K-Mart lawsuits: Still proceeding

Another request by the city of Houston to throw out ten remaining lawsuits stemming from the infamous 2002 K-Mart Kiddie Roundup has been denied by the judge.

In a decision this week, [U.S. District Judge Nancy] Atlas wrote that the more than 100 plaintiffs could sue about whether the Houston Police Department had a “custom of mass detention without individualized reasonable suspicion.”

A mediation is scheduled in the coming weeks. Without settlements, a joint trial is set for April 14. Other plaintiffs already settled with the city.

In 2005, the judge ruled that the police plan that led to the mass arrests was unconstitutional. In a scathing opinion, she called HPD tactics to detain and arrest people who were not observed violating the law “an unjustified, almost totalitarian, regime of suspicionless stops.”

Civil rights lawsuits were filed after almost 300 people were arrested in August 2002 during a surprise raid on the Kmart parking lot in the 8400 block of Westheimer. The HPD operation was an attempt to combat street racing.

All of the cases name former HPD Chief Clarence C.O. Bradford, who is running as a Democrat for Harris County District Attorney, and allege he knew about the plan. The lawsuits also accused police of brandishing pistols and shotguns and verbal use during the incident.

Most of those arrested were charged with trespassing or curfew violations, but none was accused of street racing. The charges were dropped after public outcry. Three years later, Atlas said the city’s efforts to shut down street racing that summer were unconstitutional.

In court filings, the city tried to avoid trial by arguing that issue was not the mass detentions, but the department’s plan to pursue racing spectators through the use of trespassing laws.


The plaintiffs claimed that HPD maintained a pattern of mass detentions dating back to 1989. But in the most recent ruling, Atlas said those cases were not sufficiently similar to the incident in 2002.

She is allowing the plaintiffs to continue their cases on the disputed facts of the custom during the summer of 2002.

The judge also wrote that there is a genuine dispute about then-Chief Bradford’s knowledge about that summer’s plan.

Bradford lost his appeal of Atlas’ decision to keep him as a defendant in the lawsuits.

You can peruse all my archives on this here. I thought back in 2005 that we’d never see these cases go to court, but that they’d all get settled one way or another. Looks like I may be proved wrong about that in two months. I presume the plaintiffs will get former HPD Captain Mark Aguirre to testify against his erstwhile boss. That ought to make for some compelling action. I don’t know how credible he’ll be – he wasn’t particularly credible at the time; the cross-examination ought to be a doozy – but I’m sure he’ll land a few blows, and he’ll enjoy the heck out of doing so. Stock up on the popcorn now, and we’ll see how it goes.

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One Response to K-Mart lawsuits: Still proceeding

  1. Baby Snooks says:

    The law is the law. And the law shouldn’t be allowed to stand above the law.

    Nancy Atlas is one of the few federal judges we have who firmly believes that.

    Even the best police chiefs make wrong decisions and of course while some may believe this is an issue that will negatively impact C.O. Bradford’s race for district attorney, interestingly the raids themselves were appealing at the time to people in West Houston who believe in some cases the end justifies the means in terms of addressing crime. So he may pick up Republican votes in West Houston as a result.

    In any case, no doubt it will be added to the “circus maximus” of the race for district attorney.

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