Archive for the ‘Austin’ Category

On the legal beat.

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg, as promised, did not seek re-election. Margaret Moore is the new DA, and will take over January 3rd.

But she’s already making her mark: she’s fired 27 people.

Seventeen attorneys, 12 investigators and six administrative staff are retiring or have been told they will no longer have jobs when Moore takes over on Jan. 3. Additionally, 13 lawyers are being bumped to a lower classification and will take paycuts. And more changes may be coming. Moore told the American-Statesman on Tuesday she still has decisions to make on some administrative positions after wrapping up interviews this week.
in all, 48 people in the 238-employee agency have been affected by the moves. Twenty-seven were told their services will no longer be needed; they will not receive severance pay.

Is this good or bad? The DA’s office seems to want to spin it as “good”:

The shakeup marks the most sweeping personnel shift at the DA’s office in decades, with Moore carrying through on her campaign promise to reorganize after 40 years of a continuous administration that began with Ronnie Earle and continued with Rosemary Lehmberg.

And it isn’t unprecedented for a new DA to want their own people. See Pat Lykos. Okay, maybe that was a bad example…

But there also seem to be some possibly legitimate concerns:

District Judge Karen Sage questioned Moore’s decision to reassign a prosecutor who had been tasked with handling complex mental health cases. Others in the legal community were surprised when Moore appointed defense attorney Rickey Jones to a key mid-management position despite Jones’s two bar sanctions — one for giving questionable legal advice and another for questionable advice as well as intermingling his money with his clients’ funds held in a trust account. The sanctions were lifted in 2007.

,,,

Moore said she will reassign the attorney who prosecutes mental health cases, Michelle Hallee, which caught the attention of Judge Sage, who says the move has her “deeply concerned.” Several years ago, Sage had a hand in creating a court program for mentally ill people accused of minor crimes that decreased the time they spent in jail by 50 percent. Sage said it would be a mistake for Moore to assign mental health cases to prosecutors who are not sensitive to the needs of the defendants and are more interested in securing a conviction than creating a path for rehabilitation and reducing recidivism.

In other news, here’s an idea: why don’t we separate the crime lab from the APD? This makes a lot of sense to me: one of my ideas for criminal justice reform is to make crime labs arms of the court system itself, reporting to the judiciary, rather than arms of law enforcement. I’m sure that the vast majority of people who work in these labs remain independent, but it still looks and feels unseemly to me to have that kind of reporting relationship.

It seems like Grits agrees, though he calls for the lab to be “truly independent, as was done in Houston“.

I could live with that. They might need a new building, which probably means more bonds and more taxes, which does not excite me. But I think I could vote for that, too, as long as they put two quotes over the doorways:

Fiat justitia ruat caelum.

I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.

(See also.)

Memo from the police beat.

Friday, December 2nd, 2016

The APD officer who shot and killed a naked 17-year-old earlier this year, and who was fired by Chief Acevedo, has settled with the city.

Basically, what’s going to happen is that:

  • The arbitration process stops. So the officer won’t get his job back.
  • His firing gets reclassified as “a general discharge”. In theory, this means that he could get a job in law enforcement somewhere else. At least, according to the Statesman.
  • The fired officer gets $35,000. That seems kind of low to me, even if his lawyers aren’t getting a percentage.

Why settle, though? Well, the city may have felt like $35,000 was a cheap price to pay not to go through the hassle. And what if…

The public arbitration process would have held the fatal police shooting in the headlines for several days with hearings throughout next week. It also would have forced Mayor Steve Adler to testify in the hearing after Freeman’s attorney subpoenaed him.

So you get the mayor, you probably get Acevedo, maybe you get Chief Manley (no idea how involved he was in the decision making…

…and I hate to play the “I know more than you do” card, but I’ve heard some things through the grapevine that indicate the arbitration hearing could have gotten complicated and possibly embarrassing for some of the parties involved. The circumstances under which I heard this make me uncomfortable going into detail, but let’s just say: it seems like there was a chance (and not a “Chicago Cubs winning the World Series” chance; oh, wait, never mind) that the chief’s decision could have been overturned, and the fired officer placed back on the force.

It would have been interesting to see how that played out: does the APD need two people on pager duty? (Actually, by now, that guy would have 29 or 30 years in: he’s probably retired and collecting at least 76% of $98,000 a year, if not more and if I remember my APD pension math right.)

Art (Acevedo), damn it! watch. (#AD of a series)

Thursday, December 1st, 2016

Chief Acevedo’s last day on the job was Tuesday. Yesterday, he was officially confirmed as Houston’s police chief, and takes over today.

Before he left, Chief Acevedo did an “exit interview” with the Statesman. It is fairly short, but there’s one interesting quote that I’ll pull:

The (closure of the police) DNA lab really bothers me. I wish that we wouldn’t be here today where we’ve had to shut it down for so many months because our scientists decided to go onto an island to themselves. The lab is not reopened, and it probably won’t be open until early next year, so that’s the one thing I kind of leave undone, understanding that the work never ends.”

Why is this interesting? Well, there’s a story that came out in the past day or so. Seems like the DNA lab had a problem with a freezer that wasn’t working.

The lab subscribes to a service that is supposed to alert staff when a freezer gets too warm, but because that system failed, officials said the samples were at an improper temperature for eight days — instead of a few hours.

This is the kind of thing that could compromise the integrity of the stored evidence. So what did the lab do about it?

… they decided to keep mum. They alerted no one outside the lab — not investigators, prosecutors, defense attorneys or judges.
“If, in the future, the laboratory determines that a sample has been affected by this incident, the customer will be notified,” interim DNA technical leader Diana Morales wrote in a March 16 letter to her bosses.

That’s…not good, in my opinion. I might even go so far as to say:

Public service announcement.

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016

Partly as a reminder to myself, partly as a warning to any Austin area readers who may not be aware yet:

The weekend of December 3rd through December 5th, MoPac is going to be completely hosed going northbound.

A short stretch of northbound MoPac south of Enfield Road, for the last several months already reduced from three to two lanes, will be closed completely from midnight to 6 a.m. early Dec. 3 and 4, and midnight to 5 a.m. on Dec. 5. During the day and evening on Dec. 3 and 4, starting at 6 a.m., a single northbound lane will be open.

Art (Acevedo), damn it! watch. (#AC of a series)

Thursday, November 17th, 2016

I don’t think this is going to be the last one, but we may be nearing the end.

Austin police Chief Art Acevedo is expected to be named Houston’s police chief, a source told the American-Statesman early Thursday, ending a 9 ½-year tenure that has made him one of Austin’s most visible figures while presiding in a time that ushered both progress and setbacks in relations between law enforcement and the community.

I have reservations, given that this is so far just “a source” said and there’s been no official announcement. Also, if he is taking the Houston job, I may want to continue the Art watch: it isn’t like he’s going to be on the other side of the world…

If this does become official, I’ll throw an update in.

Edited to add: The HouChron is quoting Mayor Adler as making it official.

Appearing comfortable before the cameras when Austin crime made national headlines, he became a national face for Texas’ capital city and in recent years had been mentioned as a candidate to head several other law-enforcement agencies – for the head of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, as a finalist for police chief in Dallas and San Antonio.

Yeah. I had a theory (which was poo-pooed by others) that if Clinton won, he’d be moving to some sort of government position in homeland security. I guess I wasn’t too far off after all.

Edited to add 2: official statement by the Chief. (Hattip: RoadRich.)

Noted.

Sunday, October 30th, 2016

I voted early today.

There was almost no line. This was at around 12:30 PM at the Randall’s in Lakeway.

Just a data point.

Art (Acevedo), damn it! watch. (#AB of a series)

Thursday, October 20th, 2016

I want to get this up while it is still fresh, but I don’t have as much time to think and write about as I’d like: I’m actually down at the cop shop tonight.

The chief recently had a closed door meeting with his commanders. Apparently, during the meeting, he laid into a few of them about not following his direction, especially with respect to relations with the minority community.

Someone taped the meeting and provided a copy to the Statesman. (Edited to add 10/21: Link fixed. Thanks, Uncle Kenny.)

Quick thoughts, based on a skim of the article:

  • Taping the meeting and giving a copy to the press strikes me as questionable.
  • I don’t see anything really outrageous in what the chief said.

I may have more to say on further reflection.

Where there’s smoke….

Friday, September 30th, 2016

…there may be flaming tax-fattened hyenas. And also, Monty Hall.

I intended to write about Dawnna Dukes and her sudden retirement announcement (too close to election day for her to be taken off the ballot, so we’ll probably end up with a special election next year). Lawrence, however, beat me to it.

But there’s a new development since Lawrence wrote his post.

According to the Statesman, quoting “a courthouse source”, Ms. Dukes and District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg are playing “Let’s Make a Deal”.

Prosecutors were prepared to ask a grand jury to indict the veteran Austin lawmaker before Dukes announced Monday that she will retire in January, said the source, who was not authorized to discuss the investigation. A lawyer for Dukes reached out to the district attorney’s office and is negotiating with prosecutors, who have delayed taking the case to a grand jury, the source said. No deal has been struck yet.

The DA isn’t commenting on any deal, but she does say Rep. Dukes’ retirement “will affect how we act but it’s not determinative,”

Her retirement announcement came the week after the Texas Rangers delivered their criminal investigation of Dukes to the district attorney’s office. Prosecutors were confident they could obtain indictments related to two issues, the source said: Dukes’ directing her legislative staff to work on non-governmental projects and do personal errands, and Dukes’ misusing her campaign account.

By the way:

Dukes’ state pension will be about $74,000 a year.

Nobody ever calls me “Sir”…

Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

…unless they follow it with “You’re making a scene.”

Seriously, there’s a story in Austin that provides some food for contemplation. In brief, a crazed child molester tried to grab an eight-year old girl in the bathroom of a public library branch. Luckily, good citizens stepped in and the bad guy is in jail.

Before he tried to grab the eight-year-old, he tried to grab another girl:

An 11-year-old told her father while at the library a man grabbed her, picked her up, and tried to potentially kidnap her. When she yelled “help,” the man let her go. The girl’s father said they were about to leave after hearing about what happened when the suspect approached them again and “grabbed the victim by the wrist and said the girl was coming with him,” continued in the affidavit. The father told the suspect “don’t touch her” and Powell let her go.

The father is now second guessing himself.

“I still didn’t think of him as a serious threat at that point, I thought maybe he was a homeless guy, with mental issues. I didn’t want to cause a big disturbance, I just wanted to get out,” he said.

He did call 911, but it was after they left the library and were on their way home. By the time he called, the bad guy had already tried to grab the second girl.

“Beating a guy who I thought was homeless and had mental issues wouldn’t have made the situation any better. As far telling the librarian, I didn’t think he was a serious threat at that time,” says the father. “I thought he was some weird crazy homeless guy and someone would tell him to leave. Thought it would be the end, but sadly it wasn’t.”

I’m not criticizing the father in this situation at all. I can understand the desire to leave and just not make a scene. And it doesn’t seem like he had complete information at the time; only after they left did his daughter give him the details that triggered his 911 call.

But it does kind of make me think. The emphasis in license to carry training is on de-escalation, and rightly so. Famous quotes (and I forget who deserves credit for them): “Every bullet out of your gun has a $50,000 lawyer’s bill attached”. “Your best defense is a lifelong commitment to avoidance and de-escalation.”

All of this is true. No normal person wants to shoot anyone. A commitment to avoidance and de-escalation is the right (and practical) thing to do.

But we can’t avoid the world.

We talk about scenarios as a way of furthering our situational awareness. “What would I do if that guy came at me with a broken milk carton?” Maybe, just maybe, one thing we should be doing is thinking about when we shouldn’t make a scene – when we should de-escalate – and when making a scene is justified.

A few notes from the police blotter…

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

…or, in this case, sort of the blotter.

The City of Austin approved a budget for next fiscal year in an 8-2 vote. The approved budget “will charge the typical resident about $87 more in city taxes and fees next year”.

And what will we get for the money?

Next year’s operations include a 2 percent pay increase for city employees, to kick in during the pay period before Christmas. There’s funding for a new curbside composting program, at a cost of $4.2 million to the city and a phased-in cost of $64.80 to homeowners after five years. There’s $600,000 more for housing aimed at reducing homelessness.

But the news isn’t all bad. The city is hiring eight new employees to do DNA testing. (But the lab is relying on grant money and whatever they can scrounge elsewhere to actually get the testing done.) And the Transportation Department is hiring 13 new people, “most of which will be dedicated to traffic signal timing”. Traffic signal timing? In Austin? You don’t say.

And what of the cops? What of APD’s request for more officers?

In the new budget, Adler explained, Austin will add 52 emergency service workers, 12 police officers, 21 civilian police staff and 38 development service employees intended to speed up Austin’s notoriously arduous permitting and building inspection process.

Exactly what the city manager asked for. (Well, the cops and police staff anyway: I don’t know about the development staff.)

As a side note, I mentioned when I was taking the Citizen’s Police Academy class earlier this year that we got to go on a tour of the forensics lab. I’m attending CPA again this fall, but as an alumnus rather than a student. (What this means in practice is that I’m basically volunteering to help set stuff up before the class, knock things down after the class, and sit in the back and keep my mouth shut during the class.)

Point of this digression: the lab tour isn’t being offered to CPA students this time around.

In other news, the APD suspended an officer for 20 days for improper use of a stun gun: specifically, the officer tasered a restrained person.

The other part of the story: the guy who was Tasered is the same guy who got pepper-sprayed in the back of the police van.

Wilson had been arrested on suspicion of public intoxication. At the booking facility, Wilson was restrained with handcuffs and a set of belly chain handcuffs, but later stood up from a chair and argued with several officers. Wilson refused to remain seated and a struggle ensued, the memo said.
Jimenez fired her stun gun once at Wilson, discharging a five-second pulse as the struggle concluded, the memo said.

Apparently, Tasering a handcuffed possibly drunk guy who is struggling with officers is FROWNED UPON IN THIS ESTABLISHMENT!

Jimenez admitted during her disciplinary review hearing that she should have used less violent means to control Wilson. She expressed regret for her actions, the memo said.

No appeal is once again part of the deal.

And from the department of “play stupid games, win stupid prizes”: the APD shot and killed a guy earlier today. The initial reports make it sound like a good shoot: they got a call about a suspicious guy wandering around an apartment complex with a backpack looking into cars, responded, didn’t find him initially, came back 2o minutes later after a second report and found him…

Officers radioed for air support and K9 units to help find the man as they continued to chase him on foot. An officer eventually ran the man down and used his stun gun to try to make an arrest, officials said.

The guy went down, the officers stated yelling at him to show his hands, he initially wasn’t compliant, and then…

“What we can see on video is that the suspect very quickly rolls over, produces a handgun and begins firing shots at our officers,” Manley said. “Our officers immediately retreat and return fire. There are multiple shots that are fired, again by both the suspect who initiated the gunfire and our officer who returned fire.”

Part of the referenced video (taken by a resident of the complex, not the police) is on the KVUE website. It isn’t the best quality, and I swear I saw a better version elsewhere, but it seems to show exactly what the APD is saying happened: they told the guy to roll over, he came up shooting…

(Edited to add 9/16: the video I was thinking of is on Facebook and linked from this Reddit thread. I recommend ignoring the comments.)

Noted: this is the second fatal police shooting in Austin in 10 days. A week ago Monday, the APD shot a man whp was wandering around an apartment complex holding a “high-powered rifle”: the police took cover, repeatedly asked the man to drop the weapon, actually shot him several times with “beanbag” rounds, and finally (the exact chain of events is currently unclear) shot the man. It sounds like classic “suicide by cop”: the man was being described as emotionally distraught after a recent break-up with his girlfriend.

Obit watch: September 5, 2016.

Monday, September 5th, 2016

Officer Amir Abdul-Khaliq of the Austin Police Department passed away yesterday.

He was critically injured in an accident on Thursday. According to reports, he was escorting a funeral procession, and was at the Burnet/Ohlen intersection when a woman pulled in front of him (trying to make it into a gap in the procession) resulting in the officer striking her vehicle.

Cmdr. Art Fortune with the Police Department’s Highway Enforcement Command said the department has handled at least a dozen motorcycle crashes involving officers in the past two years, but none had been as serious as Thursday’s incident.

Officer Abdul-Khaliq had been on the force for 17 years and has five children.

Be careful out there, people.

Semi-related: “A Fighter Pilot’s Guide to Surviving on the Roads..”

The police beat.

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

A while back, I mentioned the case of an APD officer who allegedly pepper-sprayed a suspect who was handcuffed in the back of a police van.

The officer and the chief have made a deal: 45 days of unpaid suspension, along with some additional conditions (“requiring him to be evaluated by a police psychologist and to have a one-year probationary period”).

Despite the reprimand, Acevedo said that Caldwell was right to try to gain compliance from Wilson, noting that Wilson wasn’t being cooperative. Acevedo said Caldwell had other options — such as asking other officers for help to pin him down and restrain his legs — but described him as an officer with no previous disciplinary issues who “but for this incident has done a pretty good job.”

Part of the deal is that Officer Caldwell will not appeal the decision, since he just got an unpaid suspension instead of a firing.