Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

You’re going down in flames, you tax-fattened hyena! (#35 in a series)

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

Lawrence beat me to it, but only because I have to wait until my lunch hour to blog.

According to “a person with knowledge of the case”, state representative Dawnna Dukes has been indicted by a grand jury.

Dukes, an Austin Democrat, faces two misdemeanor counts of abuse of official capacity and 13 felony counts of tampering with public records, said the person, who was not authorized to speak publicly.

She could get 28 years in prison, but we all know there’s no way in heck she’s going to get that much of a sentence if she is convicted. (I know, these are state, not federal, charges, but Ken’s principle still applies.)

You may remember Rep. Dukes was playing “Let’s Make a Deal” with DA Lehmburg late last year. Ms. Dukes decided she wasn’t going to resign after all because “the people” wanted her to stay (in spite of her poor attendance record).

Obit watch: January 12, 2017.

Thursday, January 12th, 2017

Roy Innis, head of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).

I’m just going to put this out there: he was an interesting guy.

Though court decisions and new laws banned discrimination in education, employment and public accommodations, Mr. Innis was disillusioned by that progress, saying integration robbed black people of their heritage and dignity. He pronounced it “dead as a doornail,” proclaimed CORE “once and for all a black nationalist organization” and declared “all-out war” on desegregation.

In the early 1970s, Mr. Innis toured Africa, visiting Jomo Kenyatta in Kenya, Julius Nyerere in Tanzania and Idi Amin in Uganda. He made Amin a life member of CORE and predicted that he would lead a “liberation army to free those parts of Africa still under the rule of white imperialists.” He later urged black Vietnam veterans to assist anti-Communist forces fighting in Angola.

He supported Nixon and Reagan’s presidential campaigns, and the Supreme Court nominations of Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas.

Mr. Innis acknowledged that his loss of two sons to gun violence in New York — Roy Jr., 13, in 1968, and Alexander, 26, in 1982 — influenced his decision to oppose gun control and defend citizens’ rights to carry arms in self-defense. He became a life member and a director of the National Rifle Association.

He also supported Bernard Goetz.

A favorite of conservative talk shows, Mr. Innis twice engaged in televised scuffles in 1988. On “The Morton Downey Jr. Show,” he erupted at challenges to his leadership and shoved the Rev. Al Sharpton to the floor. On “Geraldo,” he choked John Metzger of the White Aryan Resistance, who had called him an “Uncle Tom,” and the host, Geraldo Rivera, suffered a broken nose in the ensuing brawl.

Politics.

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

I’m working on getting the lists updated, but I’m a little frustrated.

If you go to the city’s list of council members, they’re all there.

But if you click on Alison Alter or Jimmy Flannigan, you still get the information for Ann Kitchen and Don Zimmerman. I’m doubtful the street addresses and PO boxes have changed, but I can’t be sure of that, so I’ve struck through those temporarily.

The “contact council member” pages for the two new members do look like they’ve sort of been updated, in that the links now show “Send Email to District (X)”. The pages for the other council members still show ‘Send Email to (Council Member Name Here) District (X) Council Member”.

So I’m not just being a lazy, shiftless blogger. I am working on these pages, but I’m in “waiting on the city council and the webmaster” mode right now.

(I probably need to work on the county commissioners and the legislators, too. I’m hopeful I can get that done this weekend.)

Not sure I agree 100% with your police work there, Lou.

Monday, January 9th, 2017

One thing the Citizen’s Police Academy “suggests” is that you should reserve judgement on incidents involving the police – if not until all the facts are in, at least until we’re past the initial reports stage.

With that said, this doesn’t look good.

Yesterday, the APD arrested a man at one of our local malls. He was charged with shoplifting, but APD couldn’t determine his identity and suspected he had open felony warrants. So they loaded him into the back of a squad car and headed downtown for fingerprints.

On the way, the handcuffed gentleman told the officer he was feeling suicidal. The officer asked him if he had the means to kill himself…

…whereupon the gentleman in question pulled a gun out of his waistband and, after a brief standoff, shot himself in the head.

The obvious question is: how did police not find the gun?

An Austin police officer did not conduct a thorough pat-down of a man who shot himself Sunday in the back of a police car because the man already had been handcuffed by mall security, a preliminary investigation of the incident has found.

Other than the obvious lesson about assumptions getting you killed, I’m also wondering: how big was the gun? If it was a full-sized 1911, that’s one thing: Ray Charles probably wouldn’t have missed that. Then again, if it was a full-size 1911, the guy would probably be dead, instead of critical. If it was something like a NAA .22, or possibly even a Ruger LCP, missing it is a little more understandable to me.

APD. DNA. FUBAR.

Friday, December 16th, 2016

The Austin Police Department has abandoned plans to reopen the DNA and forensic serology labs.

“We have failed in the area that is under question now with some of our DNA operations and some of the issues that came forward through the Forensic Science Commission audit,” [Police Chief Brian] Manley said. “For that I take responsibility and I am working with a team of leaders to push this forward so that our community has a system that works for them.”

Props to Chief Blast HardCheese for stepping up and taking responsibilty. But:

Since the DNA began operating in 2004, it has passed 17 audits and held national accreditation by the American Society of Crime Lab Directors.

Question number 1: how did the lab manage to pass 17 audits and get accreditation if it’s been badly run since the beginning?

Question number 1a: did the problems just start recently? If so, how and why?

Question numero dos: The lab opened in 2004. Chief HardCheese has been chief for about two weeks now: before that, he was an assistant chief, and I’m not sure how much day to day input he had into lab operations.

You know who did have a lot of input into lab operations? You know who was the HMFWIC when things went to hell in a handbasket? Yes, you do know, don’t you?

By the way, that’s not the only lab news today. The guy that was hired to run the lab? He’s no longer running the lab. And not just because the lab isn’t reopening:

Milne was hired to be Austin police’s chief forensic officer and earned $111,384 a year, police officials said. Manley said he has heard concerns from within the criminal justice community about Milne’s background and qualifications. Manley said he pulled Milne’s academic transcripts, which led him to conclude that Milne did not have adequate qualifications to run the functions of the lab.
“This individual has been removed from his role overseeing any functions at the lab and he is not associated with the lab at this time,” Manley said. “His future at this point is something we are working on determining how we will work through that.”

Perhaps I am a little biased here, but I’m starting to like Chief HardCheese more. I actually heard him speak last night, and he’s a pretty good speaker. He hasn’t done anything to irritate me yet. He hasn’t made any stupid public statements on guns. He’s a St. Ed’s graduate. (Hilltoppers represent!) And he actually seems to be making efforts to clean up this mess.

Lab watch.

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016

Lawrence forwarded a story from “Community Impact”, one of those free neighborhood papers, that I thought was worthy of note.

The gist of it is that the Capital Area Private Defender Service (CAPDS from this point forward because I don’t want to keep typing that) is willing to get involved with fixing the DNA testing issues in the APD forensics lab.

CAPDS is proposing a 5-year process to review the city’s DNA cases to determine how what happened with the lab will affect past and pending court cases, and to look forward at best practices for DNA testing, Strassburger said.

Well, that sounds great. But what do they need? Money. And what does Travis County not have a whole lot of? Money.

[county judge Sarah] Eckhardt said she has asked the city to take $1.4 million identified in the city’s budget process for additional personnel in the DNA lab and apply it toward these efforts.

Meanwhile, the Statesman is saying that fixing the DNA lab problems could cost…well…

According to records obtained by the Statesman, models for such reviews involve varying levels of expert input and use of appellate attorneys. The most expensive carries a $14.4 million estimated price tag while the least expensive is about $6 million.

More:

According to the organization, county officials could assign an attorney to each case that used DNA evidence analyzed by the lab to review it and “file appropriate motions” for a minimum cost of $13.2 million. Or it could choose a more expensive option in which attorneys would do a deeper review of cases using two attorneys from the outset to learn which might have potential issues — for $14.4 million.
The last option — at a cost of $6 million — would involve the county or city hiring new lawyers to handle the cases instead of using outside attorneys.

Oh, by the way, this doesn’t include the costs associated with actually getting the lab up and running again.

And, in an also related story: after the lab was closed, the APD asked the Texas DPS crime lab to do retraining of some of the DNA analysts.

But Monday, DPS officials told the department they had lost faith in most of the staffers they were working with — and wouldn’t be returning.
Instead, according to a one-page letter obtained by the American-Statesman and KVUE-TV, only a select two from a staff of six DNA analysts are invited to a state facility to continue training in a “supportive environment.”

More:

In a letter to the Travis County district attorney’s office, Brady Mills, deputy assistant director of the DPS crime lab, wrote that the last four months of working together have shown that “there are significant challenges that impact confidence in the work product” of some of the lab’s DNA analysts.
“This has been demonstrated through our personal interactions with the group as well as the practical work product that has been completed and reviewed thus far,” Mills wrote. “Coupled with the expressed belief by your office that those senior analysts may no longer be utilized for expert testimony, APD and DPS plan to move forward with a new course of action.”

The position of DNA analyst (which requires a bachelor’s degree) in the APD lab starts at $23.44 an hour. I believe when I started doing enterprise tech support at Dell, I was making $22 an hour and that was in 2006: I would expect that by now, Dell’s paying closer to $23.44, if not more, and I also suspect enterprise tech support is easier than DNA analysis.

I want to be very very careful with what I say here. I don’t want to seem like I’m sneering at anyone. I couldn’t do this work, and I believe the people who do are motivated by things other than pay. But when DPS says 2/3rds of the people sent over for retraining, can’t be retrained? Is the DPS training that much more demanding than APD’s? Is there something else going on here? Or is the simple explanation also the correct one: APD’s been hiring people who are wrong for the job, and it finally caught up with them?

Obit watch: December 9, 2016.

Friday, December 9th, 2016

John Glenn roundup: NYT. Lawrence. WP. Sweet story about Mrs. Glenn: they were married for 73 years. LAT. NASA Glenn Research Center.

(My dad worked at the Glenn Research Center a long time ago; so long ago, it wasn’t called the Glenn Research Center back then.)

Edited to add: Borepatch on Glenn. NYT obit for Greg Lake.

We don’t need no education…

Thursday, December 8th, 2016

Hoping to reduce violent confrontations during traffic stops and other encounters with police, an influential Texas senator filed a bill Wednesday to require all public high school freshmen to take a course in how to interact with law officers.

Show your children the classic Chris Rock video, “How To Not Get Your Ass Kicked By the Police”. Problem solved in five minutes. No need for a course. As a public service to those of you who have children, I’ll even embed it here for you.

I’m really about 80% serious when I say that: there’s actually a lot of really sound advice in that video.

And I wouldn’t mind a class that taught “how to interact with law officers”, but I think that should just be part of a larger class. I’d also teach how the DA’s office works and how crimes are prosecuted, how civil court works, and I’d bring in defense attorneys (maybe even someone from the ACLU) to go over what your rights as a suspect are. I almost want to say that they used to call this “Civics”.

But I’d probably teach this as part of a larger year-long class for high school students which I’ve been calling “S–t You Need To Know”. I’d also want to cover things like basic car maintenance (how to check fluid levels and change a flat), basic gun safety, strategies for avoiding being a crime victim, statistical fallacies and how to recognize them, bad science and how to recognize it…there’s a whole bunch of things that I think graduating seniors need to know, but aren’t getting taught unless they have exceptional parents.

Feel free to leave your proposed curriculum item in the comments.

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.)

Well. Well well well. Well.

Thursday, December 1st, 2016

Y’all read that Christmas story I linked to a few days ago, right?

President-elect Donald Trump has chosen retired Marine Gen. James N. Mattis to be secretary of defense, nominating a former senior military officer who led operations across the Middle East to run the Pentagon less than four years after he hung up his uniform, according to people familiar with the decision.

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: