the afternoon, the committee will release the video and report to the public and answer questions from reporters. It is making the video footage public over the objection of the Uvalde County district attorney, who had instructed the Department of Public Safety not to provide the video to the committee.

Since last month, the three-person committee, which also includes El Paso Democrat Joe Moody and former Republican state Supreme Court justice Eva Guzman, have interviewed more than a dozen witnesses behind closed doors including law enforcement and school workers.

Their report will be the second investigation into the law enforcement response of the shooting to be made public. Last week, the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center, located at Texas State University in San Marcos, released its comprehensive account of police tactics during the shooting.

The Texas Tribune in June reviewed the hallway surveillance video, the only known footage capturing the entirety of the 77-minute shootout. It depicts police arriving to the scene quickly and approaching two classrooms where the gunman, an 18-year-old Uvalde resident, was shooting students and teachers. The officers retreat after being fired on and do not return for more than an hour, when several breach one of the classrooms and kill the gunman.

See here and here for some background. We know what we know now because of that hallway surveillance video, which basically destroyed the lie that we had initially been told about a brave and forceful law enforcement response. This is now DPS’ video that we’ll be getting, which they have said they’re willing to provide as long as the Uvalde County DA approves. I look forward to seeing what it will show us. The Chron has more.

UPDATE: We didn’t have to wait until the weekend to get a preview of this video. Just reading the opening paragraphs is disturbing, so click with extreme caution. There is still more to come.

Are we going to get law enforcement video from Uvalde or not?

Still waiting.

A bureaucratic spat over whether to release video from inside Robb Elementary School during the May 24 mass shooting grew increasingly complex on Monday after a key Texas state legislator suggested that there was now finally an agreement between law enforcement and local officials to disclose a portion of the footage — only for one of the parties to the supposed agreement to quickly rebuff that claim.

At a hearing in the state capitol in Austin, Rep. Dustin Burrows, the chairman of a special Texas House panel investigating the Robb shooting, announced Monday morning that the Texas Department of Public Safety and the mayor of Uvalde had reached a deal to disclose surveillance video showing officers gathered in the hallway outside of the classroom containing the 21-year-old gunman.

But within hours of Burrows’ comment, the Texas Department of Public Safety gave ABC News a July 8 letter it sent to the chairman informing him that the law enforcement agency could not unilaterally grant his request for the tapes, citing instruction from the Uvalde-area district attorney, Christina Busbee.

“[Busbee] has objected to releasing the video and has instructed us not to do so,” according to the letter, which was signed by DPS Deputy Director Freeman Martin. “As the individual with authority to consider whether any criminal prosecution should result from the events in Uvalde, we are guided by her professional judgment regarding the potential impact of releasing the video.”

After Monday’s hearing concluded, Burrows clarified his earlier comments, telling ABC News, “We’re still working on getting the video released, but no agreements.” Busbee did not immediately respond to ABC News’ requests for comment.

[…]

On Sunday, families of the victims gathered in Uvalde’s town square to voice their frustrations with state and local leaders over their handling of the shooting and subsequent investigations. The event was called The Unheard Voices March & Rally, as a reflection of the sentiment shared by many residents of the small West Texas town.

The public back-and-forth over whether and what investigative evidence to publicly share from inside the school has become a source of conflict between some family members of the victims and officials who claimed to represent their interests. Busbee has said that releasing footage could hinder her ongoing probe into whether the shooting warrants any criminal charges.

Over the weekend, Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin accused Busbee of misleading family members about McLaughlin’s support for releasing certain footage showing the police response during the rampage.

On Friday, McLaughlin affirmed his support for the release of “all videos,” including “the entire 77-minute hallway video … up the moment of the breach.” But less than 24 hours later, he issued a follow-up statement clarifying that he only sought the release of video showing the police response — not any children or any images from the classroom.

In the course of his about-face, McLaughlin claimed that Busbee had been “advising” families of the victims that he supported releasing videos showing deceased children, and accused her of “not telling the truth.”

McLaughlin later told ABC News that video from the hallway inside of Robb would “contradict misconceptions that Uvalde police were the only ones inside with weapons,” and releasing the tape would “provide transparency to everyone.”

See here for the previous update. On the one hand, I don’t care who’s to blame for what didn’t happen in Uvalde. The much bigger problem is the one in which violent 18-year-olds – or anyone really, but let’s focus on what should be the easier bit of this to address – can easily buy guns that can kill a lot of people in a short period of time. That’s not going to be affected by the release of these videos. On the other hand, and at a very basic level, we deserve to know the truth. This was a massive failure, what should be the last time anyone would believe the “good guy with a gun” canard. I don’t want to add to the pain of any Uvalde family members, but I can’t see how what we’re doing now is any better for them. Release the tapes already.

Uvalde mayor disputes report that police missed opportunity to shoot gunman

We’re still arguing over the basic facts of this tragedy.

Uvalde’s mayor on Friday denied a recent report that said a city police officer had an opportunity to shoot the 18-year-old gunman who killed 19 children and two teachers inside Robb Elementary School last month before the gunman entered the school building.

In a written statement, Mayor Don McLaughlin said that no Uvalde police officer saw the shooter before he entered the school and “no Uvalde police officers had any opportunity to take a shot at the gunman.”

“A Uvalde Police Department officer saw someone outside but was unsure of who he saw and observed children in the area as well,” McLaughlin said. “Ultimately, it was a coach with children on the playground, not the shooter.”

McLaughlin’s comments come two days after the release of a report analyzing the law enforcement response to the shooting. The report by staff at the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center at Texas State University in San Marcos said a Uvalde police officer had the gunman in his crosshairs and asked a supervisor for permission to shoot — but the supervisor did not hear the request or responded too late.

ALERRT, created in 2002 to address the need for active-shooter response training for first responders, based its report on an hourlong briefing on June 1 by an investigating officer “with knowledge of the event and investigative details,” the report said. Pete J. Blair, the executive director of ALERRT, told the Tribune in a written statement that the officer was a Texas Ranger.

The report said that the Texas Department of Public Safety reached out to ALERRT soon after the attack “to assess the law enforcement response” and ALERRT staff also reviewed surveillance footage from the school, Google Maps, police body cameras and a brief cellphone video.

Blair said that “ALERRT has not received any information that contradicts what is stated in the report. This is the only officer that we have identified as potentially being able to shoot the attacker before he entered the building.”

Blair also pointed to a finding in the report that says, “Ultimately, the decision to use deadly force always lies with the officer who will use the force. If the officer was not confident that he could both hit his target and of his backdrop if he missed, he should not have fired.”

See here for some background, and this Scott Braddock tweet for a copy of the statement. I’d never heard of ALERRT before this report came out so I don’t know how to evaluate their credibility, but if the source of their information was DPS, well, their credibility ain’t so great on this. Uvalde Mayor McLaughlin certainly has his beef with them. I don’t have any insights to provide here. I just sure would like for all the available relevant information about this massacre to be released to the public so we can all get a better idea of what the truth is, and who has or has not been telling it to us.

I really don’t think that’s too much to ask. You know who could go a long way towards making this happen? Greg Abbott. At the very least, he could state it as a goal, and repeat it as often as necessary. We both know he’s not going to do that.

More on finding Baby Holly

Everything about this story continues to fascinate me.

How did investigators find Holly Marie Clouse?

It all came down to a question about spelling — and a birth certificate.

In January, genealogists identified the bodies of Harold Dean Clouse and Tina Gail Linn, a young couple murdered and whose bodies were dumped in the woods east of Houston back in early 1981.

It was a significant break in a decades-old cold case. But that discovery led to a question — what had happened to the couple’s infant daughter?

The answer would come much more quickly. Last week, six months after the identities of the couple were made public, officials from the Texas Attorney General’s Office announced they’d found Holly, safe and well, living in Oklahoma.

During a brief news conference on June 9, First Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster provided some of the information officials had about what had happened to Holly, saying that two women who identified themselves as “members of a nomadic religious group” left Holly at a church in Arizona.

That meant the child hadn’t been killed alongside her parents and was probably still alive.

Making the connection between the meeting at the church and Holly’s present-day whereabouts in Oklahoma came down to a question about spelling, people familiar with the case said.

After two genealogists identified the remains found in east Harris County as belonging to Dean and Tina, authorities in Lewisville opened up a missing person’s case related to Holly. It would eventually include investigators in Houston, Florida and Arizona.

As investigators and genealogists continued digging back into the case, they weren’t sure of how to spell Holly’s name: relatives had spelled it both as “Hollie” and “Holly.”

That confusion prompted genealogist Allison Peacock and one of Holly’s aunts to request the (now-grown) woman’s birth certificate from the Florida Department of Vital Records.

[…]

Holly — whose last name has changed — has not yet spoken publicly about her experiences. Her adoptive parents are not suspects in her birth parents’ killings, authorities have said.

Peacock, one of the two genealogists who investigated the mystery of Dean and Tina’s identity, said the saga showed the importance of seeking out documents and reviewing the record.

“In our wildest dreams we couldn’t have had any idea Holly’s birth certificate was attached to a legal adoption,” she said. “And certainly that a quest for the proper spelling of Holly’s name — and being a stickler for details — would end up leading to her being found alive and well.”

While two mysteries related to the murders of Tina and Dean have been solved, significant questions remain unanswered: who killed them and what did the killers have to do with the baby being left at a church in Arizona? Or did other people rescue the child and take her to safety?

One significant avenue of investigation that cold case detectives are examining is the group whose members gave Holly up at the church and other contacts the slain couple might have had with a cult or religious group.

See here, here, and here for the background. It took awhile and some political muscle to wrest the birth certificate from Florida because it had an adoption record attached to it. That’s a subject that will deserve a longer examination in the future prestige podcast or HBOMax series that I seriously hope comes out of this. As to tracking down the murder suspects and the weird religious people that dropped Holly off at the church, I have no idea what the prospects are for that. But we’ve come this far, so who knows. I’ll be ready to read about it when the next chapter drops.

Uvalde updates

Too much news, so time for a news dump.

Uvalde shooting victims aren’t getting compensated from state fund as intended, officials say.

Sen. Roland Gutierrez

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez and Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin said Monday that families of the Uvalde shooting victims are experiencing delays in getting compensation benefits from the state and that the compensation has been insufficient.

Gutierrez, whose district includes Uvalde, and McLaughlin are calling on Gov. Greg Abbott to remove Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Mitchell Busbee from overseeing victims’ services and to bring in the Texas Division of Emergency Management instead.

Gutierrez and McLaughlin penned a letter to the governor saying that one Uvalde family was at risk of having the power cut off in their home while their daughter was in the hospital. Other families have been offered compensation of two weeks’ pay, which Gutierrez and McLaughlin called “meager.”

“These families cannot begin to heal unless they are given time to grieve free from financial worry. There is no worse pain imaginable than losing a child. This pain is made all the more severe because of the way these children were killed and injured,” Gutierrez wrote in a statement. “In short, the State of Texas ought to use every available resource in law to make these families whole.”

Local and state officials opened the Uvalde Together Resiliency Center in June to provide long-term support services to Uvalde residents after a gunman killed 19 children and two educators at Robb Elementary on May 24. Resources offered at the center include crisis counseling, behavioral health care and child care services for survivors and first responders.

The governor’s public safety office made an initial $5 million investment to establish the center. It’s unclear how much the state has allocated for victims’ compensation benefits. In announcing the center’s opening, Abbott said the local district attorney would take the initial lead on services, coordinating efforts between local support organizations and state agencies.

[…]

McLaughlin and Gutierrez wrote in their letter that the district’s office is neither equipped nor staffed to provide adequate services.

I guess the reason to funnel these funds through the local DA is because DAs in general handle other victim compensation funds? I’m just guessing, please feel free to enlighten me otherwise. All I can say, speaking as a resident of Houston who lived through Hurricane Harvey, is that the recent track record of running relief funds intended for local recipients through a disconnected outside agency hasn’t been great.

Uvalde Mayor Urges Abbott To Look Into Police ‘Cover-Up’ Of Failed Response To Shooting.

Don McLaughlin, the mayor of Uvalde, Texas, is calling on Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) to address what McLaughlin called a “cover-up” by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) amid scrutiny over law enforcement’s failure to respond to the Robb Elementary School shooting.

McLaughlin told CNN Tuesday that he was writing to Abbott to share his concerns about the DPS’ investigation into the failed response to the massacre, during which more than a dozen children were killed inside two classrooms as multiple armed officers stood outside the hallway and the school building for more than an hour.

“I’m not confident, 100 percent, in DPS because I think it’s a cover-up,” McLaughlin said.

The mayor pointed specifically at DPS Director Steven McCraw, who repeatedly offered conflicting timelines for the attack, fueling already boiling criticism of law enforcement’s lack of transparency in the aftermath of the tragedy.

“McGraw’s covering up for maybe his agencies,” McLaughlin claimed.

The Uvalde leader explained that his growing distrust of the DPS’ investigation is what led him to ask the Justice Department to open its own investigation, which is currently underway.

“I lost confidence because the narrative changed from DPS so many times, and when we asked questions, we weren’t getting answers,” he said.

See here and here for some background. Just a reminder that polling has consistently shown majority disapproval of how Greg Abbott has handled the tragedy in Uvalde, and that DPS is 100% Abbott’s agency, run by one of his top minions.

Speaking of that report: Uvalde officer asked permission to shoot gunman outside school but got no answer, report finds.

An Uvalde police officer asked for a supervisor’s permission to shoot the gunman who would soon kill 21 people at Robb Elementary School in May before he entered the building, but the supervisor did not hear the request or responded too late, according to a report released Wednesday evaluating the law enforcement response to the shooting.

The request from the Uvalde officer, who was outside the school, about a minute before the gunman entered Robb Elementary had not been previously reported. The officer was reported to have been afraid of possibly shooting children while attempting to take out the gunman, according to the report released Wednesday by the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center in San Marcos.

The report provides a host of new details about the May 24 shooting, including several missed opportunities to engage or stop the gunman before he entered the school.

The lack of response to the officer’s request to shoot the suspect outside the school was the most significant new detail that the report revealed.

“A reasonable officer would conclude in this case, based upon the totality of the circumstances, that use of deadly force was warranted,” according to the report. The report referred to the Texas Penal Code, which states an individual is justified in using deadly force when the individual reasonably believes the deadly force is immediately necessary to prevent the commission of murder.

The report said one of the first responding officers — a Uvalde school district police officer — drove through the school’s parking lot “at a high rate of speed” and didn’t spot the gunman, who was still in the parking lot. The report said the officer might have seen the suspect if he had driven more slowly or parked his car at the edge of the school property and approached on foot.

The report also found flaws in how the school maintains security of the building. The report noted that propping doors open is a common practice in the school, a practice that “can create a situation that results in danger to students.” The exterior door the gunman used to enter the school had been propped open by a teacher, who then closed it before the gunman entered — but it didn’t lock properly.

The teacher did not check to see if the door was locked, the report said. The teacher also did not appear to have the proper equipment to lock the door even if she had checked. The report also notes that even if the door had locked properly, the suspect still could have gained access to the building by shooting out the glass in the door.

An audio analysis outlined in the report shows 100 rounds were fired in the first three minutes after the gunman entered rooms 111 and 112 — from 11:33 a.m. to 11:36 a.m.

The report highlighted other issues with the law enforcement response before the gunman — an 18-year-old Uvalde man — entered rooms 111 and 112 for the last time.

The gunman was seen by security cameras entering room 111, then leaving the room, then re-entering the room before officers arrived. The report determined that the lock on room 111 “was never engaged” because the lock required a key to be inserted from the hallway side of the door.

I was not able to find a copy of the report online, so these excerpts are the best we have for now. I can’t imagine what the parents and loved ones of the Uvalde victims are thinking and feeling right now. They were failed in so many ways. The very least we can do for them is give them the truth.

Charges against Judge Jordan dropped

That was quick.

Judge Darrell Jordan

Just four days after being indicted and arrested, Harris County misdemeanor court Judge Darrell Jordan saw an official oppression charge against him dropped.

Fort Bend County prosecutors on Friday announced they were dropping the misdemeanor charge against the judge.

Fort Bend County District Attorney Brian Middleton said that while Jordan was indicted by a grand jury, he didn’t believe his office could prove a crime was committed beyond a reasonable doubt.

“It is important to present cases implicating public integrity to the grand jury, particularly when there is some evidence to support the allegation, because they are representatives of the public,” Middleton said in a statement released after 6 p.m. Friday. “Moreover, it provides due process to the accused and transparency to the public.”

[…]

Middleton said prosecutors need to meet a higher standard when moving a case forward.

“If we believe we cannot prove a charge beyond a reasonable doubt, we have an ethical obligation to dismiss the prosecution,” Middleton said.

His office filed a motion to dismiss the case in Harris County on Friday, he said.

Jordan’s attorney, Marc Carter called Middleton an “honorable man” and said he had believed the district attorney would dismiss the case all along. Jordan is currently deployed with the Texas National Guard, Carter said.

Carter said this week’s incident should remind people about how to behave in a courtroom.

“Contempt is an inherent power judges have to maintain order and decorum in the court,” Carter said “I would advise citizens and officers of the court to abide by the rules of court and maintain decorum to avoid being held in contempt.”

See here and here for the background. Dolcefino was not happy with the decision, which, too bad. I still don’t know any more about this than I did when the news first hit, but it is plausible that the case could have been not very solid, certainly not solid enough to feel confident about getting a guilty verdict. The defense was clear enough, for sure. I hope this is the last we hear of this. I have enough stories to follow.

More on Jordan and Dolcefino

Dolcefino speaks.

Former TV reporter Wayne Dolcefino has called for the resignation of Harris County misdemeanor Judge Darrell Jordan, alleging a personal vendetta led the jurist to wrongly hold him in contempt of court in 2020.

Dolcefino’s demand came after Jordan was arrested Monday and charged with official oppression related to the confrontation. Jordan is accused of using his office to unlawfully arrest and detain the private media consultant, who had arrived at the judge’s court to request public records on one of Jordan’s political allies.

“This guy has no business on the bench,” Dolcefino said. “He doesn’t have the temperament.”

Jordan’s attorney, Marc Carter, denied that the holding in contempt had anything to do with Dolcefino’s investigative efforts. Dolcefino set a confrontational tone in his prior dealings with the judge, and he sought him out in court with a disruptive result, Carter said.

“This prosecution … will have an absurd result and a chilling affect on a judge’s ability to maintain order in their courts,” he said. “It’s absurd to think anyone can walk into a court, disrupt the proceedings and the judge of the court ends up being prosecuted. That’s not a reasonable person’s idea of justice. The DA should exercise discretion and dismiss this case.”

See here for the background. Let’s just pause for a moment and note that Wayne Dolcefino is denigrating someone’s temperament. Okay, moving on.

Video from the incident shows Dolcefino in a mostly empty courtroom, first chatting with court administrators and receiving a hello from the judge. Then he attempted to ask for the status of public corruption complaints he made about multiple Houston and Harris County officials – including Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis, a friend of Jordan’s.

In the video, Jordan told Dolcefino that he couldn’t ask questions, told him to sit down and warned him to stop interrupting proceedings. Dolcefino later shared photos of his arresting restraints.

The case against Jordan was filed with Harris County DA’s Office, which recused itself and asked Fort Bend County District Attorney Brian Middleton to investigate the allegation.

Fort Bend District Attorney spokesperson Wesley Wittig said he couldn’t discuss the facts of the case, or what distinguished oppression from Jordan’s right to hold someone in direct contempt of the court.

“That would require a real detailed explanation in this case, and that’s the exact thing we can’t talk about,” he said.

Jordan contends that Dolcefino was disrupting his court proceedings on Zoom, but the media personality and an appeals court disagreed. The hidden video also made it seem questionable that Jordan had a hearing underway at all – a legal necessity for a contempt finding, said Amanda Peters, professor at South Texas College of Law Houston. Carter disputed that, adding contempt can occur as long as court is in session.

Dolcefino added that his years in journalism taught him proper courtroom etiquette.

“I would have never interrupted a hearing,” he said. “I may be wild and crazy, but I’ve never done that.”

Wrongful contempt cases do occur, but they usually don’t result in legal action against judges, Peters said. A grand jury might have found probable cause in Jordan’s case, however, if they learned of any personal conflict between the judge and former reporter, she said.

“These kind of charges for a judge in Harris County are incredibly rare,” she said.

If there was video of me writing this post, you would have seen my eyebrows nearly exit my forehead as I perused those statements from Dolcefino. At some point, more people will see the video he has, and we’ll go from there.

In the meantime:

Harris County misdemeanor court Judge Darrell Jordan on Thursday was suspended from his bench by the state’s commission on judicial conduct.

The suspension came just days after Jordan was indicted on a misdemeanor charge of official oppression and then arrested.

In a three-paragraph letter addressed to Jordan, the commission said that Jordan would be suspended without pay from his office as Harris County Criminal Court at Law Judge No. 16. The suspension will remain in place until Jordan is either acquitted or the charges are dismissed, according to the letter.

The letter was signed at 4 p.m. Thursday by David Schenk, the chairman of the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct.

Jordan’s attorney, Marc Carter, on Thursday evening confirmed the suspension.

[…]

Carter said the judicial commission was compelled to act because of the indictment. State law require judges to be suspended if they’re indicted on official misconduct charges, he said. The commission itself had received a complaint about Jordan’s contempt charges against Dolcefino and dismissed them, Carter said.

That last sentence suggests one possible reason why it took so long between the incident in question and the indictment. It’s certainly possible that if the Judicial Conduct Commission had sanctioned Judge Jordan for this, then perhaps there would not have been charges filed. Once the commission declined to sanction him, the complaint went to the grand jury. I don’t know if this is how it went, but it is plausible.

Jordan and Dolcefino

I have questions about this.

Judge Darrell Jordan

Darrell William Jordan, a Harris County misdemeanor court judge, on Monday was arrested and charged with of official oppression, according to court records.

Jordan is accused of using his office to unlawfully arrest and detain Wayne Dolcefino, a private media consultant and former TV journalist.

The charge stems from an incident on June 30, 2020, when Dolcefino was jailed in contempt of court by Jordan during a hearing in Harris County Court at Law No. 16.

Jordan accused Dolcefino of attempting to interrupt proceedings in the court by demanding to interview the judge. He jailed Dolcefino after giving him repeated warnings, according to court documents.

Dolcefino was found guilty and sentenced to three days in Harris County Jail, six months of probation and a $500 fine.

Monday’s indictment accuses Jordan of wrongfully holding Dolcefino in contempt or subjecting him to summary punishment and jail without a hearing.

In a 2020 video posted on the Dolcefino Consulting Facebook page after his arrest, Dolcefino revealed that he was wearing a hidden camera during the hearing.

The video shows Dolcefino attempting to ask Jordan about public corruption complaints and public records requests he made about multiple Houston and Harris County officials. In the video, Jordan, who was holding court hearings over Zoom, told Dolcefino that he couldn’t ask questions, told him to sit down and warned him to stop interrupting proceedings.

Court records indicate that the grand jury declined to hand down felony charges related to tampering with records and retaliation.

Jordan was arrested, formally charged and released on Monday evening, he said during a short phone interview with the Houston Chronicle. He directed other questions to his attorney.

Marc Carter, Jordan’s attorney, said the case was filed with Harris County DA’s Office, who recused themselves and asked Fort Bend County District Attorney Brian Middleton to investigate the allegation.

“Judge Jordan is absolutely innocent of any wrongdoing and looks forward to his day in court,” Carter said in a statement released on Monday.

“Contempt is a power given to judges so they can maintain decorum and control court proceedings. Without it the courtroom would be chaos. Litigants, officers of the court, and jurors want judges to be able to control proceedings and when necessary exercise their contempt power.

“This prosecution, if District Attorney Brian Middleton goes forward with it, will have an absurd result and a chilling affect on a judge’s ability to maintain order in their courts. It’s absurd to think anyone can walk into a court, disrupt the proceedings and the judge of the court ends up being prosecuted. That’s not a reasonable person’s idea of justice. The DA should exercise discretion and dismiss this case,” Carter said.

My head is spinning. You might want to read this companion story that gives some background on both Judge Jordan and Wayne Dolcefino, who’s probably a much better-known name among longer-time residents.

Now then. Three basic questions:

1. Contempt of court is a basic power that judges have. Any power can be corrupted, but I don’t see anything in this story that sounds like an extraordinary usage of that power. Maybe that hidden camera video is more damning than the story suggests, I don’t know. If I didn’t know anything else about this, I’d be wondering what exactly the beef was.

2. The incident in question took place two years ago. I know that investigations can take time, and I know that COVID has caused backlogs in the court system. But seriously, two years? What in the heck caused this to take so long to get to this point?

3. You may be wondering why Kim Ogg farmed this out to the Fort Bend County DA. My answer when I first read this is because Wayne Docefino worked for her campaign in both 2014 and 2016 – I saw him and talked to him at a couple of campaign events, and I have some press releases and other things that he sent out in my mailbox from that time. The second story indicates that Ogg and Dolcefino apparently had a falling out after that, which just makes this all messier. Whatever the merits of the case against Jordan, Ogg’s recusal was clearly the right thing to do.

At this point, I have no idea what else to say. I’m going to wait and see what happens. If you have some inside scoop on this, by all means please let me know.

DAs are not going to be able to avoid enforcing anti-abortion laws

I appreciate the sentiment, but that’s not how it works.

Even before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on Friday, local prosecutors in several of the largest Texas counties vowed not to file criminal charges in abortion-related cases, seemingly offering hope for those seeking a way around the state’s impending abortion ban.

But those counties are unlikely to serve as abortion safe havens in post-Roe Texas, legal experts and abortion rights advocates say, largely because clinics still face the threat of legal retribution even in counties with sympathetic district attorneys. And the penalty for those who continue offering the procedure is steep — up to life in prison and at least $100,000 in fines under Texas’ so-called trigger law, which will soon outlaw nearly all abortions, starting at fertilization.

While Attorney General Ken Paxton cannot unilaterally prosecute criminal cases unless authorized by a local prosecutor, he is free to do so for civil matters anywhere in Texas. That means district attorneys may shield clinics and physicians from the trigger law’s criminal penalty of a first- or second-degree felony, but Paxton could still target them for six-figure civil fines, said Sandra Guerra Thompson, a law professor at the University of Houston.

She also noted that abortion providers could be found criminally liable if an incumbent district attorney reconsiders or is replaced by a successor who wants to pursue abortion-related charges.

The trigger law, which takes effect 30 days after a Supreme Court judgment overturning Roe v. Wade, makes no exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, nor for severe fetal abnormalities. It carries narrow exemptions for abortion patients placed at risk of death or “substantial impairment of a major bodily function.”

Still, some prosecutors could begin pursuing criminal charges immediately based on Texas statutes that pre-dated Roe but were never repealed by the Legislature, Paxton said Friday. Those laws prohibit all abortions except “for the purpose of saving the life of the mother.”

In any case, it’s unlikely that abortion providers will take the risk. They are already bound by the state’s six-week abortion ban, which allows people anywhere in the country to sue providers or those who help someone access the procedure in Texas after fetal cardiac activity is detected. Successful litigants win damages of at least $10,000 under the law.

We’ve discussed this before. There are things that cities and individuals can do to hinder law enforcement or prosecutorial efforts to enforce anti-abortion laws, but one way or another they are going to be enforced, very likely via increasingly intrusive and draconian means. If somehow local DAs refuse to pursue cases, the Lege will change the law to go around them, either to the Attorney General or to neighboring counties – Briscoe Cain is already planning to file bills to that effect. We can’t succeed at this level. The only way to fight it is to have power at the state level, and that’s going to mean winning statewide races and/or winning enough seats in the Lege to take a majority in the House. Even that is at best a defensive position – we are not taking over the Senate, not even in the most wildly optimistic scenario I can imagine – but it’s the best we can do, and it would definitely reduce the harm that is otherwise coming.

One more thing:

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg also slammed the Supreme Court decision, arguing that the “criminalization of reproductive health will cause great harm to women in America.” While she added that “prosecutors and police have no role in matters between doctors and patients,” she stopped short of a blanket vow to not prosecute alleged violations of state abortion laws.

“As in every case, we will evaluate the facts and make decisions on a case-by-case basis,” said Ogg, a Democrat.

I’m including this because as far as I can tell it’s the first time Ogg has spoken publicly about the coming anti-abortion enforcement wave. I seriously doubt that Kim Ogg will want to pursue any cases that are filed with her office, but I also doubt that she’ll just ignore them. Maybe she’ll take a broad “prosecutorial discretion” stance, but again, if she does and if nothing changes with the November elections, that discretion will be taken away from her. There just isn’t much she or anyone in her position can do about this. We need to be clear about that.

Lock Louie up

He believes he committed at least one federal crime. Who are we to disbelieve him?

U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert was one of a handful of Republicans in Congress who asked former President Donald Trump for a pardon after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, according to testimony shown by the House committee investigating the insurrection.

Witnesses told the committee that the president had considered offering pardons to several individuals, said U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a Republican on the committee.

Cassidy Hutchison, who served as an aide to former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said in recorded testimony shown Thursday that the Tyler Republican was one of the members who had sought a pardon. Others included U.S. Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida, Mo Brooks of Alabama, Andy Biggs of Arizona and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania.

“The only reason I know to ask for a pardon is because you think you’ve committed a crime,” Kinzinger said.

Gohmert did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

What could he possibly say? His actions speak for themselves. Over to you, Justice Department.

Uvalde versus DPS

Someone’s not happy.

Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin on Tuesday accused state authorities of selectively releasing information about last month’s school shooting to scapegoat local law enforcement and intentionally leaving out details about the state’s response to the massacre.

New details emerged this week about the timeline of the shooting based on surveillance video from the school’s hallways and a transcript of officers’ body cameras. The records show that officers might not have attempted to open the doors of the classrooms where the gunman had holed up with victims. During a state Senate committee held earlier Tuesday, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw told lawmakers that law enforcement’s response to the Uvalde school shooting was an “abject failure.”

McLaughlin lambasted McCraw for what he described as a selective release of information about the investigation, focusing on blaming local law enforcement and leaving out the role of McCraw’s agency during the shooting.

“McCraw has continued to, whether you want to call it, lie, leak … mislead or misstate information in order to distance his own troopers and rangers from the response,” McLaughlin said Tuesday evening.

McLaughlin said none of the entities with information about the investigation into the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School — DPS, the Texas Legislature, the Uvalde County District Attorney’s office and the FBI — have briefed Uvalde city officials about their findings.

McLaughlin said he had been asked to refrain from sharing details about the investigation while it was ongoing but said Tuesday he would now start releasing that information as it became available to city officials.

“The gloves are off. If we know it, we will share it,” he said.

McLaughlin’s comments at a special City Council meeting seemed to contradict a press release issued just hours before, in which the mayor had said city officials would refrain from commenting on the investigation “or reacting to every story attributed to unnamed sources or sources close to the investigation.”

I mean, Steve McCraw put all the blame on Pete Arredondo, so it’s not a big surprise that Uvalde’s mayor didn’t care for that. As a reminder, McLaughlin is the guy who got all mad at Beto O’Rourke when O’Rourke interrupted Greg Abbott’s press conference – you know, the one he held just before he headed out for a big fundraiser – to demand that Abbott do something in response to the massacre. This was back when Abbott and DPS were praising Arredondo and Uvalde police for their response, which is to say, back before any of the truth started coming out. McCraw, meanwhile, is a longtime hatchet man for Abbott and Rick Perry before him, and deserves exactly zero benefit of the doubt. This is a fight where you can root for both sides to lose with a clear conscience.

The real issue here is the coordinated resistance to releasing data about the police response to the mass shooting. This is the appropriate response to that.

Sen. Roland Gutierrez

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde, is suing the Texas Department of Public Safety over records related to the deadly shooting at Robb Elementary last month.

“In the wake of the senseless tragedy, the people of Uvalde and Texas have demanded answers from their government. To date, they have been met with lies, misstatements, and shifts of blame,” Gutierrez said in a lawsuit filed Wednesday.

State and local Uvalde officials have fought the release of records that could provide clarity around the botched emergency response to the shooting that killed 19 children and two educators. Law enforcement responding to the shooting waited more than an hour on the scene before breaking into the classroom to kill the shooter.

Gutierrez said he filed an open records request on May 31 for documentation about police presence and ballistics at the shooting, and he still has not received a response. Per state law, DPS had 10 business days to either respond or make a case to the attorney general.

[…

Abbott’s office on Tuesday said all information related to the shooting has been shared with the public or is in the expedited process of being released. Full results of the ongoing investigation by the Texas Rangers and the FBI will also be made public, according to the governor’s office.

That same day, Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin said city officials have been left out of briefings related to the investigation from entities, such as DPS, the Texas Legislature, the Uvalde County District Attorney’s office and the FBI.

Sen. Gutierrez’s press release is here and a copy of the lawsuit is here. I cannot wait to see what response the defendants make to this. The Chron has more.

UPDATE: Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District police Chief Pete Arredondo has been placed on administrative leave by the district.

DPS pins the blame on Arredondo

Look out for that bus!

Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw told a state Senate committee Tuesday that the law enforcement response to the Uvalde school shooting was an “abject failure” and police could have stopped the shooter at Robb Elementary School three minutes after arriving were it not for the indecisiveness of the on-scene commander, who placed the lives of officers before those of children.

McCraw said the inexplicable conduct by Uvalde school district police Chief Pete Arredondo was antithetical to two decades of police training since the Columbine High School massacre, which dictates that officers confront active shooters as quickly as possible.

“The officers had weapons; the children had none,” McCraw said. “The officers had body armor; the children had none. The officers had training; the subject had none. One hour, 14 minutes and 8 seconds. That’s how long children waited, and the teachers waited, in Room 111 to be rescued.”

The revelations detailed by McCraw completed a remarkable shift in the police response narrative state officials have given since the May 24 shooting. Twenty-seven days after Gov. Greg Abbott said the shooting “could have been worse” but for officers who showed “amazing courage by running toward gunfire,” his state police director described stunning police incompetence that bordered on cowardice.

[…]

McCraw said though the state police are a far larger agency than the six-person Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District department, Arredondo was the rightful incident commander because he was the most senior first responder who had immediate jurisdiction over the district’s campuses. He said Arredondo could have transferred command to another agency, such as state troopers who arrived, but never did so.

Acting against the orders of an incident commander during an emergency can be dangerous and chaotic, McCraw said, responding to a question about why his troopers did not take charge. But he said the failure of one police agency means all law enforcement performed unacceptably that day.

The story notes the comparison of what Arredondo had said to more recent reporting; you can also see a list of places where the two accounts differ in this subsequent Trib story. One almost feels a little sorry for Arredondo. The main question I have at this point is what if anything are we going to do about this? Forget about adopting any kind of gun safety measures, which Greg Abbott will not do, are we interested in any laws that might prevent, or at least disincentivize, police behavior like what we got in Uvalde when the next mass shooting (whether at a school or not) occurs? One possibility I can think of that also will never pass through a Republican legislative chamber is to dial back qualified immunity for law enforcement officers, at least in this kind of circumstance. If the next Pete Arredondo has to worry about getting his ass sued for taking no action at the next gun massacre, maybe he’ll be more inclined towards action. Whether that might end up as a net positive or not, I can’t say. But it’s at least something we could talk about doing, rather than just talk. And someone else, maybe even someone with actual expertise in the matter, may have better ideas. Reform Austin and the Chron have more.

What were Uvalde police actually doing at Robb Elementary?

I’ll say it again: The more we learn about the law enforcement response to the Uvalde massacre, the worse it looks.

Surveillance footage shows that police never tried to open a door to two classrooms at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde in the 77 minutes between the time a gunman entered the rooms and massacred 21 people and officers finally breached the door and killed him, according to a law enforcement source close to the investigation.

Investigators believe the 18-year-old gunman who killed 19 children and two teachers at the school on May 24 could not have locked the door to the connected classrooms from the inside, according to the source.

All classroom doors at Robb Elementary are designed to lock automatically when they close and can only be locked or unlocked from the outside with a key, the source said. Police might have assumed the door was locked. Yet the surveillance footage suggests gunman Salvador Ramos, 18, was able to open the door to classroom 111 and enter with assault-style rifle — perhaps because the door malfunctioned, the source said.

Another door led to classroom 112.

Ramos entered Robb Elementary at 11:33 a.m. that day through an exterior door that a teacher had pulled shut but that didn’t lock automatically as it was supposed to, indicating another malfunction in door locks at the school.

Police finally breached the door to classroom 111 and killed Ramos at 12:50 p.m. Whether the door was unlocked the entire time remains under investigation.

Regardless, officers had access the entire time to a “halligan” — a crowbar-like tool that could have opened the door to the classrooms even if it was locked, the source said.

[…]

Days after the massacre, Col. Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said at a news conference that “each door can lock from the inside” and that when Ramos went in, “he locked the door.” That information was preliminary, the source said, and further investigation has yielded new revelations about the door.

That’s the last paragraph of the story, which was published on Saturday with a note at the end that it’s developing and will be updated. Late yesterday, the Trib published this:

For this article, the Tribune reviewed a timeline of events compiled by law enforcement, plus surveillance footage and transcripts of radio traffic and phone calls from the day of the shooting. The details were confirmed by a senior official at the Department of Public Safety. The investigation is still in the early stages, and the understanding of what happened could still change as video records are synched and enhanced. But current records and footage show a well-equipped group of local officers entered the school almost immediately that day and then pulled back once the shooter began firing from inside the classroom. Then they waited for more than an hour to reengage.

“They had the tools,” said Terry Nichols, a former Seguin police chief and active-shooter expert. “Tactically, there’s lots of different ways you could tackle this. … But it takes someone in charge, in front, making and executing decisions, and that simply did not happen.”

Here are some key findings from these records and materials:

  • No security footage from inside the school showed police officers attempting to open the doors to classrooms 111 and 112, which were connected by an adjoining door. Arredondo told the Tribune that he tried to open one door and another group of officers tried to open another, but that the door was reinforced and impenetrable. Those attempts were not caught in the footage reviewed by the Tribune. Some law enforcement officials are skeptical that the doors were ever locked.
  • Within the first minutes of the law enforcement response, an officer said the Halligan (a firefighting tool that is also sometimes spelled hooligan) was on site. It wasn’t brought into the school until an hour after the first officers entered the building. Authorities didn’t use it and instead waited for keys.
  • Officers had access to four ballistic shields inside the school during the standoff with the gunman, according to a law enforcement transcript. The first arrived 58 minutes before officers stormed the classrooms. The last arrived 30 minutes before.
  • Multiple Department of Public Safety officers — up to eight, at one point — entered the building at various times while the shooter was holed up. Many quickly left to pursue other duties, including evacuating children, after seeing the number of officers already there. At least one of the officers expressed confusion and frustration about why the officers weren’t breaching the classroom, but was told that no order to do so had been given.
  • At least some officers on the scene seemed to believe that Arredondo was in charge inside the school, and at times Arredondo seemed to be issuing orders such as directing officers to evacuate students from other classrooms. That contradicts Arredondo’s assertion that he did not believe he was running the law enforcement response. Arredondo’s lawyer, George E. Hyde, did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

You can read the rest and get mad all over again. It seems clear why there’s such a wave of resistance to releasing official information about what happened in Uvalde. We can at least be glad that there are plenty of people who will leak info to the press, because otherwise we’d still be talking about what a bunch of damn heroes these guys were supposed to have been.