Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Memo from the police beat.

Thursday, June 22nd, 2017

Remember a few months ago, we had a guy who shot himself in the back of a patrol car while under arrest, because the cop missed his gun during the patdown? (Previously.)

Chief Slate Fistcrunch Manley suspended the officer for 20 days. This is one of those “let’s make a deal” suspensions: the officer took the 20 day suspension, agreed not to appeal, and in turn the chief agreed not to fire him.

“A twenty-day suspension is like a vacation,” Sayeed said.

Except he’s not getting paid for it. And he loses benefits for that period. And it is a blot on his permanent record. And he can’t do any part-time work related to law enforcement while he’s on suspension, as I recall. (I think he could mow lawns, or drive for Uber, or other temp jobs, but I don’t think he could work security. At least if I remember the APD discipline policy correctly.)

I hate to seem like I have callouses on my soul. I get that the family is sad and upset, and I get that some people will think I’m a cop apologist. But look: it isn’t like the cop pulled his own gun and shot the guy. It isn’t like the cop killed him in a negligent discharge, or shot him in the back as he was running away.

This man pulled his own gun, held it to his head, and pulled the trigger on his own. What the officer did wrong here was missing the gun in the frisk.

Is that a firing offense? Or is this guy possibly salvageable, and a 20-day suspension, a year of probation, having to go out to the acade4my and tell cadets “this is how I f’ed up, don’t be like me”, and the memory of this incident, is enough? I think maybe it is.

Chief’s memo here.

Meanwhile, in another odd story, another APD officer and his wife are being charged federally with social security fraud Specifically, “making a false statement to an agency of the United States and misprision of felony”. It sounds like he lied about having a joint bank account with the wife, and lied about living in the same household with her.

I love that word, “misprision”. Almost as much as I love “barratry”.

But lying about having a joint account – something that’s so easy to check – is such a stupid thing to do, it makes me wonder: were these two just getting really bad advice from a lawyer, or someone pretending to be a lawyer? Or were they desperate and made bad choices? Or were they really trying to scam the system? The Statesman is oddly short on details at the moment.

Bagatelle (#5).

Tuesday, June 20th, 2017

Could it be…SATAN?!

No. Actually, it wasn’t Satan at all. It was mass hysteria and a doctor who made a mistake.

I’ll throw this in just for fun: if you are a “dancer” who performs “in paint, latex, wax, gel, foam, film and coatings”, are you a nude dancer in the eyes of the law?

And why does it matter? Because clubs with “fully nude” dancers have to collect a state-mandated $5 entry fee.

…n January 2017 the comptroller amended its rules to include clubs that employ latex and paint-covered dancers as sexually oriented businesses.

Department of I Wasn’t Going to Blog This.

Friday, June 9th, 2017

Really, I wasn’t. But I tossed off a quick email mention to a few friends last night, and I was surprised at the reaction. Then I saw that the story made the WP

Terry Thompson was indicted Thursday on murder charges. His wife was also indicted as an accessory.

The twist is: Mrs. Thompson is a Harris County Sheriff’s deputy.

Backstory: On May 28th, Terry Thompson and his kids went to a Denny’s. There, they ran into John Hernandez, who was allegedly urinating in public outside the restaurant. Thompson confronted Hernandez and the confrontation got physical at some point. Thompson took Hernandez to the ground, pinned him down, and put his arm around Hernandez’s neck.

There isn’t video of what led up to the confrontation, but there is about 50 seconds of video showing Thompson pinning down Hernandez. Mrs. Thompson is also shown helping her husband pin down Hernandez. (My understanding is that Mrs. Thompson also tried, or encouraged other people to try, to stop the video, but I can’t find my original source for that. I may have misread or misremembered one of the stories.)

Hernandez eventually stopped breathing and passed out, at which point Mrs. Thompson administered CPR. Hernandez was taken to the hospital, where he died three days later from “a lack of oxygen to the brain caused by chest compression and strangulation” according to the coroner.

The sheriff’s office, rightly (in my opinion) asked the Texas Rangers and Department of Justice to assist with the investigation, and suspended Deputy Thompson. But there was a significant amount of community pressure in this case, including a demonstration in front of the DA’s offices Wednesday afternoon.

Keep in mind: Hernandez passed on the 31st, and the Thompsons were indicted on the 8th. I’m not sure if anyone knows how far the Rangers and DOJ have gotten in their investigation. But the sheriff his ownself today announced that Internal Affairs is looking at eight other deputies who responded.

That’s probably not unusual: from my understanding pf APD policy, this would be considered a “death in custody”. APD’s Special Investigations Division would be tasked with investigating it, IA would probably be involved as well, and they’d be looking at everyone who showed up to the scene.

What is unusual is that this was presented to the grand jury as a “direct to grand jury” case, and the speed with which it was presented to the grand jury. Murray Newman, who I’ve mentioned many times in the past (former Harris County prosecutor, now defense attorney) has a good explanation: briefly, “direct to grand jury” means the prosecutors present whatever evidence they have, but leave the decision on whether and what charges to file up to the grand jury.

Cases that are presented directly to Grand Jury are usually complicated ones. They often take weeks and weeks, if not months and months, to investigate before a presentation is made. The idea that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to file charges on Thompson last week but there is enough for a full Grand Jury presentation this week doesn’t really compute. The skeptical side me thinks that there is more in play here.

HouChron coverage of the indictment. WP story. Both of these include the video.

So is the DA’s office trying to railroad a guy and his wife for acting in self-defense, because elements of the community are demanding it? Or did this guy and his wife the deputy figure they could get away with choking a minority because of their law enforcement connections?

Or does the truth lie somewhere in the middle? I have no idea. This is why we have judges and juries. But it will be an interesting case to follow.

Obit watch: May 28, 2017.

Sunday, May 28th, 2017

Gregg Allman, of the Allman Brothers Band and “married to Cher” fame.

In 1977, Mr. Allman and the singer Cher, to whom he was married at the time, released the album “Two the Hard Way.” (They were billed on the cover as Allman and Woman.) The project was poorly received by critics and the record-buying public alike.

Jim Bunning, Hall of Fame baseball player, perfect game pitcher, and later a congressional rep and a senator frim Kentucky.

He was the second pitcher, after Cy Young, to win at least 100 games, record at least 1,000 strikeouts and throw no-hitters in both the American and National Leagues. When he retired after the 1971 season, his 2,855 strikeouts were second only to Walter Johnson’s 3,509.

And, of course, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor and soccer theorist.

You’re going down in flames, you tax-fattened hyena! (#41 in a series)

Tuesday, May 16th, 2017

(Hattip to Mike the Musicologist for sending me the image.)

Previously on Battleswarm: Democratic State Senator Carlos Uresti’s Offices Raided by FBI, IRS.

And now, the senses shattering Part II:

Texas State senator Carlos Uresti, a Democrat from San Antonio, was indicted today. He’s facing a total of 13 charges, including “conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and two counts of securities fraud”.

Interestingly, there’s actually two separate indictments that cover two separate “incidents”. The first one is being called the “Four Winds indictment”. Four Winds was a company that supposedly provided “frac sand”.

Documents filed months ago that outline the investigation claim that company officials in 2014 wired money from the company to personal bank accounts controlled by conspirators or their spouses; sent altered bank statements for the Four Winds’ general operating account to potential investors; and emailed an investor a spreadsheet that falsely showed the investor’s investment was used to buy fracking sands.

The main claim seems to be that Four Winds was just a giant Ponzi scheme. Uresti was the company’s general counsel. He’s charged with:

One count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, five substantive counts of wire fraud, two counts of securities fraud, one count of engaging in monetary transactions with property derived from specified unlawful activity, and one count of being an unregistered securities broker.

Also charged were Stan Bates, the CEO, and Gary L. Cain, a consultant for the company. According to the Statesman‘s report, the Four Winds investigation has already resulted in three guilty pleas by officers of the company.

Indictment number two is the “Reeves County indictment”. In this one, Uresti and a guy named “Vernon C. Farthing III” conspired to “pay and accept bribes” so that Farthing III’s company would get a contract for medical services for the Reeves County Correctional Center.

The indictment specifically alleges that Farthing paid Uresti $10,000 a month as a marketing consultant and that half of that sum was then given to a Reeves County official for his support and vote to award the contract to Farthing’s company, federal officials said.

Uresti and Farthing III are both charged with “one count of conspiracy to commit bribery and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering”.

Quoth the Statesman one more time (and this article is by Katie Hall, who I generally consider to be a pretty solid reporter on the crime beat):

Uresti would face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of being an unregistered securities broker. Additionally, each man could face up to 20 years in prison for each fraud charge and up to 10 years in prison for each money laundering charge.

Here is your obligatory link to Ken White on federal sentencing and why it’s misleading to say things like “up to 20 years”. I find it seriously hard to believe that Uresti will get anything close to that: Russell Erxleben only got 84 months (7 years) for his first conviction, and 90 months for his second.

Then again, Erxleben was a UT football player: Uresti was a Marine, but as far as I can tell, did not play football.

Hookers and blow watch.

Saturday, May 13th, 2017

I swear that I wrote about the “resignation” of Don Pitts as the city of Austin’s “music manager” ($97,000 a year) back in February when it happened. But I can’t find that blog entry now, and even search engines don’t help.

Anyway, Mr. Pitts resigned after a city audit turned up the fact that one of his employees had submitted a fake invoice so she could get reimbursed for what was represented as a “zero-cost” “2014 work trip to Europe to promote Austin’s music scene”.

There’s a little more to the story than that, however. The employee claims that Mr. Pitts told her to submit the trip as “zero-cost” so the approval would go through, and told her to submit the fake invoice so she could get reimbursed. Mr. Pitts denies that he told her to submit the fake invoice, but he admitted that he didn’t tell anyone about the fake invoice when he found out about it: that’s what led to his forced resignation, apparently.

And meanwhile, the city filed an ethics complaint against the also now-ex employee.

That complaint was dismissed Wednesday evening.

A divided and half-present Ethics Review Commission cleared [the employee] of wrongdoing Wednesday night after failing to reach consensus on whether she or Pitts was primarily responsible for the scheme.

Because only six of the ethics board’s 11 members were present, they needed a unanimous vote to find that [the employee] abused her position and violated city policies. Four members were inclined to give her a pass in light of testimony that Pitts was at least aware, if not the architect, of the attempts to pay [the employee] under the table.

It seems odd that almost half of them didn’t even bother to show up.

Also worth noting: the employee in question made other complaints about Pitts.

…a Human Resources Department investigation into a dozen of [the employee]’s claims, which found three violations by Pitts of employee conduct policies. Records show he sent staff a copy of a resignation letter from a former job in an effort to motivate, but it came across as threatening, and he said he wouldn’t hire a temporary employee who complained that [the employee] was mistreated in the department.

Not sure how saying “I’m not going to hire a temp” is a violation of HR policy, but okay. Nut:

A third violation involved using the slang term “hookers and blow,” which Pitts said was common in the music industry when referring to excess, but human resources investigators deemed inappropriate. Investigators also found Pitts had called [the employee]’s mother to try to talk about her performance at work, though they didn’t consider that a violation of city policies.

So you can’t say “hookers and blow” at work. But you can call someone’s mother to talk about their work performance. Good. To. Know.

Remind me again: why does this office exist?

You’re going down in flames, you tax-fattened hyena! (#40 in a series)

Thursday, May 11th, 2017

In a bit of a hurry here: this just broke, and I’ve got stuff to do.

But: remember Corrine Brown, the former Democratic House rep from the 5th District of Florida? (I didn’t know this, not being an avid follower of Florida politics, but she lost her primary.)

Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!

The verdict came after prosecutors outlined a pattern of fraud by Brown, 70, and her top aide that included using hundreds of thousands of dollars from the One Door for Education Foundation for lavish parties, trips and shopping excursions. She was convicted of 18 of the 22 charges against her, including lying on her taxes and on her congressional financial disclosure forms.

More:

Key to the government’s conviction was the testimony of Brown’s former chief of staff, Elias “Ronnie” Simmons, and the charity’s president, Carla Wiley. Both pleaded guilty after their federal indictments for misusing the charity’s funds, and testified against Brown.
Federal prosecutors said Brown and her associates used One Door to bring in more than $800,000 between 2012 and 2016, including a high-profile golf tournament at TPC Sawgrass. Brown’s indictment said the Virginia-based One Door only gave out one scholarship for $1,200 to an unidentified person in Florida.

(Hattip to Mike the Musicologist, who points out that former Rep. Brown’s party affiliation isn’t mentioned until paragraph 22 (edit: 18) of the linked story.)

Bad cop! No paycheck!

Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

Officer Carlos Mayfield of the Austin Police Department was “indefinitely suspended” (read: fired) on Friday.

What did he do? He accessed a police report about a sexual assault case, one he wasn’t assigned to.

Then he shared the information in that report with his ex-girlfriend and her son: the son was the person accused in the case.

Detectives interviewed the suspect after he had gotten details of the report, the memo says. Investigators didn’t know he had this information at the time.
Mayfield acknowledged that this compromised the case, the memo says.
Travis County prosecutors ultimately decided not to prosecute “the compromised sexual assault case,” the memo says. However, they authorized the Sex Crimes Unit to file assault with injury charges against the suspect.

Not mentioned in the Statesman article: the ex-girlfriend was also a convicted felon, and “consorting” with convicted felons is a pretty serious violation of APD policy. (Sharing the report information wasn’t just a violation of policy: it was “misuse of official information”, a third-degree felony.) Former officer Mayfield also admitted that he had looked up other reports for the ex-girlfriend in the past.

Chief’s disciplinary memo here.

No word yet on whether former officer Mayfield will actually be prosecuted for the felony, but I have high hopes.

Quick update.

Monday, May 8th, 2017

The new cop shop for Lakeway (which I mentioned in a previous post) passed.

By eight votes out of about 2,100 cast. According to other sources, 2,100 votes is about 18% of the total registered voters in Lakeway. I don’t know if that’s higher, lower, or about average for an off-year election with only bonds, city council elections, and a sales tax re authorization on the ballot.

Knee deep in the schadenfreude.

Friday, April 28th, 2017

I should have worn waders today.

(Fun fact: “Knee Deep In the Schadenfreude” was Starship’s working title for “We Built This City”.)

Local elections are coming up. I’m not sure what’s on the ballot for Austin specifically and Travis County in general. But in Lakeway, where I’ve been spending a lot of my time, three city council seats are up. Also, the city is considering a proposition to issue $23 million worth of bonds so they can build a new police station.

The new cop shop is kind of a big deal. I haven’t heard a lot of opposition to it, but most of the people I’ve been around in Lakeway are police or police supporters. I’ve been down and toured the current police station, and it is small and cramped and crowded: there’s no room to grow. On the other hand, the figures I cam up with for a certain property owner I know came out to around %6 a month more in property taxes. This is someone who is on a fixed income: six dollars here, six collars there, pretty soon you’re talking about City of Austin property taxes.

Reasonable people can differ on the merits of the proposition and the candidates. But here’s the problem: Lakeway’s mayor, Joe Bain, who is active on NextDoor (and has a blog on the city website) decided he’d be smart.

“John Smart” on NextDoor, to be exact.

Posts made under the name “John Smart” included advocating that residents vote for incumbent City Council candidates Bridge Bertram and Ron Massa.

“Vote for Bridge Bertram and Ron Massa – they actually volunteered for the City and worked hard to make it better, unlike the other candidate that hasn’t attended a council meeting for a long time nor has every [sic] done any work to try to improve the city – no committees, commissions or any other volunteer work,” a post by John Smart reads.

The mayor has confessed and deleted the account.

Bain confirmed by phone Thursday evening that he was behind the “John Smart” account, adding, “The city really doesn’t have anything [to do] with this … there are reasons behind all this.”

I’m not currently on NextDoor, but looking over their rules, Mayor Bain’s behavior is a pretty clear violation. I had thought that NextDoor actually did some validation on signups to make sure you were a real person and lived in the place you signed up for. (I know, I know, silly me: expecting a website on the Internet to do validation.) The one person I’ve heard from so far who is on NextDoor says they didn’t go through any validation process, but they used an invite code provided by their local neighborhood association. Maybe that bypasses the validation?

The first question this leads to is: how did he get a fake NextDoor account? Was someone else…helping him out?

The second question: how is this going to impact the election? Early voting started Monday. I can’t vote in Lakeway, but if I could, I’d be looking cynically at Mayor Bain’s endorsed candidates. Perhaps it is time for some new leadership? (I’d also be thinking about my support for the new cop shop. But honestly, I’d probably end up voting for it anyway.)

You’re going down in flames, you tax-fattened hyena! (#39 in a series)

Thursday, April 20th, 2017

Sherry Cook is retiring May 23rd.

Ms. Cook, if you didn’t know, was the executive director of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, the agency that enforces the state’s liquor laws. (And yes, I recognize the…irony?…in having someone named “Sherry” in that role. Onward!) She’s been in that post since 2012.

Why retire now?

The decision comes a month after the Texas Tribune reported that Cook and other agency employees spent thousands of dollars in taxpayer money for trips to resorts in Florida and Hawaii, among other places, for meetings hosted by the National Conference of State Liquor Administrators, an industry trade group.

But the thing that seems to have really upset people?

Cook was grilled last week during a House General Investigating and Ethics Committee hearing about, among other things, a flyer that depicted Cook and other top agency officials holding or drinking Lone Star Beer as they rode on a plane on their way to a liquor administrators conference.
According to the Tribune, Cook told lawmakers that the flyer was an “inappropriate use of our time” and agreed it was a misuse of state resources to exchange emails about creating it.

You get the feeling that this would have kept on, if she hadn’t rubbed her travel in the faces of her employees? Seems like an important safety tip or two: if you’ve got to go to conferences, make them someplace not exotic, like Buffalo in January. Or if you do have to go somewhere exotic, complain the whole time. Don’t make up a flyer with shiny happy beer drinking people on a plane to Cali.

Reacting to the announcement, Gov. Greg Abbott said in a tweet: “It’s time to clean house from regulators not spending taxpayer money wisely. This is a good start.”

Memo from the DA’s office.

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017

For a long time now, the policy of the Travis County DA’s office has been to present all cases involving police shootings to a grand jury for review, no matter what the circumstances where.

That was the case, for instance, for Austin police officer Carlos Lopez, who a grand jury no-billed 11 months after he shot and killed a gunman who was randomly shooting inside the downtown Omni hotel. The gunman had already shot and killed taxi driver Conrado Contreras by the time Lopez arrived.
It also happened with Austin police Sgt. Adam Johnson, who a grand jury declined to indict in 2015 for shooting and killing a man in downtown Austin who was standing in the middle of Eighth Street firing a rifle at police headquarters, and had already sprayed several government buildings with gunfire.

Not any more. The new Travis County DA, Margaret Moore, has decided that her office is going to review officer-involved shootings, and only present the ones that they feel require review to a grand jury.

She will only take cases to grand jurors if she thinks the shooting was unlawful or if facts about what happened are in dispute.
Unlike predecessors, who have viewed grand juries as independent reviewers best equipped to determine whether to indict an officer, Moore said she also will issue an opinion, with help from the new Civil Rights Division she has established, and provide a recommendation “as to the legal sufficiency of a case.”

Bad idea, as I see it.

There are a lot of problems with the criminal justice system, including grand juries. Jurors sometimes aren’t much more than rubber stamps for the DA’s office. But at least they are independant. At least grand juries offer some kind of outside review, flawed though it may be. This is going to backfire badly on DA Moore the first time a shooting that didn’t get reviewed blows up.

I’m baffled by the NAACP’s support for this: you would think they’d want the additional scrutiny, but perhaps the DA was persuasive. The support of the police union makes a little more sense:

Moore said those cases often have taken months to present to a grand jury because of workload and a backlog of other cases, leaving officers in limbo and sometimes preventing police officials from closing administrative investigations.

The people who have spoken to our CPA classes and that have been involved in shootings have said that there is some stress involved in waiting on the grand jury verdict. But they downplayed that specific part of it. Yes, the aftermath is highly stressful (and the department has good programs in place to deal with it). But it seemed to me that they felt the grand jury verdict was just the end: by the time that came in, they’d already been cleared by Internal Affairs and the Special Investgaions Division, and had usually moved on to other assignments.

(I can’t recall a case in…well, ever, where APD ruled a shooting okay and a grand jury indicted. Maybe the Kleinert case mentioned in the article, but I’m not clear on what action APD took in that case. In the most recent case that I know of where there was any controversy – the naked 17-year-old – the grand jury no-billed but APD fired the officer anyway.)