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Justice Department probing RealPage

Possibly good news for renters.

The Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division has opened an investigation into whether rent-setting software made by Richardson-based tech company RealPage is facilitating collusion among landlords, ProPublica reported.

The inquiry is being launched as questions have arisen about a 2017 merger between RealPage and its largest pricing competitor. A source with knowledge of the matter told ProPublica that some DOJ staff raised concerns about the merger but were overridden by political appointees of former President Donald Trump.

Congressional leaders have pushed for an investigation into RealPage in three letters to the DOJ and the Federal Trade Commission, which were sent after a ProPublica report on the software’s use in mid-October.

The letters raised concerns that RealPage’s pricing software could be pushing rents above competitive levels and allowing big landlords to coordinate their pricing in violation of federal antitrust laws.

“We are concerned that the use of this rate setting software essentially amounts to a cartel to artificially inflate rental rates in multifamily residential buildings,” three senators said in a letter in early November. They included Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the Minnesota Democrat who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust and Consumer Rights.

The Capital Forum first reported the existence of the investigation.

RealPage’s software works by collecting information from property managers who are the company’s clients, including what rents they are able to charge tenants. That information is fed into an algorithm that then recommends prices daily for each available apartment.

Though RealPage says the information is aggregated and anonymized, some experts have said using private data from competitors to set rents could run afoul of antitrust laws, allowing property managers to illegally coordinate their pricing.

[…]

The DOJ’s investigation represents the second time the federal law enforcement agency has looked into RealPage’s rent-setting software. In 2017, the DOJ flagged a proposed merger in which RealPage sought to buy its biggest competitor, a company called Rainmaker Group, which made rent-setting software known as LRO, or Lease Rent Options.

RealPage’s then-CEO Steve Winn said the $300 million purchase would allow RealPage to double the number of apartments it was pricing from 1.5 million to 3 million units. RealPage was sold in 2020 to private equity firm Thoma Bravo in a $10 billion deal.

After the acquisition was announced in early 2017, the DOJ requested additional information from the companies involved. Federal regulators scrutinize mergers above a certain size — right now, it is transactions valued at $101 million — and typically allow them to proceed after only a preliminary review.

But the government can request more information from companies and even seek to block the merger in court if it believes it could substantially harm competition.

A paralegal specialist who worked on the original DOJ probe into RealPage said it was narrowly focused on the impact on competitors who made software with a similar purpose. The paralegal said she was unaware of any complaints by those companies about the proposed merger.

See here for some background, and that linked Pro Publica story for more on this investigation. My earlier post is about a lawsuit filed by a group of renters over RealPage’s pricing algorithms. It’s not totally clear to me what the Justice Department could do at this time, but let’s see what they find now that they’re looking. I suspect any real action would have to be legislative, and for obvious reasons that won’t happen anytime soon. At least the issue is getting some publicity.

Trump judge blocks student loan forgiveness order

Same crap, different day.

A federal judge in North Texas ruled on Thursday that President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness program is “unlawful,” the latest challenge to the policy that has seen several attacks from conservative groups.

U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman said in court files that he declared the loan forgiveness plan unlawful because Biden did not follow federal procedures to allow for public comment prior to the policy’s announcement.

In October, the Job Creators Network Foundation filed the lawsuit in the North Texas court on behalf of two borrowers who don’t qualify for all of the program’s benefits. Those borrowers disagreed with the program’s eligibility criteria and the lawsuit alleged that they could not voice their disagreement.

The latest attack on Biden’s loan forgiveness programs comes after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit temporarily halted the program last month in response to a lawsuit from six GOP-led states. The Texas lawsuit joins a growing number of legal challenges to the loan forgiveness plan that Biden announced in August. Borrowers started applying for the program in October.

[…]

The Texas lawsuit alleges that Biden’s program violated the Administrative Procedure Act by not providing a public comment period. The lawsuit also argues the Secretary of Education does not have the authority to implement the program.

Alexander Taylor, one of the plaintiffs, is not eligible for $20,000 in forgiveness because he did not receive a Pell Grant, which is only available to low-income students, and therefore will only be entitled to $10,000 off his student loans.

The other plaintiff, Myra Brown, has privately held loans that are no longer covered by Biden’s plan. Earlier in the program’s existence, commercially held loans like Brown’s could be consolidated into Direct Loans, which meet the eligibility requirements of Biden’s program, but the Education Department changed this policy after fielding multiple lawsuits from conservative states.

In response to the lawsuit, the Justice Department argued last month that Biden’s plan doesn’t require notice and comment.

I guess we should be thankful that this is based on a colorable legal claim, one that at least theoretically could be addressed in a subsequent order if it came to that, and not on some bullshit Constitutional theory invented last week by a drone in a Federalist Society lab. It’s still the case that every two-bit Trump-appointed or adjacent district judge thinks they have a national veto on anything the President does, and that’s not how this is supposed to work. It really would be nice if we could restore a little balance here.

What AG “task force”?

Who knows?

Best mugshot ever

The fact that Paxton – who helped lead the charge to overturn the 2020 national election results and promoted false claims that it was stolen – now planned to send people from his office to monitor Harris County elections was seen as an intimidation tactic by local Democrats and non-partisan voting rights organizations. Several implored the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to send federal election monitors to watch the state election monitors, a request the federal government has since granted.

But for all the attention on the effort in the lead up to Election Day, very little was actually known about it. Who was on the task force and how big was the operation? What exactly would they be doing? Where in Harris County would they be stationed? Here’s what the Chronicle was able to learn.

[…]

Has anyone in Harris County seen or interacted with members of Paxton’s task force?

Spokespeople for the Republican and Democratic parties in Harris County reached out to their teams that manage election workers to ask this same question. They said nobody on their team had reported any interactions from Paxton’s office yet.

“Imagine they’re here, but no reports that I’ve heard yet,” said Genevieve Carter, the Republican Party spokesman in Harris County, in a text message.

“Just checked with our elections folks,” Elisha Rochford, of the Democratic Party in Harris County, wrote in a text. “We have not heard anything about the AG’s office task force being in HC. We haven’t had any election workers report seeing anyone from AG.”

Alan Vera, a well-known conservative activist who has made numerous complaints about election problems in Harris County, said “I have not heard from anyone.”

Paul Bettencourt, a Republican state senator from Houston who has often complained about how Harris County administers elections, said he wasn’t aware of a team being sent to Houston from Paxton’s office. He said he would make some calls, but didn’t learn anything more. He said he believes the AG’s office is working with the Secretary of State’s office “remotely.”

Does the task force actually exist?

The Chronicle wasn’t able to find any evidence of a team from the attorney general’s office dispatched to Harris County.

See here, here, and here for the background. I don’t know if there was ever supposed to be a real “task force”. Maybe it was but it failed to materialize due to incompetence, laziness, or a lack of employees. Maybe it was always a stunt. Maybe it was 11-dimensional chess intended to mess with our minds and get the feds all scurrying about, in which case, mission accomplished, I guess. All I know is that the absence of Ken Paxton is always better than the alternative, so I’m going to chalk this up as a win.

Justice Department agrees to send election monitors

Good.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced Monday it will send election monitors to three Texas counties — Harris, Dallas and Waller — to keep an eye on local compliance with federal voting rights laws on Election Day.

Monitors from the Justice Department are regularly deployed across the country for major elections, with Texas counties making the list for at least the past decade under both Democratic and Republican administrations. The three Texas counties are among 64 jurisdictions in 24 states that will have a federal presence Tuesday.

The department did not specify how it made its selections for monitoring, though Harris and Waller counties have made the list in the last four presidential and midterm elections. Harris and Dallas are the state’s largest and second-largest counties. Rural Waller County is home to Prairie View A&M University, a historically Black campus.

Voters can send complaints on possible violations of federal law to the DOJ through its website or by calling 800-253-3931. Polls open at 7 a.m. on Election Day.

See here and here for the background. When Ken Paxton and his minions are involved, you need all the help you can get. And while the early voting period was pretty calm, we know there’s a lot of bad stuff lurking. I feel better having these folks in the city. Politico and the Press have more.

Army Corps ordered to pay $550K to reservoir flooding victims

This could turn into a lot more if it is upheld.

More than five years after their homes and businesses were flooded, residents above the Addicks and Barker dams are learning how much money the federal government owes them for damage from Houston’s overflowing reservoirs.

A federal judge last week ruled that the owners of six upstream properties flooded during Hurricane Harvey should collectively receive nearly $550,000. The six were chosen — jointly by Justice Department lawyers and attorneys for hundreds of property owners — as test cases in a massive case initiated just moths after the historic deluge.

The decision could open the door to thousands more judgments for property owners and could result in the government paying out tens of millions more dollars, attorneys for the flooded residents said Wednesday.

The case falls under a special jurisdiction that oversees so called “takings” cases, involving allegations the government temporarily took control of private land for a legitimate purpose. If the court’s ruling survives anticipated appeals by the Justice Department, it could become the largest government takings case in U.S. history, according to attorneys representing property owners.

A ruling is still pending for separate group of residents and business owners whose properties flooded when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the Addicks and Barker floodgates. The downstream property owners saw their claims dismissed in 2020, but in June a federal appeals court reversed the dismissal and remanded it to the lower court for further proceedings.

[…]

After the storm, more than 1,600 businesses and homeowners sued the Army Corps in the specialized U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C., contending the government intentionally planned for the reservoirs to flood their land. In 2019, U.S. Judge Charles F. Lettow ruled government officials had knowingly and intentionally used private property to store rising floodwaters.

Then, in separate hearings, Lettow set about assessing how much money these property owners were owed. On Oct. 28, Lettow ruled on damages, laying out explicitly how much some property owners were owed for decreases in their property values, the damage or destruction of their personal property and the costs of being displaced by the floods.

“The plaintiffs are entitled to just compensation for the permanent flowage easement the government took through its construction, maintenance, and operation of the Addicks and Barker Dams,” Lettow wrote.

The six property owners included homeowners and owners of rental properties. The decision in these test cases will trigger a process for Lettow to assess how much compensation property owners might be owed in thousands of other complaints. If Lettow’s standard is applied to all the upstream homes and businesses believed to be flooded, the total compensation would top $1 billion, according to Daniel Charest, a lead attorney for the upstream plaintiffs.

Charest said he expected the Department of Justice to file an appeal within the next 60 days and will likely challenge property owners’ rights to damages.

See here for the previous update, and here for more on the other lawsuit. I have no idea what will happen with this on appeal, but note that we are five full years out from Hurricane Harvey, and the appellate process hasn’t actually started yet. Settle in the the long haul, is what I’m saying.

Harris County asks for federal vote monitors

I agree with this.

Houston and Harris County officials are asking the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division to send monitors to assist in the upcoming November election in response to a letter the county received from the Texas secretary of state’s office this week informing it that state election observers would be monitoring the county’s election and vote tally.

The request to the federal agency was sent Thursday by County Judge Lina Hidalgo, County Attorney Christian Menefee and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.

In a statement, Menefee questioned the state’s intentions in sending election monitors to the county.

“We cannot allow unwarranted disruptions in our election process to intimidate our election workers or erode voters’ trust in the election process,” Menefee said. “As the county attorney, I will be at central count on Election Night, ensuring outside forces do not interfere with our elections. I hope the Department of Justice will be there, too.”

[…]

In response to the local leaders’ request for federal election monitors, the secretary of state’s office said in a statement that suggestions made by local leaders were a “cynical distortion of the law.”

The office reiterated that its decision to send monitors to Harris County was a matter of routine.

“The Texas secretary of state’s office has sent election inspectors to Harris County every year and has never before seen a request for the Department of Justice to ‘monitor the monitors,’” the statement said. “This request is based on a completely false premise and misunderstanding of Texas election law and is being used to spread false information about the actual duties of our election inspectors — dedicated public servants who will be present in Harris County to observe only and to ensure transparency in the election process from beginning to end.”

Mary Benton, the mayor’s communications director, said: “Mayor Turner welcomes a discussion with the U.S. Department of Justice. He is confident that if they send election monitors to Harris County, they will operate effectively to ensure that no registered voter’s rights are trampled on as they attempt to cast a ballot legally.”

See here for the background. I don’t care if the SOS is miffed about this, but even if we take them at their word there’s still the Attorney General’s “task force”, which absolutely cannot be trusted and needs to be watched like a tachyon in a particle accelerator. This was absolutely the right move. Reform Austin and the Texas Signal have more.

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.

Of course the redistricting lawsuit trial will be delayed

All we ever get is delays.

The legal fight over the shape of Texas political representation for the next decade won’t be decided until next year after a federal panel agreed Tuesday to delay a trial over new political maps.

The federal three-judge panel hearing the case pushed the start of the trial, which was originally scheduled for Sept. 28, following a flurry of disputes over discovery that left both the state and the various plaintiff groups questioning whether they’d have enough time to prepare to make their cases in a federal court in El Paso.

The court said it would announce a new trial at a later time.

The maps passed by the Legislature in 2021 have already gone into effect and are being used for the first time in this year’s elections, but the litigation could decide whether those maps need to be changed to ensure that voters of color have a fair say in choosing their representatives in elections for years to come.

The state faces a broad catalog of challenges to its four political maps, including its congressional and statehouse maps, that could affect a litany of districts. The legal claims, stemming from nearly a dozen consolidated lawsuits, include allegations of intentional discrimination, vote dilution and racial gerrymandering. The Republican-drawn maps largely serve to bolster the party’s dominance, giving white voters greater control of political districts throughout the state.

At issue in the delay were ongoing fights to compel Gov. Greg Abbott, the Texas attorney general’s office and other Republican elected officials to turn over thousands of documents that the state has been fighting to keep concealed. With less than a month until the scheduled start of the trial, the state and the plaintiffs groups were also jostling over various depositions in which state lawmakers relied on asserting legislative privilege to avoid divulging information on how the maps were drafted.

Redistricting cases are complex, with plaintiffs carrying the burden of proving wrongdoing by the state. The release of the disputed documents, the plaintiffs argued, could reveal new facts that could require additional depositions.

“Were the September 28 trial setting to hold, the Court could rule in advance of the upcoming legislative session. This would have been a clear benefit to all parties. But a ruling on only partial evidence does justice for none,” some of the plaintiffs wrote in a joint advisory filed with the court last week.

But the delay is not without risk.

This is the joint lawsuit with multiple plaintiffs; the Justice Department lawsuit, which survived a motion to dismiss in June, is being heard separately. The plaintiffs in this lawsuit scored a couple of wins recently relating to documents that must be disclosed to them. Those rulings obviously weren’t the end of the dispute, and so we have delays. The risk mentioned is that a final ruling would not be made in time for the Lege to make any required adjustments to the maps for the 2024 election. Remember, unless the primaries get moved back, which would affect the Presidential races, we need maps by October or so, to accommodate filing season and any updates that county election officials need to make. That’s not a lot of time. We’ll see when the new trial date is scheduled, but keep that time frame in mind. Unless we want to wait until 2026 – which, as we know from previous decades’ experience, is hardly out of the norm – the clock is very much ticking.

People who live in crime-filled houses should not throw stones

Local idiot megachurch pastor Ed Young recently said some typically ignorant and politically-charged things, which has people justifiably upset. Not the first time for him, either. I have better things to do than think about Ed Young, so let me just note one thing from that story:

Young, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, leads one of the country’s biggest churches, touting a membership of 80,000 across several locations as of 2019. His congregants include Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other Texas lawmakers.

Former President of the Southern Baptist Convention, you say? Where have I seen that name in the very recent news?

Federal investigators are probing the Southern Baptist Convention over its handling of sexual abuse following the publication of an explosive report that found top officials had for two decades silenced abuse survivors and fought reforms out of fears of lawsuits, leaders of the nation’s second-largest faith group said on Friday.

In a statement, the SBC’s top leadership body, the Executive Committee, confirmed that the Department of Justice is looking into “multiple” Southern Baptist entities.

The statement was signed by all of the leaders of the SBC’s seminaries and main entities. They said they will cooperate fully with the criminal investigation and “continue to grieve and lament past mistakes.”

[…]

The SBC’s handling of abuse has been in the public spotlight since 2019, when the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News published the first of an ongoing series, Abuse of Faith, that found hundreds of church leaders and volunteers had been convicted of sex crimes.

They left behind at least 700 victims, nearly all of them children.

The newspapers’ reporting prompted Southern Baptist church members to request a third-party review last year of the SBC’s Executive Committee’s handling of abuse reports dating back to 2000.

Clean up your own fucking house, Ed. You have zero moral authority over anyone.

(I’d also tell you to get your facts straight, but I know you don’t care.)

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.

Most of the lawsuit against the voter suppression law survives a motion to dismiss

Some good news.

In a limited order this week, a federal judge threw out some civil rights and discrimination claims brought as part of a complex and ongoing legal dispute over strict new voting rules in Texas.

The lawsuit filed last year alleges that the rules violate the U.S. Constitution, the Voting Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act by restricting voter assistance and making it easier for “partisan poll watchers to intimidate voters and poll workers.”

[…]

In his order on Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Xavier Rodriguez, a George W. Bush appointee, did not provide a clear win to either side in the protracted legal fight.

On one hand, Rodriguez did agree with Texas officials that civil rights groups had in some cases failed to a state a claim, meaning they could not adequately show a violation of federal law or a potential injury to voters. He dismissed a handful of claims brought by the civil rights groups, which include the League of Women Voters of Texas and the Workers Defense Action Fund.

On the other hand, Rodriguez’s order was hardly kind to Texas officials. Over the course of 61 pages, he detailed not only why civil rights groups had standing to sue, but also how they’d “clearly” established that SB1 could have discriminatory effects on voting rights.

The judge waved off efforts by Texas officials to have more or all of the lawsuit dismissed — including the state’s unusual argument that civil rights groups shouldn’t be able to sue because “the organizations themselves do not have a disability.”

“It is well settled,” Rodriguez wrote, “that an organization may sue as the representative of its members.”

While past filings in this lawsuit have largely hinged on nuances of civil rights law, Tuesday’s order was interesting because it detailed the lived experiences of disabled voters in Texas.

The civil plaintiffs presented examples from at least three voters — all members of the disability voting-rights group REV UP — whom they said could be harmed by Texas’ new voting law.

These examples were “non-exhaustive,” plaintiffs said, and represented just some of the disabled Texans who could face voting difficulties if SB 1 is allowed to stand.

See here for the background. There were multiple lawsuits filed, with the Justice Department getting involved later on. This is the San Antonio lawsuit from that first blog post. I assume that most if not all of these cases have been combined but it’s hard for me to say from the information I have easily available. Democracy Docket has some information on this one, and they provide a PDF that combines multiple orders from Judge Rodriguez; the Courthouse News story only has one of them, which threw me for a minute as I was trying to verify that I was referring to the correct case. This stuff is complicated, y’all.

Anyway. That story goes into two of those examples, and you should read about them, they’re quite compelling. I’m never quite sure if the Republicans who pass these voter suppression bills legitimately don’t care that people such as these plaintiffs won’t be able to vote as a result, or if they just can’t be bothered to hear their stories while the bills are in progress, lest they have some feelings of guilt or remorse, if those are possible for them. The end result is the same, I just want to know how to calibrate my contempt. Anyway, this is in addition to the other voter suppression bill that was struck down – we are apparently at a point where a bunch of these are getting some action, which is always exciting. As usual, nothing is safe until the Fifth Circuit is done with it, and we know what that usually means. So celebrate responsibly, we may be mourning later on.

Redistricting plaintiffs get a win on discovery

Every little bit helps.

A federal judge on Monday issued a wide-ranging discovery order requiring Texas state lawmakers to turn over documents related to the state’s congressional redistricting plans.

The underlying lawsuit, filed by the League of United Latin American Citizens and several other civil rights groups, is part of a broad effort to correct what critics say is voter intimidation and discrimination in Texas heading into the 2022 midterm elections.

[…]

Like the separate lawsuit over Texas election laws, this redistricting case has continued to swell since its initial filing, with six other lawsuits consolidated into the legal fight. Days after the case was filed, the Fifth Circuit appointed a three-judge panel to oversee the increasingly complex case.

In November, the Justice Department also joined those suing state officials. It was doing so, the federal government said, because Texas redistricting plans had raised “important questions” about possible violations of the Voting Rights Act.

Since then, the case has largely hinged on issues of discovery. Texas lawmakers have battled against subpoenas, arguing that much of their work on redistricting was privileged information. They filed hundreds of pages of court documents detailing information they do not think they should have to turn over, including what they’ve described as “confidential communications” reflecting “thoughts, opinions and mental impressions.”

The Department of Justice, meanwhile, has continued its efforts to enforce subpoenas. The feds argue Texas officials have “inappropriately” claimed attorney-client privilege, refused to turn over documents from decades ago and “advanced an overbroad conception” of legislative privilege that has withheld “even communications with members of the public.” As a result, they say, lawmakers have disclosed “merely one-third” of the documents requested in subpoenas.

In his order on Monday, U.S. District Court Judge David Guaderrama, an Obama appointee, agreed with arguments from the DOJ and the civil rights groups. He found that Texas lawmakers were using overly broad theories of legislative privilege and could not “cloak conversations with executive-branch officials, lobbyists, and other interested outsiders.”

Guaderrama ruled the factors in this case weighed in favor of granting discovery requests. He cited the “seriousness of the litigation and the issues involved,” including allegations of lawbreaking and “intentional discrimination” against minority voters.

While Texas lawmakers asserted attorney-client privilege, the judge ruled they could not simply decline to release any documents referencing legal analysis, including scheduling calendars and communications with outside firms involved in redistricting. These documents are not “categorically privileged,” he wrote.

In the end, Guaderrama ordered Texas lawmakers to turn over a wide array of documents relating to redistricting, including “talking points” defending the maps. For any documents that contained “bona fide legal advice” or “privileged material,” Guaderrama ordered lawmakers to produce redacted versions.

About two months ago, the plaintiffs scored a different win in that three Republican legislators who had tried to avoid having to sit for depositions failed to get a lower court ruling against them overturned. If this ruling stands – always a dicey proposal when the Fifth Circuit is involved – then what the plaintiffs will gain is a lot of insight into what the legislators and their staff and advisors were saying to each other at the time. The experience from previous rounds of redistricting litigation is that there will be some good stuff there for the plaintiffs. Which still might not matter in the end, since SCOTUS has made its preferences very clear, but as I said in that last post, you have to start somewhere. Link via Reform Austin.

Fifth Circuit tosses mask mandate lawsuit filed by disability rights activists

Par for the course.

A federal appeals court on Monday tossed out a lower-court injunction, issued in November, that would have allowed public schools in Texas to ignore Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel of Austin had blocked Abbott’s order as it pertained to schools, ruling that a ban on mandatory face masks improperly endangered students with disabilities and violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by denying them the opportunity to participate equally in school.

Texas appealed, and a month later the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked enforcement of Yeakel’s injunction while it considered the state’s case.

On Monday, in a 2-1 ruling, the appeals court sided with state officials, tossing out Yeakel’s injunction and dismissing the lawsuit by the students. The court said the students did not prove that the ban on mask mandates put them at imminent and concrete risk of contracting COVID-19.

“In light of widely available vaccines and the schools’ other mitigation efforts, the odds of any particular plaintiff contracting COVID-19 and subsequently suffering complications are speculative,” Judge Andrew Oldham wrote in an opinion joined by Judge Don Willett. Both were appointed by former President Donald Trump.

In addition, Oldham wrote, the Americans with Disabilities Act only ensures that students have access to school, not that they have access to their desired accommodation of universal masking.

“Schools, in turn, have numerous alternatives for mitigating the risks of COVID-19 so plaintiffs have such access. The schools can adopt policies regarding vaccines, plexiglass, hand sanitizer, social distancing, and more,” Oldham wrote. “Plaintiffs have not even attempted to show that one or any combination of these accommodations is insufficient to mitigate the risks of COVID-19 to a level low enough that plaintiffs can attend school.”

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Eugene Davis complained that Oldham mischaracterized the students’ argument by saying they merely feared an increased risk of contracting COVID-19. Instead, the students argued that state Attorney General Ken Paxton’s dogged defense of Abbott’s ban on mask mandates, including lawsuits against school districts and threats of additional litigation, amounted to disability discrimination.

The students also proved that they had been, or will be, harmed by a ban on all mask mandates, even at schools that determine that limited mask orders were a reasonable accommodation for student health, he wrote.

“While all students bear some health risks by attending school in person during the ongoing pandemic, the district court found, and it is undisputed, that these plaintiffs face a much higher risk to their health because of their disabilities,” said Davis, appointed by former President Ronald Reagan.

See here for the previous update, and here for a copy of the opinion. There are still a lot of state lawsuits over the Abbott executive order that banned mask mandates in school, which largely turn on the question of what the Governor’s authority under the 1975 Texas Disaster Act is; the San Antonio ISD vaccine mandate lawsuit is in that same bucket. This was a federal lawsuit that claimed discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act. I still think they had a pretty good argument, but it’s the Fifth Circuit, what are you gonna do? I suppose an appeal to SCOTUS is possible, but perhaps not advisable, as it’s probably not a good idea to give them a chance to mess with that law. Texas Public Radio and the ABA Journal have more.

DOJ investigating discrimination claims against Houston for response to illegal dumping

I look forward to seeing what this finds.

Huey German-Wilson and her Trinity Gardens and Houston Gardens neighbors kept finding tires, medical waste and other trash in their streets. So they took charge. They sought to log each instance with the city’s 311 system, hoping the complaints would inspire the city to clean up the debris.

Their efforts beginning six years ago went nowhere, German-Wilson said. The Super Neighborhood president watched as the illegally dumped items piled up so much they blocked people from driving down the streets. Residents told her they stopped calling 311 because they didn’t think the city would do anything.

But on Friday, people in the Gardens learned they may get help: The Justice Department announced it is investigating whether the city violated residents’ civil rights by responding differently to illegal dumping complaints in areas where the majority of the population is Black and Latino. The investigation developed out of a complaint Lone Star Legal Aid filed on behalf of Gardens residents.

“It brings attention to the fact that these little Black and brown communities are fighting a fight that seemed lost,” German-Wilson said. “And the Department of Justice is saying, ‘No, it’s not lost.’”

Lone Star Legal Aid, a nonprofit law firm in Houston, in December accused Houston of intentionally discriminating against some residents. The city responded more slowly to 311 requests for service in the northeast Houston neighborhood than in whiter, more affluent places, the document said.

Some 311 requests even prompted concerns about retaliation from city workers. In one instance after a complaint was filed, the city cited every house on the block except the caller’s for city ordinance violations, Lone Star’s complaint said. The infractions included having a trash can outside a gate.

recent Houston Chronicle review of six months of 311 data found widespread problems across the city, with some areas submitting repeated complaints. Construction debris littered neighborhood sidewalks or filled drainage ditches. Residents also reported that animal corpses had been dumped hurriedly overnight.

Mayor Sylvester Turner in a scathing statement Friday defended the city’s service to communities of color. Black and Latino areas were disproportionately suffering from illegal dumping, he agreed. Houston has spent millions of dollars on bulk waste collection and doubled the fine for illegal dumping to $4,000, the maximum allowed under state law.

Turner suggested that the federal law enforcement efforts would be more worthwhile elsewhere, though he said his office would cooperate.

“This investigation is absurd, baseless, and without merit,” Turner said, adding that it is “a slap in the face to the City and the many people who diligently work to address illegal dumping daily and prevent environmental injustice.”

The failure to treat residents equally threatens the health and safety of Black and Latino people and devalues their property, said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, who oversees civil rights investigations in Washington, D.C. The case also exemplifies broader environmental justice concerns the agency is working to combat. Justice officials confirmed the Houston case is one of two such investigations its department is carrying out.

“Illegal dumping is a longstanding environmental justice issue,” Clarke said, “and like many other environmental justice issues it often disproportionately burdens Black and Latino communities.”

Dumping has been a problem in Houston for a long time. Every candidate for City Council District B, which is where the bulk of the activity in this story is, has talked about doing things to combat it. The city has done some things, as Mayor Turner says, also including more camera surveillance to try to catch the dumpers. That doesn’t mean that they city’s response to complaints from residents has been just and equitable. I’d like to think that it has, and I hope this investigation shows that it mostly has been, but whatever else it finds I’m certain there will be many ways where it can and should improve. If in the end there’s a consent decree to address the problems, like there was with the sewer system, that’s fine. Let’s fix what’s broken and make things better for the people who need that. The Trib has more.

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.

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.

Border and immigration news roundup

Same deal, too much news, yadda yadda yadda…

As Abbott orders state police to return migrants to border, critics on the right say it’s not enough.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday authorized state law enforcement to return migrants suspected of entering the country illegally to southern ports of entry, though he stopped short of instructing officials to expel them from the country, as some conservatives have urged him to do.

It was not immediately clear what practical impact the directive would have. Under his border initiative, Operation Lone Star, Abbott has already ordered state police and Texas National Guard soldiers to apprehend those who cross the border and turn them over to federal immigration authorities, where they are then deported or released back into the country to await their asylum hearings.

The move comes two days after a group of local officials called on Abbott to declare Texas under “invasion” and start expelling migrants suspected of crossing the border illegally. That action would be unprecedented for the state, but some conservatives argue it would be justified because of the Biden administration’s push to roll back Trump-era border policies.

Even without deporting those who cross the border, Abbott’s order further expands Texas’ border security role, testing constitutional and legal limits that reserve those duties for the federal government.

[…]

An Abbott spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. The governor previously expressed unease about the idea of state authorities unilaterally expelling migrants from the country, which he said could be legally tricky.

“There are federal laws that law enforcement could be prosecuted under if they were to take someone, without authority, and immediately return them across the border,” he said in April.

Some legal experts believe the “border invasion” strategy would run afoul of U.S. asylum laws, along with legal precedent that gives the federal government broad discretion in setting and enforcing immigration policy.

Justice Department lawyers used that argument last summer when they successfully sued Texas over Abbott’s push to stop and search drivers suspected of transporting migrants into the state.

The “invasion” argument would be an entirely new concept to immigration law, said Leon Fresco, an immigration attorney based in D.C. Fresco said Abbott’s order seems designed to invite litigation before state and federal courts, where Texas and other Republican-led states have increasingly turned to try and shape immigration law.

“They want to tee that issue up,” he said.

Cuccinelli and other supporters of local-led deportations say states have the constitutional right to protect themselves from “imminent danger” when they believe the federal government has failed to.

That argument may not hold up under an some readings of the Constitution, Fresco said, since it could mean the U.S. was technically under invasion between the writing of the Constitution and 1882, when the first federal law restricting immigration was enacted.

“How can an invasion be people coming to America without America’s permission, since that was the state of affairs in America for the first 100 years of the republic?” Fresco said.

I guess that depends on how seriously SCOTUS believes its own bullshit about how everything is rooted in 18th and 19th century traditions. I can’t wait to see the lawsuit that will happen when some overzealous state cop hauls a natural-born citizen to the border by mistake. In the meantime, if you look up the word “flailing” in the dictionary, you will see Greg Abbott’s picture. (Related story: Republican county officials in South Texas want Gov. Greg Abbott to deport migrants. Only the federal government can do that. What could possibly go wrong?)

Justice Department is investigating Texas’ Operation Lone Star for alleged civil rights violations.

The Department of Justice is investigating alleged civil rights violations under Operation Lone Star, a multibillion-dollar border initiative announced last year by Gov. Greg Abbott, according to state records obtained by ProPublica and The Texas Tribune.

The Legislature last year directed more than $3 billion to border measures over the next two years, a bulk of which has gone to Operation Lone Star. Under the initiative, which Abbott said he launched to combat human and drug smuggling, the state has deployed more than 10,000 National Guard members and Department of Public Safety troopers to the border with Mexico and built some fencing. Thousands of immigrant men seeking to enter the country have been arrested for trespassing onto private property, and some have been kept in jail for weeks without charges being filed.

Since the operation’s launch, a number of news organizations, including ProPublica and the Tribune, have outlined a series of problems with state leaders’ claims of success, the treatment of National Guard members and alleged civil rights violations.

An investigation by the Tribune, ProPublica and The Marshall Project found that in touting the operation’s accomplishments, state officials included arrests with no connection to the border and statewide drug seizures. The news organizations also revealed that trespassing cases represented the largest share of the operation’s arrests. DPS stopped counting some charges, including cockfighting, sexual assault and stalking, after the publications began asking questions about their connections to border security.

Another investigation by the Tribune and Army Times detailed troubles with the National Guard deployment, including reports of delayed payments to soldiers, a shortage of critical equipment and poor living conditions. Previous reporting by the Army Times also traced suicides by soldiers tied to the operation.

Angela Dodge, a DOJ spokesperson, said she could not “comment on the existence or lack thereof of any potential investigation or case on any matter not otherwise a part of the public court record.”

“Generally, cases are brought to us by a variety of law enforcement agencies — federal, state and local — for possible prosecutorial consideration following their investigation into a suspected violation of federal law,” Dodge wrote in an email. “We consider each such case based on the evidence and what can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a federal court of law.”

But at least two Texas agencies involved in carrying out the border initiative have pointed to a DOJ investigation in records obtained by ProPublica and the Tribune through the Texas Public Information Act.

In an internal email in May, DPS officials said that the DOJ was seeking to review whether Operation Lone Star violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin by institutions receiving federal funding.

According to the emails, the federal government requested documents that include implementation plans, agreements with landowners and training information for states that have supported Operation Lone Star by sending law enforcement officers and National Guard members to Texas.

“If you are not already aware, the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ is investigating Operation Lone Star,” Kaylyn Betts, a DPS assistant general counsel, wrote in a May 23 email to a department official. She added that the agency should respond in a timely and complete manner.

In a letter sent Friday to the state’s attorney general, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice also cited a “formal investigation” of Operation Lone Star by the DOJ. The agency, which manages the state’s prison system, pointed to the investigation while fighting the release of public records sought by the news organizations.

In the letter, the department’s deputy general counsel wrote that the DOJ is investigating whether the state agency is subjecting people who are arrested as part of the border operation to “differential and unlawful conditions of confinement based on their perceived or actual race or national origin.”

I’m sure there’s plenty of evidence of unlawful behavior to be found. The big question to me is whether there are any sanctions that can be levied that would provide an incentive to not keep on doing that bad behavior. I don’t think the consequences that are currently available are up to the task, but I’m reluctant to push for there to be greater punishments given the way the federal government was weaponized against the personal enemies of the previous occupant of the White House. What we really need is greater respect for the law and the rule of law by the likes of Greg Abbott and the seething mob of radicals that influence his behavior. You can tell by the way I wrote that sentence that I’m not optimistic about that.

But there are consequences anyway, just not necessarily for those who need them: Understaffed, and under federal investigation, Texas juvenile detention system halts intake.

Texas’ juvenile detention system has shut its doors and won’t accept any new kids because it is “hemorrhaging” staff, and officials fear they can’t ensure the safety of the nearly 600 youths already in their custody.

According to a Texas Juvenile Justice Department letter, released to The Texas Tribune on Wednesday, the state’s five youth lockups were implementing emergency protocols “as the staffing strength at each secure facility becomes more grim.”

“The current risk is that the ongoing secure facility staffing issue will lead to an inability to even provide basic supervision for youth locked in their rooms,” Shandra Carter, the agency’s interim director, wrote to juvenile probation leaders across the state last week. “This could cause a significantly impaired ability to intervene in the increasing suicidal behaviors already occurring by youth struggling with the isolative impact of operational room confinement.”

The agency has 331 vacant positions for juvenile corrections officers and only 391 officers available to cover its facilities, an agency spokesperson said Thursday.

Minors sentenced to serve sentences at a TJJD facility will remain at local detention facilities, many of which have their own shortage of beds. In her letter, Carter said 130 juveniles were waiting in county facilities before intake was halted.

Carter said the agency is trying to restart intake as soon as possible by shifting people to different units, stopping intensive intervention programs for those who have committed violent crimes and looking into whether any youths could be eligible for release.

Texas’ juvenile lockups have long been plagued by physical and sexual abuse and dangerous environments for youths detained there. In October, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it was investigating ​​whether the agency provides “reasonable protection from physical and sexual abuse by staff and other residents, excessive use of chemical restraints and excessive use of isolation.”

Carter was appointed to run the agency by the Texas Juvenile Justice Board in April, when former director Camille Cain quit without notice after four years at the helm. Hours before Cain’s departure was made public, Gov. Greg Abbott announced he was taking money from her troubled agency to continue funding Operation Lone Star, his multibillion-dollar border security operation.

Cain, who previously worked for Abbott, has not publicly discussed the reasons for her departure. Records obtained by the Tribune show Cain requested $31,225,360 in coronavirus relief funds from Abbott’s office in April, weeks before the governor took the same amount of money from her agency.

In a statement, TJJD said Thursday that the funds transferred out of their hands by Abbott had a “net-zero” budget impact. A spokesperson said the agency had used federal coronavirus relief funds to pay salaries that would typically have come from their general revenue.

“Once those expenditures from the federal dollars were made, we returned the same amount of funds from our General Revenue,” TJJD spokesperson Barbara Kessler said in the statement.

On Thursday afternoon, an Abbott spokesperson said the transfer of funds only acted as a placeholder and “did not impact the agency’s operational budget in any way.”

Sure, Jan. I mean, as noted in the story the TJJD is a stinking mess that really ought to be burned to the ground. It’s just that this isn’t a good way to do that. The priority still needs to be the welfare of the children in its care. But hey, issuing traffic tickets to people in border counties is a more urgent need, so here we are.

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.

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.

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.

There’s a lot of resistance to releasing information about Uvalde

Wow.

The City of Uvalde and its police department are working with a private law firm to prevent the release of nearly any record related to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in which 19 children and two teachers died, according to a letter obtained by Motherboard in response to a series of public information requests we made. The public records Uvalde is trying to suppress include body camera footage, photos, 911 calls, emails, text messages, criminal records, and more.

“The City has not voluntarily released any information to a member of the public,” the city’s lawyer, Cynthia Trevino, who works for the private law firm Denton Navarro Rocha Bernal & Zech, wrote in a letter to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. The city wrote the letter asking Paxton for a determination about what information it is required to release to the public, which is standard practice in Texas. Paxton’s office will eventually rule which of the city’s arguments have merit and will determine which, if any, public records it is required to release.

The letter makes clear, however, that the city and its police department want to be exempted from releasing a wide variety of records in part because it is being sued, in part because some of the records could include “highly embarrassing information,” in part because some of the information is “not of legitimate concern to the public,” in part because the information could reveal “methods, techniques, and strategies for preventing and predicting crime,” in part because some of the information may cause or may “regard … emotional/mental distress,” and in part because its response to the shooting is being investigated by the Texas Rangers, the FBI, and the Uvalde County District Attorney.

The letter explains that Uvalde has at least one in-house attorney (whose communications it is trying to prevent from public release), and yet, it is using outside private counsel to deal with a matter of extreme importance and public interest. Uvalde’s city government and its police department did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Motherboard.

The city says that it has received 148 separate public records requests (including several from Motherboard), and has lumped all of them together, making a broad legal argument as to why it should not be required to respond to many of them. Earlier this week, Motherboard reported on a similar letter sent to Paxton by the Texas Department of Public Safety, which wanted to suppress body-camera footage because it could expose “weaknesses” in police response to crimes that criminals could exploit. (The main seeming weakness in the Uvalde response was that police, in violation of standard policy and protocol, refused to risk their lives to protect children.)

For example, the city and its police department argue that it should be exempted from releasing “police officer training guides, policy and procedure manuals, shift change schedules, security details, and blueprints of secured facilities,” because these could be used to decipher “methods, techniques, and strategies for preventing and predicting crime.”

That argument sound familiar, doesn’t it? Gosh, I wonder what Ken Paxton will say. Also, it would be good to know how much the city of Uvalde is paying for those outside attorneys.

Here’s more on the same topic:

In the past week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has joined the growing list of state and local officials fighting the release of records that could help bring clarity to how the emergency response unfolded during last month’s deadly shooting in Uvalde.

The governor’s office strayed from that broader opposition Monday, granting a request under the Texas Public Information Act from a Houston television station that sought the handwritten notes he used when he first spoke publicly about the shooting. The notes appear to support Abbott’s claim that he was misled when he initially praised law enforcement efforts during the mass shooting that resulted in the deaths of 19 children and two educators and left many more injured.

The recent release by Abbott underscores both the tremendous power government officials have to decide what is in the public interest and the unwillingness to release records that could call their agencies’ actions into question.

ProPublica and The Texas Tribune have submitted about 70 public information requests that could help answer larger questions as state and local leaders continue to offer conflicting accounts about why law enforcement did not confront the gunman sooner during the May 24 massacre. Those requests include 911 audio recordings, body and police car camera footage, and communications among local, state and federal agencies. The newsrooms also requested use-of-force documents, death records and ballistic reports.

Three weeks after the shooting, government officials have not provided the news organizations a single record related to the emergency response.

[…]

Abbott’s office, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the U.S. Marshals Service and the city of Uvalde are asking the state’s attorney general for permission to withhold records that may offer tangible answers to the contradictory accounts. (Under Texas law, agencies seeking to avoid disclosure of public records typically must make their case to the attorney general.) Other government entities have asked the state for extensions as they decide whether to fight such disclosures. News organizations across the country are reporting similar responses.

Among the arguments provided by government entities for withholding such documents is one from DPS stating that releasing records like footage from body cameras would provide criminals with “invaluable information” about its investigative techniques, information sharing and criminal analysis.

In most cases, however, the agencies argue that releasing such information could interfere with ongoing law enforcement investigations by the federal government and the Texas Rangers, an arm of DPS now tasked with investigating its own department. In a statement, Abbott’s office said that, upon completion of the investigations, “we look forward to the full results being shared with the victims’ families and the public, who deserve the full truth of what happened that tragic day.”

But timely disclosure of the records is paramount given the lack of transparency and contradictory accounts from state and local officials, three Texas Public Information Act experts told ProPublica and the Tribune.

Laura Prather, a First Amendment attorney in Texas, said the reason the state allows agencies to withhold information when it is part of an ongoing investigation is to protect someone who was accused of a crime but didn’t ultimately get convicted, “not to protect law enforcement for their actions in circumstances like this, where the shooter is dead.”

“The public has the right to know what happened that day, and right now they can only act on rumors and conflicting information,” said Prather, who is representing ProPublica in an unrelated defamation lawsuit. She said law enforcement must be transparent in order to earn the public’s trust, but agencies are instead using their discretionary powers “to thwart the public from getting information that they are rightly entitled to.”

Because state law allows government officials to withhold information in cases that don’t result in a conviction, it creates a loophole that lets governments deny records in cases where the offender was killed and will not be tried.

That results in a challenge for members of the public seeking records related to Uvalde because “either way, there is a statutory basis for these governmental bodies to seek to withhold information,” said Jim Hemphill, an attorney who serves on the board of the Texas Freedom of Information Foundation.

We’ve heard about the “dead suspect” loophole before. I have a modicum of sympathy for withholding some information during an active criminal investigation, but here we already know who did it and there won’t ever be a criminal trial, at least not for him. Especially given the sheer amount of contradictory information that has been out there, we really deserve a lot of timely disclosure.

House Speaker Dade Phelan has talked about addressing that loophole in the next legislative session. Maybe there are some other items for them to address as well.

Members of the Uvalde Police Department are refusing to cooperate with a Texas House committee probing the law enforcement response to the Robb Elementary School shooting, the Express-News reports.

In comments Thursday, Committee Chairman Dustin Burrows — a Republican state rep from Lubbock — said Uvalde school district police department personnel were providing testimony to the three-member panel, according to the daily.

“There is a question mark, however, about the Uvalde Police Department itself, about whether or not they will visit with us voluntarily,” the lawmaker added. “We’ll see if they do that.”

The committee is in Uvalde for two days to hear closed-door testimony about the May 24 mass shooting that left 19 children and two teachers dead. Even if Uvalde police officers don’t voluntarily testify, the committee has the power to issue subpoenas, the Express-News reports.

You have the power to compel their cooperation, or at least to make it a lot more painful to not cooperate. I’m just saying.

What was DPS doing during the Uvalde massacre?

Not much, it would seem.

As many as 13 troopers with the Texas Department of Public Safety waited in a hallway at one point during a gunman’s rampage that killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde last month, state Sen. Roland Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez, a San Antonio Democrat whose district encompasses Uvalde, said DPS Director Steven McCraw revealed the number of responding state troopers to him in a recent exchange.

“He told me there was enough people and equipment to breach the door,” Gutierrez said, even as officers continued to wait for more than an hour and some of the children inside the two locked classrooms called 911 for help.

In previous statements, McCraw has said that as many as 19 officers from various law enforcement agencies waited outside the classrooms. DPS has not publicly clarified the extent to which it was involved in the widely criticized police response to the May 24 mass shooting.

[…]

At a news conference last month, McCraw described Pedro “Pete” Arredondo, chief of police for the Uvalde school district, as the on-scene commander. He said that after Arredondo arrived at the school, he instructed other officers not to force entry into the locked classrooms until they could acquire more equipment, such as ballistic shields.

Gutierrez said he spoke May 28 with McCraw, who was in tears. McCraw told Gutierrez that day that DPS would never again “stand down,” the lawmaker told the San Antonio Express-News.

In another exchange June 2, McCraw told Gutierrez that as many as 13 DPS troopers had massed in the hallway outside the classrooms at one point — waiting to make entry even as the massacre unfolded.

[…]

The district attorney for Uvalde, Christina Mitchell Busbee, is leading a criminal investigation into the shooting. The Texas Rangers, with assistance from the FBI, are investigating the police response.

Separately, the Justice Department is conducting a “critical incident review” of the police response. And a three-member legislative committee appointed by House Speaker Dade Phelan is investigating the massacre.

Gutierrez wants more answers now.

“We’re supposed to be the big bad-ass cops in the region,” Gutierrez said of the DPS troopers. “What happened here? Where were they situated in that building, and what time did they get there? When it came to protecting our children, we failed.”

Yeah, lots of investigations of this massive tragedy – perhaps this explains why the local cops quit cooperating the DPS’ own investigation, or why Uvalde schools top cop Pete Arredondo sounds so defensive. Maybe we need all these investigations now because clearly no one wants to have ownership of any of this. Which, given what a massive clusterfuck it appears to have been, I can understand. But man, everything about this just keeps getting worse and more infuriating. I’m with Scott Braddock:

To put this another way:

Gutierrez questioned why state troopers on the scene would automatically defer to a school district officer with no radios.

“Why weren’t the decisions made by the most superior police force on-site?” he asked. “How then did everybody just jump on and make (Arredondo) the incident commander? If he never had a radio, then how did he make himself the incident commander? It just doesn’t follow.”

At the news conference last month, McCraw told reporters that police in Texas are trained not to wait for orders to neutralize an active shooter.

“When there’s an active shooter, the rules change,” McCraw said. “You don’t have time. You don’t have to have a leader on the scene. Every officer lines up, stacks up, goes and finds where those rounds are being fired at and keeps shooting until the subject is dead. Period.”

Law enforcement sources told the Express-News that four Border Patrol agents and two sheriff’s deputies made entry into the classrooms and killed Ramos.

Gutierrez said officers in the hallway at one point had as many as three ballistic shields before finally breaching the door to the classrooms. Once they did, nearly two dozen people inside were dead.

“There was enough material in that room to stop this threat,” he said. “And it didn’t happen.”

There were an awful lot of good guys with guns (and vests and helmet and shields) at Robb Elementary School. They amounted to exactly zero when it came to stopping one guy from killing almost two dozen people, almost all children. That is a goddamn disgrace.

Two redistricting lawsuit updates

Legislators involved in the most recent redistricting effort can be made to sit for depositions.

The Supreme Court refused Tuesday to block the deposition of Texas lawmakers in redistricting suits.

Mum as to whether there were any dissents, the order from the justices keeps in place a lower court ruling that will force Republican lawmakers to appear for depositions in suits claiming that Texas’ redistricting plans are discriminatory. Per their custom, the justices also did not offer any explanation for their ruling.

The United States subpoenaed three Texas lawmakers at the beginning of the month to testify in a challenge to the state’s 2021 congressional and state House redistricting plans. The Department of Justice and voting rights groups claim the new maps violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by intentionally discriminating against minority voters in West Texas and the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Representatives Ryan Guillen, Brooks Landgraf and John Lujan tried to limit their testimony to matters in the public record, but a federal judge denied their motion and their attempt to block the testimony altogether. Likewise the Fifth Circuit refused to enter a stay pending appeal that would block their testimony.

In their application to the high court, Texas lawmakers claim they have the privilege and immunity to avoid testifying in the suits.

“The legislators’ depositions will probe the very innerworkings of the legislative process, examining the legislators’ thoughts, impressions, and motivations for their legislative acts,” wrote Taylor A.R. Meehan, an attorney with Consovoy McCarthy representing the lawmakers.

He also warned that lawmakers would have to answer questions in full the “proverbial ‘cat is out of the bag.’ And the twin safeguards of legislative immunity and privilege — older than the country itself — are no safeguards at all.”

The Justice Department said the depositions were routine.

“Courts, including this Court, often rely on such testimony both in assessing the motive and justification for districting choices and in considering the ‘totality of circumstances’ relevant to minority voters’ electoral opportunities, as the VRA directs,” Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar wrote in the government’s opposition brief.

The government notes that Lujan has a particularly weak claim to legislative privilege since he was not in the Legislature when the redistricting plans were passed.

“Representative John Lujan, does not have even an arguable claim of legislative privilege with respect to the challenged districting plans because he was not in the legislature when the plans were passed — a critical fact that applicants do not mention,” Prelogar wrote.

This is from the LULAC lawsuit, which is now consolidated with most of the other federal lawsuits. The order is from a couple of weeks ago, as the depositions were set to begin the week of May 24. SCOTUS just never took up the defendants’ motion, so they did not get an order to protect them from being deposed. This is not going to change the overall trajectory of the litigation, but it ought to lead to some interesting facts for the eventual hearings. Lujan as noted was not a legislator when the maps were passed in the special session, so who knows what he thinks he has to keep quiet about, while Guillen was still a Democrat when this was all happening. Should make for some fun questions, if nothing else.

The other federal lawsuit, which was not combined with the LULAC et al complaint, is the one filed by the Justice Department. That one survived a motion to dismiss:

A federal judge has ruled that U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland can proceed with voting and civil rights claims against Texas over a state law passed last year to address purported voter fraud.

State officials had asked U.S. District Court Judge Xavier Rodriguez to dismiss the case, arguing that federal officials did not have standing to sue them. They argued that local election officials — not state ones — were charged with implementing the new law.

The George W. Bush appointee disagreed in an order Tuesday, finding the U.S. attorney general has “broad constitutional power to protect the right to vote” and is “congressionally authorized” to go after voting rights violations.

The federal government had a “significant stake” in protecting “the general welfare of its citizenry,” Rodriguez wrote. He found the U.S. government had plausibly alleged that Texas law would “disenfranchise eligible Texas citizens who seek to exercise their vote,” including those with disabilities, limited knowledge of English and “members of the military deployed away from home.”

[…]

In November, the U.S. attorney general’s office intervened, expressing an interest the [LULAC et al consolidated] case and urging Rodriguez not to dismiss the claims. Voting lawsuits brought by private groups were necessary, the filing argued, due to the “limited federal resources available for Voting Rights Act enforcement” and because states with histories of voter restrictions no longer had to seek federal preclearance for voting changes following the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder.

Later that month, the AG’s office also filed suit against the Lone Star State. In a strongly worded complaint, federal officials argued that Texas already had some of the “strictest [voting] limitations in the nation” and that SB1 would “impermissibly” restrict and disenfranchise voters.

Texas’s “history of official voting-related discrimination against its disfavored citizens is longstanding and well-documented,” the complaint said. “Federal intervention has been necessary to eliminate numerous devices intentionally used to restrict minority voting in Texas.”

This lengthy and complex legal battle, involving a variety of parties, led up to Tuesday’s order. Over the months, Texas officials have tried numerous avenues to dismiss the case.

Among other things, state officials zeroed in on the state’s new voter ID and mail-in ballot requirements. Because the state allows voters to “cure” their ballots, they argued, the law did not deny the right to vote.

Rodriguez rejected this argument and others, writing that a voter’s opportunity to cure their ballot “does not necessarily mean” that SB 1 did not violate the Civil Rights Act. The law does not allow state officials to “initially deny the right to vote…as long as they institute cure processes,” he wrote. Instead, it bars these actions altogether.

He also found that, while local elections officials may be in charge of implementing the law, SB 1 was in fact “traceable” to state officials, and therefore they could be sued. Since the law has so far been in effect for the state’s primary elections, the U.S. government had also alleged an injury, he found.

Rather than issuing an injunction preventing enforcement of parts of SB 1, Rodriguez’s order instead simply allows the U.S. government to continue with its lawsuit. It remains to be seen how the case will play out, including whether controversial aspects of SB 1 will remain in effect for the 2022 midterm elections later this year.

There’s a long road ahead for this litigation, and at the end awaits a US Supreme Court that is extremely hostile to voting rights. But you have to start somewhere, and who knows, maybe the landscape will change by that time.

Uvalde’s police chief speaks

I’ll reserve judgment for now.

Only a locked classroom door stood between Pete Arredondo and a chance to bring down the gunman. It was sturdily built with a steel jamb, impossible to kick in.

He wanted a key. One goddamn key and he could get through that door to the kids and the teachers. The killer was armed with an AR-15. Arredondo thought he could shoot the gunman himself or at least draw fire while another officer shot back. Without body armor, he assumed he might die.

“The only thing that was important to me at this time was to save as many teachers and children as possible,” Arredondo said.

The chief of police for the Uvalde school district spent more than an hour in the hallway of Robb Elementary School. He called for tactical gear, a sniper and keys to get inside, holding back from the doors for 40 minutes to avoid provoking sprays of gunfire. When keys arrived, he tried dozens of them, but one by one they failed to work.

“Each time I tried a key I was just praying,” Arredondo said. Finally, 77 minutes after the massacre began, officers were able to unlock the door and fatally shoot the gunman.

In his first extended comments since the May 24 massacre, the deadliest school shooting in Texas history, Arredondo gave The Texas Tribune an account of what he did inside the school during the attack. He answered questions via a phone interview and in statements provided through his lawyer, George E. Hyde.

Aside from the Texas Department of Public Safety, which did not respond to requests for comment for this article, Arredondo is the only other law enforcement official to publicly tell his account of the police response to the shooting.

Arredondo, 50, insists he took the steps he thought would best protect lives at his hometown school, one he had attended himself as a boy.

“My mind was to get there as fast as possible, eliminate any threats, and protect the students and staff,” Arredondo said. He noted that some 500 students from the school were safely evacuated during the crisis.

Arredondo’s decisions — like those of other law enforcement agencies that responded to the massacre that left 21 dead — are under intense scrutiny as federal and state officials try to decide what went wrong and what might be learned.

Whether the inability of police to quickly enter the classroom prevented the 21 victims — 19 students and two educators — from getting life-saving care is not known, and may never be. There’s evidence, including the fact that a teacher died while being transported to the hospital, that suggests taking down the shooter faster might have made a difference. On the other hand, many of the victims likely died instantly. A pediatrician who attended to the victims described small bodies “pulverized” and “decapitated.” Some children were identifiable only by their clothes and shoes.

In the maelstrom of anguish, outrage and second-guessing that immediately followed the second deadliest school shooting in American history, the time Arredondo and other officers spent outside that door — more than an hour — have become emblems of failure.

As head of the six-member police force responsible for keeping Uvalde schools safe, Arredondo has been singled out for much of the blame, particularly by state officials. They criticized him for failing to take control of the police response and said he made the “wrong decision” that delayed officers from entering the classroom.

Arredondo has faced death threats. News crews have camped outside his home, forcing him to go into hiding. He’s been called cowardly and incompetent.

Neither accusation is true or fair, he says.

“Not a single responding officer ever hesitated, even for a moment, to put themselves at risk to save the children,” Arredondo said. “We responded to the information that we had and had to adjust to whatever we faced. Our objective was to save as many lives as we could, and the extraction of the students from the classrooms by all that were involved saved over 500 of our Uvalde students and teachers before we gained access to the shooter and eliminated the threat.”

Arredondo’s explanations don’t fully address all the questions that have been raised. The Tribune spoke to seven law enforcement experts about Arredondo’s description of the police response. All but one said that serious lapses in judgment occurred.

Most strikingly, they said, by running into the school with no key and no radios and failing to take charge of the situation, the chief appears to have contributed to a chaotic approach in which officers deployed inappropriate tactics, adopted a defensive posture, failed to coordinate their actions, and wasted precious time as students and teachers remained trapped in two classrooms with a gunman who continued to fire his rifle.

Hyde, Arredondo’s lawyer, said those criticisms don’t reflect the realities police face when they’re under fire and trying to save lives. Uvalde is a small working-class city of about 15,000 west of San Antonio. Its small band of school police officers doesn’t have the staffing, equipment, training, or experience with mass violence that larger cities might.

That right there would seem to be a pretty damn good argument for trying to limit the availability of at least the kind of guns that can do the kind of damage described here. Surely even a Ted Cruz would have to admit that a teacher with a Glock is not going to be as effective as a professional police officer in this kind of situation, and if the cops themselves say they’re not up to the task, who are we to say otherwise?

Anyway, you can read the rest – it’s a long story – or you can read this “five takeaways” piece about the interview if you want more of a summary. I’ll wait to see what the Justice Department says – I suspect they will have some points of disagreement with Chief Arredondo. Reform Austin has more.

Justice Department starts its review of the Uvalde law enforcement response

We’ll see what they turn up.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said Wednesday that the Department of Justice’s investigation into the law enforcement response to the elementary school shooting in Uvalde won’t be criminal in nature.

Garland described the federal investigation as a “critical incident review,” which was done after other mass shootings such as in San Bernardino, California, and Orlando, Florida. The review will assess the law enforcement response and “give guidance for the future,” Garland said. The department will then produce a public report, which will include the investigation’s findings and recommendations.

“Nothing that these [investigators] can do can undo the terrible tragedy that occurred, and that we are just heartbroken about,” Garland said Wednesday. “But we can assess what happened and we can make recommendations for the future.”

Garland said the team reviewing the law enforcement response will conduct site visits to the school and interviews with witnesses, families, law enforcement officers and school officials.

He said that his department expects full cooperation from all law enforcement officers involved in the response to the shooting. Authorities have been criticized in the days after the massacre over their decision to wait over an hour before entering the school and confronting the shooter.

“We have been promised, assured and welcomed with respect to cooperation by every level of law enforcement: state, federal and local,” Garland said. “We will participate in that vein and we don’t expect any problems.”

See here for the background. Per Texas Public Radio, there’s no official timetable for this process, but they intend to move “as expeditiously as possible”. Uvalde law enforcement has stopped cooperating with DPS in the state’s investigation, so we’ll see if the feds have more luck. Maybe some subpoenas will be needed, but let’s hope not. As I said, I don’t expect much out of this, but if we learn more about what actually happened with how local law enforcement responded and why it went so very wrong, that’s enough of a reason to do this. The Chron has more.

The entire law enforcement response in Uvalde is messed up

What is going on here?

The official response to the mass shooting at an Uvalde elementary school — a response already marred by shifting narratives, finger-pointing and a general lack of timely and accurate information — took a further turn toward dysfunction on Tuesday.

The Texas Department of Public Safety said Uvalde school district’s police chief Pete Arredondo, who made the decision to wait for more resources rather than confront the gunman sooner, has stopped cooperating with state investigators and had not responded to requests for information for over two days. Arredondo contests the claim.

And the agency walked back an assertion that a teacher at Robb Elementary School propped open a back door prior to the shooting, allowing the gunman to enter and kill 19 students and two teachers. Earlier Tuesday the teacher’s lawyer had pushed back on the state’s account.

Texas Rangers investigating the response to the shooting want to continue talking to Arredondo, but he hasn’t answered a request made two days ago for a follow-up interview, according to two DPS spokespeople. The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District’s police department and the Uvalde Police Department have otherwise been cooperating with the Rangers’ investigation, DPS spokesperson Travis Considine said.

Arredondo did not return a call requesting comment. He told CNN in a brief interview that he is speaking “every day” with DPS investigators but declined to further discuss the shooting.

“I’ve been on the phone with them every day,” Arredondo said.

Amid the turmoil, Texas’ largest police union — the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, or CLEAT — urged its members Tuesday in a statement to “cooperate fully” with investigations into the police response to the Uvalde massacre — though they didn’t name Arredondo.

Both the police chief and the school teacher had been implicated by DPS officials as, in effect, having failed at their jobs. The change in narrative is likely to deepen the mistrust surrounding the investigation. Already, as in other mass shootings, conspiracy theories and misinformation have begun to proliferate online.

While the U.S. Department of Justice has agreed to review the response to the mass shooting, the ultimate responsibility for carrying out a credible, thorough and transparent investigation rests with the state — and so far, state officials have not offered much confidence in their abilities to carry out such a probe.

[…]

CLEAT, the police union, blamed state officials Tuesday for “a great deal of false and misleading information in the aftermath of this tragedy,” some of which “came from the very highest levels of government and law enforcement.”

“Sources that Texans once saw as iron-clad and completely reliable have now been proven false,” the union said in a statement.

Not much confidence indeed. It’s one thing for there to have been confusion and conflicting or missing information in the immediate aftermath of the murders. We’re more than a week out now, and it’s hard to understand why DPS and the locals aren’t on the same page. If they are unable to communicate or don’t trust each other, it speaks poorly of them all.

And where is Greg Abbott in all of this? He expressed anger after hearing about the botched local PD response, of which he had initially been “misinformed”. Does he have anything left in the tank for this? This is his law enforcement agency, and his hand-picked henchman in charge of it, that are out there stepping on rakes. Is that a problem, or is he going to do his usual thing of refusing to answer any questions about it until the press gets tired and moves on to something else? It’s nice that the Justice Department will do a review, but what happens if Uvalde police don’t want to cooperate with that? Who exactly is in charge here? The Chron, Daily Kos, and Reform Austin have more.

Justice Department to review what happened with Uvalde police

Okay.

The U.S. Department of Justice will review the law enforcement’s response to the Uvalde school massacre as local police face intense scrutiny for not acting quickly enough to confront the shooter.

“The goal of the review is to provide an independent account of law enforcement actions and responses that day, and to identify lessons learned and best practices to help first responders prepare for and respond to active shooter events,” Anthony Coley, a spokesperson for the U.S. Justice Department, wrote in a statement Sunday.

Uvalde mayor Don McLaughlin requested the Justice Department investigation, Coley said.

Police officers made a crucial error in waiting to stop the 18-year-old gunman rampaging at Robb Elementary School because the school district’s chief of police wanted to wait for backup and equipment, said Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety. Meanwhile, students were still trapped inside with the gunman, repeatedly calling 911 for help.

By the time a specialized team of federal officers arrived and entered the school, more than an hour had passed since the shooter had arrived at the school, McCraw said.

“From the benefit of hindsight, where I’m sitting now, of course it was not the right decision,” McCraw said. “It was the wrong decision, period. There’s no excuse for that.”

Since the shooting, state law enforcement officials have given vague and conflicting answers on what exactly happened after the gunman arrived at the school. In the days after the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, officials with the Texas Department of Public Safety said the shooter was met by a police officer employed by the school district — and gave conflicting accounts about whether the officer fired at the gunman.

See here for some background. We may at least get some more honest and accurate answers about what happened and why the Uvalde police acted as they did. That’s nice, but I doubt it moves the ball forward for anything else. I’m always in favor of getting the facts right, I’m just trying to maintain perspective on this. It’s good on its own terms, just don’t expect more.

For example:

The Texas Senate Democratic Caucus is urging Gov. Greg Abbott to call an emergency special legislative session to consider a variety of gun restrictions and safety measures in the wake of a mass school shooting in Uvalde that left 19 children and two adults dead this week.

In a letter released Saturday morning, all 13 Senate Democrats demanded lawmakers pass legislation that raises the minimum age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21 years old. The Uvalde gunman was 18 and had purchased two AR-style rifles which he used in the attack.

The caucus is also calling for universal background checks for all firearm sales, “red flag” laws that allow a judge to temporarily remove firearms from people who are considered an imminent threat to themselves or others, a “cooling off period” for the purchase of a firearm and regulations on high capacity magazines for citizens.

[…]

Such laws are unlikely to gain traction in the Republican-controlled Legislature, which has a track record of favoring legislation that loosens gun restrictions. Only the governor has the power to call lawmakers back into a special session for emergency work.

Asked about a special session at a Friday press conference in Uvalde, Abbott said “all options are on the table” adding that he believed laws would ultimately be passed to address this week’s horrors. However, he suggested laws would be more tailored toward addressing mental health, rather than gun control.

“You can expect robust discussion and my hope is laws are passed, that I will sign, addressing health care in this state,” he said, “That status quo is unacceptable. This crime is unacceptable. We’re not going to be here and do nothing about it.”

Making things worse is always an option. The palaver about “addressing mental health” is as useless and empty as “thoughts and prayers”, since Abbott has said the same thing after each of the previous two mass shootings at schools that have happened during his reign, and all he has done in reality is cut funding for mental health care. Also, too, for the 597th time, the single biggest and best thing the state could do to improve mental health care in Texas is expand Medicaid, and we all know that ain’t happening as long as Abbott and his minions are in charge. Texas Public Radio has more.

Is there any chance the GLO won’t screw Houston this time around?

I mean, maybe. Things can happen. I just wouldn’t count on it.

Mayor Sylvester Turner on Wednesday commended the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for ordering Texas to fix a Hurricane Harvey recovery plan that the federal agency concluded “disproportionately harmed Black and Hispanic residents.”

HUD told the state’s General Land Office in the letter, dated Monday, it had 10 calendar days to become compliant by coming to a resolution. The federal department had found GLO discriminated against minority residents when it denied flood mitigation aid last May to the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Harvey.

To date, Houston has not received any funds, Turner said, “despite the city and the county incurring 50 percent of the damages from Harvey.”

“This is a step in the right direction. I appreciate HUD for ordering the GLO to bring its Hurricane Harvey Recovery Plan into compliance within ten days, or HUD will refer the matter to the U.S. Department of Justice,” Turner said in a statement. “This is about equity and fairness. It is time for the GLO to allocate a fair (or proportional) share of the federal funds to allow our communities to have adequate climate change mitigation and resilience resources. I urge the GLO to do the right thing for our most vulnerable communities.”

See here for the background. I use the embedded GIF in these posts as a reminder to everyone, including Chron editorial writers, that what the GLO has been doing isn’t “bungling”, it isn’t “a mistake”, it isn’t a matter of the GLO “getting its act together”. It’s all been a deliberate choice by the GLO, which knows what it’s doing and why it’s doing it. The solution to that isn’t trying to get them to see the error of their ways, it’s to take the job away from them because they don’t have any interest in doing it correctly.

Along those lines, this is the right attitude to adopt.

“We intended for the people who were suffering to get the money. But if you decide that you’re going to take it from the poor and the people of color and send it to areas where you don’t have a lot of people of color, then I think there’s reason for HUD to continue with this and I think HUD will,” said [US Rep. Al] Green. “That money was not sent to Texas so that it could be distributed to people who were not impacted by the hurricane.”

[…]

Green says he has talked to the General Land Office. And he’s held hearings where GLO representatives testified.

The Democrat says problems arise after the federal government sends money to the states, because once distributed, the states ultimately decide how it’s spent. And he says Texas has had problems in the past with diverting federal funds away from the intended purpose.

“And this is not just peculiar to this circumstance. It’s happened with money that was for education, not spent as we assumed it would be,” he said.

Green says lawmakers and HUD are waiting to see specific guidelines for the next round of funding distribution. He says it is possible for HUD to step in and take action against the state.

Meantime, the Houston Democrat says he’s looking into ways to “overhaul” the system. And he says lawmakers will consider adding a “clawback provision” to any future legislation.

“If a state declines to adhere to the intentionality of Congress, we can claw that back, claw the funds back and hold onto those funds. We should not allow states to receive funds and then disregard what Congress intended,” Green said.

That’s at least providing the proper incentives. We’ll see what happens next.

The editorial notes that bypassing the GLO and allocating the federal funds directly to the affected localities is an option and that the city is prepared for it, but that the city’s past track record with distributing Harvey funds isn’t good, either. That was the GLO’s rationale for stepping in as the middleman, though the city claims it was existing GLO bureaucracy that caused their problems in the first place. Be that as it may, I’d rather take my chances with the city than the GLO because at least I know the city will try to do right by Harvey victims. I can’t say that for the GLO, not as it is currently governed. Give me a different Land Commissioner and then we can talk, though really it would be nice to have made more progress by then. The bottom line is, George P. Bush cannot be trusted with this. Once that is accepted as the reality, we can figure out what the best way forward is.

GLO prepares to screw Houston again on Harvey recovery funds

Gird yourselves.

Of the more than 300,000 homes in Texas damaged by Hurricane Harvey in 2017, none were in Coryell County.

Located 220 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, this small agricultural county was not the place Congress had in mind when it sent Texas more than $4 billion in disaster preparedness money six months following the storm, said U.S. Rep. Al Green, D-Houston.

“We wanted to help people who were hurt by Harvey and had the potential to be hurt again, as opposed to people who were inland and not likely to have suffered great damage,” Green said.

Nevertheless, Coryell is slated to receive $3.4 million under the plan by the Texas General Land Office and its commissioner, George P. Bush.

After the land office awarded $1 billion of the aid last year, giving the city of Houston nothing, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development accused Bush’s office of discriminating against Black and Latino Texans. The land office had an opportunity to correct these inequities as it developed a new spending plan.

But an analysis by The Texas Tribune found that the land office is on track to follow a similar pattern as it prepares to allocate the next $1.2 billion of the federal aid. The agency’s revised plan will once again send a disproportionately high share of money to inland counties with lower risk of natural disasters.

Residents in the counties that will benefit most are also significantly whiter and more conservative than those receiving the least aid, an outcome some Democrats view with suspicion as Bush competes for the Republican nomination for attorney general this month.

[…]

John Henneberger, co-director of the low-income housing advocate Texas Housers, whose complaint set off the federal investigation, said the land office is failing to meet the most basic requirement for the money: to spend disaster aid in the areas at highest risk for disasters.

“Why does some community 200 miles from the coast get a new water system when you’ve got neighborhoods that have flooded four or five times in the last decade in a coastal community?” Henneberger said. “It’s a very cynical — and we think illegal — use of the funds.”

Numerous studies have shown poor people and people of color are most likely to be impacted by disasters, said Kevin Smiley, a professor of sociology at Louisiana State University. Planning for future calamities should address that disparity rather than make it worse, he added.

“It’s weird to think about disasters as one of the fundamental mechanisms widening social disparity in the United States, but they are,” said Smiley, whose research focuses on Harvey recovery efforts. “And it’s through nitty-gritty governmental processes that are disbursing mitigation funds that are partly doing it.”

See here for the previous update. The key thing to understand here is that this is not a mistake, it’s not an accident, it’s not the result of a good faith difference of opinion, and it’s not something that can be corrected by reasoned persuasion. It’s a deliberate choice, one that has now been made multiple times. Unfortunately, this time around they had a little help.

The land office’s new proposal for determining which counties would get funding, submitted in August, eliminated its old scoring metrics and instead opted to give $1.2 billion to nine regional councils of government, which would decide how to spend it within the HUD and state counties. These groups are political subdivisions of the state that help plan regional projects like infrastructure.

The land office argued the revisions would allow aid distribution to be tailored more closely to regions’ different mitigation needs. But although the strategy is different, a Tribune analysis of the plan found a fundamentally similar result: far lower spending per capita in the counties with the highest disaster risk.

The funding has not yet been allocated, but the state’s methodology all but guarantees the less disaster-prone counties selected by Bush would still end up with two to four times more funding per resident than the more coastal counties chosen by HUD.

This is because a sizable chunk of the councils of government’s $1.2 billion will flow inland. Even if the land office spent all of it in HUD counties — the plan only requires the councils to spend half their allotment there — it would still not close the per-person spending gap created by the initial funding competition.

Including the awards from the first funding competition, two councils composed of state-picked inland counties that rank no higher than 66th on the disaster index will end up with $752 per resident under the new plan.

The council which includes Jefferson, Orange and Hardin counties — HUD-selected counties on or near the coast that rank in the top 8 for disaster risk — will receive $441 per resident.

When federal investigators reviewed the original plan, these kinds of outcomes were a problem. HUD’s fair housing office on March 4 concluded that the initial scoring competition discriminated against Texans on the basis of race and national origin, since the coastal areas it steered aid away from have high concentrations of nonwhite residents.

Of the nine states that received disaster mitigation funding from the same federal appropriation, only Texas has received such a sanction. HUD gave the state two options: Enter into a voluntary agreement to correct the disparity or face a civil rights lawsuit from the Department of Justice.

And then, two weeks later, HUD approved the Bush team’s new spending plan.

In a letter to the land office on March 18, HUD Office of Block Grant Assistance Director Jessie Handforth Kome said the agency was required to approve the new plan because it was “substantially complete.” She warned, however, that HUD would closely monitor how Texas spends the rest of the aid and could address new violations by requiring the state to give money back.

The advocacy groups who pushed HUD to investigate possible discriminiation were shocked. They felt the best strategy would have been to withhold approval of the plan until Texas had demonstrated future aid distribution would be fair to Black and Latino residents in communities most at risk for disasters.

“HUD is making this harder on themselves,” said Maddie Sloan, an attorney who works on disaster recovery issues for public interest nonprofit Texas Appleseed. “It would make much more sense to ensure the money gets where it’s needed in the first place instead of doing a retroactive look at where it went and whether that violates the law.”

The mixed messaging from HUD, however, creates the impression that Texas can simply ignore the agency’s discrimination claims and spend the aid as it sees fit.

The land office has since shown few signs it is open to compromise. In a blistering 12-page letter in April responding to the discrimination findings, attorneys for the agency called HUD’s objections “politically motivated” and “factually and legally baseless” and noted that HUD had approved the state’s plan for distributing the money.

How thoroughly HUD may vet the new land office plan is unclear. If investigators apply the same rigor they did to the original, said Texas Housers Research Director Ben Martin, they will likely conclude it also violates federal civil rights laws.

“The jurisdictions that were hardest hit by Hurricane Harvey remain the jurisdictions at the highest risk of future disaster,” Martin said. “They’re being severely underfunded by GLO.”

I don’t understand what HUD is doing either. At this point, it may be best to bring on the civil rights lawsuit. And vote in a Land Commissioner that won’t do this sort of thing again.

Federal lawsuit filed over Abbott’s border arrest fiasco

Meant to post this last week.

Three private defense attorneys, representing 15 migrant men arrested under Gov. Greg Abbott’s border operation, have filed a federal lawsuit seeking to end the governor’s policy of arresting migrants on criminal trespass charges, which the suit argues is racially discriminatory and infringes on the federal government’s immigration authority.

The lawsuit is the first to challenge Abbott’s Operation Lone Star in federal court, though defense attorneys have raised similar arguments in ongoing state litigation. The federal suit, filed Wednesday in the Austin-based U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, asks the court to scrap the governor’s border initiative altogether and order the release of migrants arrested under what it calls a “separate criminal prosecution and detention system.”

“The criminal process is rife with civil rights violations that have led to extreme, outrageous delays in cases that often end in dismissal or non-prosecution,” the lawsuit states, alleging state authorities filed “fraudulent probable cause affidavits,” failed to appoint attorneys for some defendants, and waited too long to file charges for numerous migrants.

Under orders from Abbott, state troopers and National Guard troops have arrested more than 3,000 migrant men since last July for allegedly trespassing on private property along the border. The operation has allowed Texas officials to jail migrants without running afoul of legal precedent that largely prevents states from enforcing federal immigration law.

The federal suit argues, however, that the entire program — including the trespass arrests — is “intended to rival or supplant federal immigration policy” and “interferes with federal enforcement priorities.” It argues that while the Biden administration has ordered immigration authorities to prioritize the most serious offenders, such as those with violent criminal history, Operation Lone Star “targets any and all suspected aliens without regard to dangerousness.”

Defense attorneys have used a similar argument in a pending state lawsuit that seeks to dismiss the cases of more than 400 migrants arrested under Texas’ border initiative. That lawsuit is modeled after an earlier case in which a Travis County judge tossed the trespass charge against Jesús Alberto Guzmán Curipoma, an engineer from Ecuador who was arrested in September.

Curipoma and his attorneys, Angelica Cogliano and Addy Miro, are also part of the federal lawsuit filed Wednesday.

[…]

The federal lawsuit further alleges that migrants are routinely arrested under Operation Lone Star without probable cause, in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and based on their perceived ethnicity and immigration status, resulting in “systemic discrimination.” The attorneys cited arrest affidavits filed by Department of Public Safety troopers that refer to detainees as Spanish or Hispanic and undocumented, or reference their country of origin.

Such statements “suggested that the individual’s perceived ethnicity was relevant to the DPS trooper’s understanding that that person was not welcome on the property,” the lawsuit reads.

The suit seeks monetary damages of $18,000 for each day that migrants were “unlawfully incarcerated or unlawfully re-incarcerated,” amounting to $5.4 million.

Much of the language from the lawsuit mirrors that of a complaint filed by civil rights groups with the U.S. Department of Justice last December, in which the groups urged the Biden administration to investigate Operation Lone Star. The Justice Department has yet to step in against Abbott’s initiative.

Meant to include this in that big roundup of border and legal stories, but I just missed it. My bad and my apologies. I don’t have anything to add other than I’m rooting for these plaintiffs and I’d like to see the Justice Department get off its ass and address that complaint from December.

Biden administration to appeal airplane mask mandate order

Good.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration said on Tuesday it would appeal a judge’s ruling ending a mask mandate on airplanes if public health officials deem it necessary to stem the spread of COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to whom the administration was deferring, said that it would continue to study whether the mandates were still needed. The mandates apply to planes, trains and other public transportation and, prior to Monday’s ruling, had been due to expire on May 3.

“We will continue to assess the need for a mask requirement in those settings, based on several factors, including the U.S. COVID-19 community levels, risk of circulating and novel variants, and trends in cases and disease severity,” a CDC spokesperson said in a statement on Tuesday.

The Justice Department said it would appeal Monday’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle that the 14-month-old directive was unlawful, if the CDC determined the mandate was needed to protect public health.

See here for the background. For what it’s worth, the public still supports masking on airplanes. Airlines and their employees have not been very fond of it, which is understandable given the amount of petulance and rage they have had to deal with from unhinged mask-haters. Maybe they shouldn’t be so quick to let any of those folks back on board, but that’s just my opinion. It’s true that airplanes have excellent filtration and ventilation, which make them pretty safe from a COVID transmission perspective, though not entirely. And getting on and off the airplane, not to mention being in the airport, is much riskier. Masking up is still your best bet. Slate and Vox have more.

Second lawsuit filed over Galveston redistricting

Similar grounds, different plaintiffs.

Commissioner Stephen Holmes

A coalition of civil rights groups in Texas filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against Galveston County, alleging that the county’s redistricting plan intentionally discriminates against a growing minority population in the Gulf Coast community.

The complaint, shared first with CNN, marks the second lawsuit that seeks to overturn maps approved by the Republican majority on the county’s governing body. Last month, the Justice Department filed a federal lawsuit against the county on similar grounds — in a redistricting dispute that has garnered national attention.

The new lawsuit — brought by the Texas Civil Rights Project and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice on behalf of local branches of the NAACP and the Galveston League of United Latin American Citizens Council 151 — alleges that the new map diminishes the voting power of Black and Hispanic voters by splitting up the only majority-minority precinct.

The new map endangers the reelection of Stephen Holmes, the county’s only Black commissioner, who has served on the board for 22 years. Holmes is next on the ballot in 2024.

The lawsuit alleges the Republicans majority pushed through a “racially discriminatory map” that “largely took place behind closed doors.”

Sarah Chen, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, called the map — and the process used by the Republican majority in the county to approve it — “egregious examples of people in power … exercising that power to dilute the votes of racial minorities.”

[…]

Both this lawsuit and the complaint by the Justice Department underscore the difficult legal terrain that voting rights advocates now face in challenging alleged discriminatory maps. This cycle marks the first round of redistricting since the US Supreme Court in 2013 gutted the so-called preclearance provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

That provision required states with a history of discrimination to first obtain the permission of the federal government or the courts before enacting new laws related to voting.

With those powers gone, the Justice Department’s lawsuit relies largely on another section of the federal voting rights law, Section 2, which puts the burden on the federal government to prove its case.

The lawsuit filed Thursday cites Section 2, but also argues that map violates the constitutional rights of Black and Latino voters to equal protection of the law.

Chen said civil rights groups are looking for “different pathways” in voting rights cases “because victory is never assured.”

See here and here for the background, and here for a copy of the complaint. The Texas Civil Rights Project, which is co-counsel along with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, has a tweet thread about this as well. I haven’t read through the two of them so I can’t say where they are specifically similar and different, but the coverage suggests they have overlap. It won’t surprise me if these two lawsuits are eventually combined. I remain less than confident that the plaintiffs will get the relief they seek given the hostility the federal courts have shown towards voting rights in recent years, but I will say that I’m old enough to remember a day when a white majority reducing the political power of communities of color for the reasons of “because we can, that’s why” was considered to be in poor taste. I feel like we should try to return to those days, but what do I know? Daily Kos has more.

Feds warn about lawsuits to come over anti-trans legislation

Bring it.

The Department of Justice is warning states like Texas that policies meant to block transgender children from receiving gender-affirming care violate their constitutional rights.

“Intentionally erecting discriminatory barriers to prevent individuals from receiving gender-affirming care implicates a number of federal legal guarantees,” DOJ officials wrote in a letter sent Thursday to state attorney generals.

The letter comes after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton authored a nonbinding legal opinion that some gender-affirming care may constitute child abuse and Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the state’s child welfare agency to investigate parents who get such care for their children.

[…]

The DOJ says additional lawsuits may follow.

“State laws and policies that prevent parents or guardians from following the advice of a health care professional regarding what may be medically necessary or otherwise appropriate care for transgender minors may infringe on rights protected by both the equal protection and the due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment,” said the DOJ letter, which was sent on Trans Day of Visibility.

Not much to add here. I don’t have a whole lot of faith in the courts, but I also don’t know what else there is to be done right now. A better Senate is really what’s needed to move the ball forward, and the odds of that happening in this election aren’t great. But again, what else is there to be done? The 19th has more.