Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Quick update.

Saturday, March 18th, 2017

The guy who killed two people and injured a third near Lakeway?

Randall Burrows, 54, shot himself in the head just outside of Summit, Miss., after a short chase with Mississippi highway patrol, Travis County sheriff’s officials said. He was taken to a hospital, and he was pronounced dead soon after 5 p.m., roughly 15 minutes after the U.S. Marshals had found him and the chase began, Travis County sheriff’s Capt. Craig Smith said.

Memo from the police beat.

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

The past few days have been busy ones for law enforcement in and around Austin, and not just because of South By So What. Here’s a quick survey of some things that I’ve found interesting.

There’s a new plan for the APD DNA lab: get Texas DPS to run it.

Under a proposed contract, the city of Austin will pay the Texas Department of Public Safety $800,000 a year to manage all aspects of the lab, including procedures for analyzing forensic evidence and the oversight of employees hired by the DPS to work there.
The newly named Department of Public Safety Capital Area Regional Lab will focus exclusively on Austin police cases, Assistant Police Chief Troy Gay said.

I suppose this is better than nothing, or the current state of affairs. And $800,000 sounds like a reasonable amount of money if the new management from DPS is going to fix all the problems and claw through the backlog. But I still think we’d be better off with an independent lab like Houston’s, or making the existing lab am arm of the courts.

Speaking of the DNA lab, here’s a story I haven’t seen reported anywhere else:

In the first legislation of its kind, the lawmaker, State Representative Victoria Neave, a Democrat from Dallas, introduced the bill in February to solicit donations of $1 or more from people when they renew or apply for driver’s licenses. The money would underwrite a grant for the Department of Public Safety to test what are commonly called “rape kits,” which consist of evidence samples including hair, semen, fabric fibers and skin cells.

(Note that the paper of record characterizes this as “crowdfunding”, which I find a bit misleading.)

If adopted, it could generate an estimated $1 million a year, based on similar donations collected for veterans from driver’s license applications, according to a legislative budget document. When administrative costs are deducted, that would leave more than $800,000 every fiscal year that local governments could tap to push through testing of evidence collected from the victims of sexual assault during a physical examination that can take four to six hours.

Where have I heard $800,000 recently? Oh, yeah.

The donations are intended to supplement rather than replace a budget for the testing, which can cost $1,000 to $1,500 for each kit. The Legislature, which is now in budget talks, is also considering allocating $4 million to fund the process, said Rebecca Acuna, Ms. Neave’s chief of staff.

You know what I’d really like to see? A breakdown of where that “$1,000 to $1,500 for each kit” goes. I’m not against rape kit testing – quite the opposite – but I’m curious why it costs that much. I’m also curious if this cost has increased or decreased over time, with improved technology. And are there possibly better, faster, and cheaper ways of testing rape kits without sacrificing accuracy?

Two people shot and killed last night, and a third airlifted with “critical, life-threatening” injuries.

If you look at the Stateman‘s handy Google map, you’ll see this took place not terribly far from the Lake Travis High School/Education Center complex. My mother and I were down there last night with a bunch of other people….attending the Lakeway Police Department’s Citzens Police Academy class. As a matter of fact, right around the time of the shooting, we were out in the parking lot looking at the Lakeway PD patrol cars (Chevy Tahoes. This led someone to ask, “Why the switch to SUVs?” I suspect most of my readers know the answer already, but in case you don’t: “Because Ford stopped making the Crown Vic, the greatest patrol car ever given to us by God.”) and the Lakeway PD police motorcycles (Harley Davidsons). I don’t recall hearing any shots or even the Starflight helicopter.

Even better, we had just finished listening to a presentation from one of the people who does the Lakeway PD statistical analysis about how safe Lakeway was, how many calls for service/stops/arrests there were year to year, and what the major categories were. “Homicide” didn’t even register. (Technically, it’s probably still true that Lakeway is relatively safe, even though the shooter is at large: I believe the shooting happened near, but outside of, the Lakeway city limits, so it would be chalked up as “unincorporated Travis County”.)

The first we knew about it was when we were breaking up for the night: the second in command of the department (who also runs the classes, and who usually jokes around a lot) came in and said “I want everyone to listen to me very closely. Two people have been shot near here and the shooter is still at large. We are going to walk everyone to the parking lot and make sure you all get into your cars safely. I need for you to leave the area as quickly as you possibly can.” That will put some spring in your step.

Reports are that this was “an isolated incident”, possibly a “disgruntled contractor” who shot these people because he didn’t get paid. Which is just stupid: if you shoot people, they can’t pay you.

And speaking of the Lakeway CPA, for reasons: a interesting and contrarian point of view from Grits For Breakfast in opposition to a statewide ban on “texting and driving”.

gonzaga

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

Once again, I’ve bet Lawrence $5 that Gonzaga will win the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

This year, though, I did it grudgingly.

It isn’t that I don’t think Gonzaga has a chance: they probably have their best chance in years. It isn’t that I didn’t want to take Lawrence’s money again, after already taking $5 from him when the Cubs won. After all, I should give Lawrence a fair chance to win his money back. And I would feel stupid if Gonzaga did win this year, and I didn’t bet.

So what’s my grudge?

Last fall, Gonzaga hired Melissa Click. Yes, that Melissa Click.

I’d be willing to agree that everyone deserves a shot at redemption. But not on my dime, and not necessarily with my active support. Also, I think part of deserving a shot at redemption involves atonement for your actions, and I haven’t seen any evidence of that from Ms. Click.

On the other hand, it wasn’t the basketball team that hired her, and should I punish them (and Lawrence) for the actions of Gonzaga’s administration? That seems unfair.

So, grudgingly, I am preparing myself to lose $5 betting on a team I can’t quite bring myself to cheer for. Life is suffering.

You’re going down in flames, you tax-fattened hyena! (#36 in a series)

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017

Jose Torres, the mayor of Patterson, New Jersey, has been indicted on corruption charges.

Three public works supervisors have also been indicted with Mayor Torres. Allegedly, the mayor “asked public employees to work on personal projects while they were being paid by the city”.

Worthy of note 1: various online sources show that Mayor Torres is a member of Criminal Mayors Against Lawful Gun Ownership.

Worthy of note 2: Mayor Torres is the second criminal mayor to face charges this week. SayUncle linked to a report that Mayor Anthony Silva of the (formerly) bankrupt city of Stockton has been arrested again: this time, he’s charged with “money laundering, embezzlement by a public officer, grand theft and embezzlement worth more than $400”.

We need a Class D fire extinguisher.

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

Flaming hyenas update, for the record:

A federal judge on Thursday dismissed, for a second and final time, a lawsuit by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that accused Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton of securities fraud in private business deals in 2011.

(Warning: auto-play video.)

(Previously.)

I thought the criminal case against AG Paxton had been dismissed and I just forgot to note it. But, according to the linked Statesnan article, that’s still on track to start May 1st.

Memo from the police beat.

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

A quick roundup of some police related news, mostly for RoadRich, but perhaps of interest to my regular readers.

APD’s latest officer-involved shooting. There don’t seem to be any updates since late last night, but so far this is sounding like just another sad story: police responded to a call in South Austin, a woman in her 20s fled, tried to run over offices, crashed, exited her vehicle and brandished a knife at one of the responding officers, and…

By way of Hognose over at Weaponsman: the chief of the Punta Gorda, Florida police department has been charged with “culpable negligence” and one of his officers has been charged with felony manslaughter. This is related to the citizen’s police academy shooting that I’ve discussed previously in this space.

(Interesting note: my mother and I started the Lakeway Citizen’s Police Academy last night. The officer who was teaching last night (also the second-in-command of the Lakeway PD) mentioned the Punta Gorda incident in the context of “things we won’t be doing in this class”.)

(I might discuss the Lakeway CPA in more detail at some point down the road. My initial impression is that there are a lot of differences between it and the Austin CPA; some of those are probably do to the relative size of the departments, the available resources, and the length of time the programs have been in operation. My class is the 14th for the Lakeway CPA: my Austin CPA class was the 87th, and I’m currently helping out with the 91st class.)

The city of Cleveland has agreed to pay more than $13.2 million to settle lawsuits involving police misconduct since the November 2014 death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, an officer-shooting death that came at a time when the public started scrutinizing police actions.

(Hattip: Tim Cushing.)

I wish there was more context in this article. $13.2 million over 26 months sounds like a lot of money, but how does this compare to other cities over the same time frame? How much have cities like Chicago, New York, and Austin paid out over the same period? How does this break down on a per capita or per officer basis?

(Wikipedia estimates the current population of Cleveland at just under 400,000. Let’s take that as a base number. That’s $33 per citizen. “More than 1,600” people are on the police force: just for grins, let’s round up to 1,700. That’s $7,764.70 per employee, which would include both sworn and non-sworn.)

(The population of Austin was about 931,000 in 2016, and there’s about 1,800 people on the APD staff, both sworn and non-sworn. It’s interesting that the Cleveland PD has somewhere between 100 and 200 fewer officers for a city with less than half the population and a third of the area. But I digress. Unfortunately, I don’t have a figure for settlements paid out by the city since November 2014. But I will note, since I haven’t previously: last week, the city agreed to pay $3.25 million to the family of the naked 17-year-old shot by an APD officer.)

Speaking of Travis County…

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

I’ve updated the county commissioners page as much as I can. Jeff Travillion’s page still has staff and contact information “coming soon”.

As always with any of these pages, if you detect errors or omissions, please contact me.

Half a million dollars.

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

This is slightly old news that I’ve been meaning to note for a couple of days now. I still think it’s worth mentioning, because it seems to me there’s something buried in the press coverage.

The Travis County Commissioners Court has voted to pay Judge Julie Kocurek $500,000.

“Does this have something to do with her being shot?” you might ask.

Indeed, it does.

“But why? The county didn’t shoot her. The cops didn’t shoot her. She was shot by a bad guy.”

Indeed, this is true. The money is being given as a settlement for “any claims against the county that Kocurek could have sought in a lawsuit”. Some of this is spelled out in the Statesman stories, and some of this is me reading between the lines, but it looks like the argument is:

  • There was a credible tip that Chimene Onyeri was targeting a judge.
  • The tip was investigated by the Travis County DA’s office.
  • Apparently, the investigators thought that the judge being targeted was both a male judge and one that wasn’t in Travis County.
  • It isn’t clear to me if the investigators knew that Onyeri had an appearance coming up in Judge Kocurek’s court (where he likely would have been sent back to prison) and ruled her out as a target because she wasn’t a male judge, or if they weren’t aware of his upcoming appearance.
  • In any case, they decided there was no “credible threat to any Travis County district judge”.
  • Judge Kocurek was shot three weeks later.

It’s hard for me to tell if anyone was wrong here. On the one hand, it seems like there was a credible threat: was it dismissed because the investigators screwed up and didn’t realize the subject of the threat might not have a been a male judge? And a big question is: why didn’t they warn all the judges? On the other hand, there’s an argument that the investigators did the best they could with limited information. And if they sent out warnings to all the judges every time some jackhole shot his mouth off, pretty soon it’d be “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” all over again.

No matter what, though, taxpayers are going to be out $500,000. I don’t begrudge Judge Kocurek the money: if you offered me $500,000 to let someone shoot at me, my response would be three words (two of those being “go” and “yourself”).

But it still bothers me.

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.