Category Archives: Accion

The Latest on Local Police Reform

The Harris County Commissioner’s Court approved a long list of items that could lead to reform of law enforcement at the county level.

At the very least, these reforms will create some semblance of transparency over law enforcement budgeting and statistics regarding racial disparities in the system itself, and create a mechanism to ensure the indigent are represented in criminal courts. Most importantly, it gets the ball rolling on an independent civilian oversight board with subpoena power.

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez took to social media to tell us of his dislike of the #defund movement, stating that more money is needed. My own thinking is that a more transparent budget process would definitely allow us to look beyond the usually undisputed round numbers that go with funding law enforcement.

He added:

I’m putting in the work to review how my agency can do better. For some changes, we don’t need extra time to review, I’m moving forward now. Other changes may require more time, simply because they’re complex issues that require thoughtful deliberation. We prohibit the use of chokeholds, but we’re going to make it even more clear in policy. We will immediately implement a Duty to Report policy. We will increase audits of our BWC’s and taser use. And more is in the works. The time to act is now.

I hope the Sheriff understands that it takes these types of events, including the local unresolved murder-by-cop case in his own department of Joshua Johnson, to exact some action from our leaders. A lot more is needed. Above all, these things must be codified in countywide (and statewide and federal) fashion so that the next Sheriff doesn’t obliterate it all.

Either way, it’s good to see something that was decided by those whom we elected.

In other news…

After City Council failed to support a comprehensive list of police reforms submitted as budget amendments by CM Letitia Plummer, they approved an increase in funding for HPD. Instead, Mayor Sylvester Turner signed an executive order on police practices.

The EO covers the police department’s response to resistance, de-escalation, use of deadly force, prohibited techniques, and no-knock warrants. For the first time, it codifies prohibited techniques, such as neck restraints or chokeholds, which cannot be used unless objectively necessary to prevent imminent serious bodily injury or death to the officer or others.

No word on reforms that lead to more transparency and accountability, such as release of bodycam film and investigations of the bad apples and the good apples who allow them to be bad, but, supposedly, there is a task force.

Obviously, we will all keep an eye on this and the coming push back from the naysayers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Somerville Votes NO

The Somerville, TX City Council voted unanimously against the re-hiring of Chauna Sheffield (Thompson). The Mayor of Somerville has also requested the resignations of the police chief and the city administrator.

The developments were announced by the town’s Mayor Michael Bradford at a rally held outside of the meeting and broadcast on a Facebook Livestream by FIEL Houston.

The family of John Hernandez continues to seek justice in this murder case. While Terry Thompson is now serving 25 years at TDCJ for the choke-hold murder of John Hernandez at an East Harris County Dennys, Chauna Thompson, who is seen in a video helping her husband by holding Hernandez’s arm, was effectively declared not guilty by the Harris County DA Kim Ogg who blamed it on lack of evidence to convict.

Good work by the family of John Hernandez, our friends at FIEL Houston, and others who got the word out about this. A huge thanks to the Mayor and City Council and the people of Somerville, TX for standing up for justice. If you drive through Somerville or Burleson County, make sure you stop at one of their businesses.)

(SIDENOTE:  My Abuelita was born in Caldwell, TX which is also in Burleson County.)

The lucha sigue!

Harris County To Consider Reforms to Law Enforcement

Harris County Commissioner Pct 1 Rodney Ellis and his Democratic colleagues (Judge Hidalgo and Commissioner Garcia) will propose some needed reforms to law enforcement in Harris County. Stated Commissioner Ellis on his Facebook page:

Harris County devotes more than $776 million to the Sheriff and Constables. That’s 45% of our total spending of our general fund departmental budget. By reallocating funds towards community resources we can begin to build a better quality of life for communities of color and stop using the criminal justice system to address problems associated with poverty and health.

The Chron’s Zach Despart posted the proposals:

As Kuff states, it’s harder for the Commisssioners to impose police reforms on law enforcement departments run by their own elected officials, such as Sheriff and Constables. But each of these proposals has much to do with how tax dollars for law enforcement are allocated and how these offices will become more accountable to the people, i.e., the creation of an independent civilian review board with subpoena power.

Kuff also reminds us that the Houston Mayor and City Council do have more power to effect police reforms and I must agree that City Council Member Letitia Plummer’s budget amendment proposals should be a starting point for implementation. Considering that the Mayor is proposing almost a billion dollars for law enforcement with no particular proposal for change or reform, it is definitely time for a public discussion led by elected officials, rather than political appointees.

 

 

 

Fired HC Deputy Chauna Thompson Up For Cop Post in Somerville

6/10/2020 UPDATE:  Somerville Votes NO

You heard right.

Chauna (Sheffield) Thompson is being considered for a police officer post by the City of Somerville, TX.

Thompson is a former Harris County Sheriff’s Department deputy who, while off-duty, assisted her husband in the choke-hold murder of John Hernandez at a Denny’s in East Harris County in May, 2017.

Her husband, Terry, was convicted; however, DA Kim Ogg made the decision to drop the charges against Chauna Thompson because she didn’t think her office could prove Thompson intended to kill Hernandez and Thompson wasn’t in the area of the killing the entire time. The video shows Terry choking Hernandez and Chauna holding Hernandez down.

Effectively found not guilty by the DA, (Sheffield) Thompson is now free to work as a police officer, again. And, now, she is up for a post in the small town of Somerville, TX, located north of Brenham on TX36. Somerville must not let this happen.

The town is diverse, with 33% Hispanic and 32% African American population. Given the diversity, given Thompson’s record of participating in a murder, the City Council’s consideration of her application does not give off that feeling of trying to earn the trust of the community in these days of needed police reform. Her hiring would definitely not create that trust.

UPDATE:  A quick look at the City Council agenda attachments shows that Sheffield is being considered for re-employment, so, apparently, she has already been employed by Somerville in the recent past since her HCSO firing in 2017.

Justice for John Hernandez and others will be participating in a rally at Somerville’s City Council meeting tomorrow with the hope of convincing the City Council to vote down (Sheffield) Thompson’s application.

If you believe Somerville deserves better, attend the rally outside the city council meeting Tuesday (JUNE 9) at 5:30. The meeting is at the Somerville Senior Center on HWY 36 across from Mama’s Restaurant.

somerville

Jackson: Reform Police Union Contracts

Candidate for Houston City Council District B, Tarsha Jackson, who is known as a community and criminal justice reform advocate, posted on her Facebook page what would seem like obvious solutions. At least where reforming an entire system should begin:

My heart is heavy over the constant murders of my Black Brothers and Sister at the hands of our public servants. Forgive me for not being impressed to see police chiefs and elected leaders standing in solidarity with protesters over the murder of our Brother George Floyd. We’ve seen this scene played out over and over again– BUT Until the Police union contracts are reformed, we will continue to witness our brothers and sisters civil and human rights violated by corrupt police officers.

In 2018, after the murder of our Brother Danny Ray Thomas, community members recommended the following NINE changes to Police Union Contracts to ensure accountability and to improve relations between HPD and the community. Our leaders have the power to make these changes today!

RECOMMENDED POLICE UNION CONTRACT CHANGES:

*Establish consideration of misconduct in promotions (Art. 19 Sec. 8): Officers with a history of misconduct should be subject to point deductions from the promotions formula. This will ensure that two otherwise similar promotion candidates can be fairly distinguished based on their prior misconduct.

*Eliminate technicalities and strengthen promotional bypass process (Art. 20) To the extent promotional bypass remains part of the promotions process (we believe it should be eliminated), then the process in this contract is particularly problematic. There should be no arbitrary time limit after which the Chief cannot apply a promotional bypass (delete Art. 20(4)). Once a candidate has been bypassed due to past disciplinary issues, that person should be pulled from the pool. The chief should not be required to bypass that same person over and over and face an appeal each time. The standard for review should be “valid reason” in accordance with normal standards in labor appeals law.

*Provide path to independent investigation (Art. 30 Sub (2), (4) and (7)): Under this contract, investigations must be conducted by Department personnel. State civil service law, by contrast, allows investigations to be conducted by any municipal employee. Houston can only move toward a process of independent civilian (nonsworn) investigation of police complaints if we alter this provision.

*Eliminate officer review of all evidence prior to making a statement: officers should be able to review only their own materials before making a statement, not the statements of everyone else involved and everyone’s video. Allowing the person under investigation to review all the evidence prior to making a statement is not a “best practice” in any circumstance and should not be a special privilege for police officers.

*Eliminate misconduct statute of limitations: After 180 days from the incident date, the most serious misconduct cannot be addressed at all due to an arbitrary “statute of limitations” clause. This is called the “180 day” rule and is a major problem. It should be eliminated. Serious misconduct should be sanctionable even if the Chief learns about it long after it occurred. If it cannot be eliminated, the time period should be lengthened to at least 365 days.

*Prevent appropriate disciplinary action from being overturned on appeal: Under this contract, when an officer appeals his sanction the burden of proof is on the Chief, and the proof includes 1. the truth of the charges and 2. that a just cause exists for the specific discipline imposed. Instead the burden should be on the officer to prove that the discipline was not reasonable. And, while clearly the charges should always be true, the second clause requires the Chief to prove, in a side by side test with other cases, that this particular suspension length had “just cause.” This is likely to result in discipline being routinely overturned or reduced. Council should request from the Department a summary of every suspension in the past five years, whether it was appealed, and what was the outcome of the appeal (overturned, upheld, or partially overturned with a lesser discipline).

*Never expunge records of past misconduct or even suspected past misconduct (Art. 31(10)): Police generally oppose efforts by the public to expunge criminal records (even of minor violations) because they say even an arrest on a subsequently dismissed charge might prove important to a criminal investigation later. This same reasoning should apply to all records of all officer misconduct. Nothing should be expunged, and all past history should be available to the Chief for review when a new incident occurs.

*Exculpatory evidence of an officer’s history of misconduct should be a public court document: (Art. 31(12)) This contract creates an unnecessary burden on the courts and attorneys by requiring special legal protections (secrecy) for misconduct information that must be handed over to the defense in a criminal trial. Under the Michael Morton Act, the prosecutor MUST give the defense information about the arresting officer’s history of misconduct if it is exculpatory. The contract should specifically exclude evidence provided to the defense under the Michael Morton Act from 143.089g personnel file protections. The process for providing such evidence to the prosecutor and the defense should be straight forward and then once provided to both parties in the case it should be subsequently posted to a website.

*Limit supervisory interventions and never reduce discipline to a supervisory intervention (Art. 32): Supervisory interventions are not discipline and do not create a disciplinary record, even if they may indicate other problems. Several items should be considered for removal from this supervisory intervention list: improper ticket/citation, improper or untimely response to a call, discourtesy to citizens, refusal to identify self including removal/obscuring/failure to wear name badge; abusive language, disrespect for fellow officers, unauthorized ride-alongs. Further, in no case should more serious discipline be reduced to a “supervisory intervention” because this will also eliminate the record of an officer’s prior misconduct.

Stop It With The Hero Worship

Too many people are going through this need for heroes. Everyone is a hero nowadays. I’m fine with farm workers (who feed us) and medical personnel (who have been fighting the COVID19 battle), but when it comes to talking heads and media hounds, I draw the line.

I thought the most annoying example was the Great White Hype Hope syndrome that many liberals are going through during the pandemic. Fauci, Cuomo, and even Newsom. (And I like Newsom.) They are doing what they’re supposed to be doing, and in a Trump climate, but it’s nothing special that requires sainthood. As much as I defend and compliment our Latina County Judge, the same goes for her. They are doing their jobs despite the policies of the Abbotts and Trumps.

Then, George Lloyd was murdered and it became Jacob Frey and Gov Walz in Minnesota. Then it became any cop or police chief who joined a march or gave a symbolic kneel. Tear-filled speeches and symbolic gestures seem to grab and calm people; unfortunately, it only allows for more inaction. Distract and divert.

They’ve all made some pretty awful decisions, though. As far as big city mayors and police chiefs go, they literally attacked peaceful protesters (and reporters) with plastic bullets, tear gas, and horses. They were quick to blame the outsider, but I haven’t seen any of the white supremacists who are getting blamed being shot, gassed, or trampled. And when the sister of cop-murdered Houstonian Joe Campos Torres also gets arrested here in Houston, well, one wonders if something else is going at HPD.

Locally, Art Acevedo and local elected officials who have been elected and re-elected have had plenty of opportunity to push for criminal justice and policing reforms. Acevedo throws out some good lines and good hugs on camera, but where are the changes? Certainly, the death and police violence continues locally despite one of his underlings mouthing off on TV that Lloyd’s murder was in Minnesota and not here, so why protest here? As if Houstonians had no other reason to protest.

At the county level, there have been attempts at criminal justice and bail reform thanks to Judge Hidalgo, Commissioners Ellis and Garcia, and Sheriff Gonzalez. Unfortunately, they are stopped by Republicans at all levels. But they still try.

This is a conversation that must lead to actual effort and actual change and it must be had at all levels. We can’t take the attitude that if the votes aren’t there, then we must wait. If one doesn’t even try to change public opinion from the pulpit in which the voters placed them, then why even have them there?

But people buy into the hero worship because someone gives out a good image. We all want to feel the warm and fuzzies during a scary time. But, there comes a time when someone seen as a leader needs to act. And policing reforms need to happen. They’ve needed to happen since the promises began after the 1992 Rodney King beating. They’ve needed to happen throughout the history of the United States.

One would figure than in a Democratic majority city, with a Democratic majority city council that Houston PD would make the changes. Unfortunately, it would seem that kowtowing to the police union takes precedent over charges of police brutality. In reality, there is a dire need for leadership. The type of leadership that doesn’t only ask for the badges of bad cops, but that takes them away.

That we don’t have leadership at the top of the United States and Texas is obvious. But that doesn’t mean those who are on our side of the issue at other levels shrivel up and die and leave the rest of us to die. And certainly, diverting and distracting the people by making media-savvy moves is not a solution.

If your elected officials and law enforcement leaders aren’t in a room at this moment discussing how they will stop the law enforcement kill culture, change policing methods, enact real citizen review boards, reform a racist criminal justice system, and end a racist mass incarceration system, then, all the talk is just bullshit.

 

Just Another Kill For The LE Trophy Case

Whatever the media is showing on your TVs really are not the final words of George Floyd, murdered by law enforcement at the age of 46.

Among George’s last words, as a cop’s knee pressed into his neck for nine minutes, were, “Mama, Mama.”

That was before the sounds coming out of him became agonizing moans. And that was before he was flopped onto a stretcher, his neck snapping before the cop (obviously not an EMT tech) grabbed hold of his head so it would stop flopping around as he was placed on the stretcher before he was placed in the ambulance. (He probably remembered he was on camera.)

George Floyd is another black person in an ever-growing long line of victims of police brutality and state-sanctioned murder. He joins names like Ahmaud Arbery, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown. As George is connected to Houston, one should also remember names like John Hernandez and Nicolas Chavez who were killed by local law enforcement.

These cop-lead murders happen so often, that it is easy to become desensitized to them. Even when there is video. One has a choice to become numb to reality or allow emotions to take over. But one doesn’t experience the depths of humanity until you see a person calling out for his mother at the hands of a murderer.

Oh yeah, that kind of thing has been portrayed in romanticized versions of war–the fresh-faced white kid with his guts shot out calling out for his mom. But this is real life. And it’s the “good guys” who are doing the killing.

But it’s the “good guys” who have all the defenses in the world. Whether it’s some puffed up media-savvy police chief, or some loud-mouth, annoying cops union rep, they will defend their  bad apples until they can’t. Until there’s video that is compelling enough to make them do something. Or at the very least, makes them shut their mouths.

But even when the people respond and protest, it is the same cops who allow white supremacists to protest with high-powered weapons at our government buildings who then tear-gas and respond violently to black and brown protesters who are simply petitioning government for a redress of grievances. And their own trade media defends law enforcement and makes them out to be the victims to the delight of racists and law and order types. Because, obviously, it’s the dead who are the bad guys.

I am pretty much at the end of my trust threshold when it comes to law enforcement. Even if I do have friends and relatives in law enforcement. Whenever I hear someone running for sheriff or someone wanting to be a leader in government over law enforcement I want to hear about how they are going to change the culture of law enforcement. How they are going to stop the killing for no reason of black and brown people.

And then I want to see them do it. The usual brown-nosing for police union endorsements doesn’t give me much hope at this point. One who wants to lead needs to lead the way for change. It is that simple.

 

 

 

 

Christopher Hollins Named Interim County Clerk

Late last night, I got the message that the Harris County Commissioner’s Court appointed local lawyer and Texas Democratic Party Finance Chair Christopher Hollins to serve as interim Harris County Clerk.

The court voted 3-2 along party lines to approve Hollins. Five public speakers urged court members to choose Teneshia Hudspeth, Trautman’s chief deputy. County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis said Hollins’ pledge to serve only on an interim basis factored in their decision.

So, it will be up to the Party’s precinct chairs to select someone to be the nominee on the November 2020 ballot. Let the games begin.

Hollins, though, seems like candidate material. He served the Obama administration’s Office of Presidential Personnel as a legal intern before embarking on his career. No doubt, he has some Democratic bonafides considering his current position in the Party.

After navigating the local Party website, I finally found out how to find my precinct chair. Unfortunately, they want all my information before telling me who publicly signed up to run for the office (or got appointed later). Anyway, if you want to lobby your precinct chair, I guess this is how you can start.

 

Texas Progressive Alliance Round-Up

This installment of the weekly Texas Progressive Alliance blog roundup has been done entirely by murder hornets.

Off the Kuff adds Rep. Chip Roy to the active roster of death squad enthusiasts.

Dos Centavos tells us about his hometown’s battle with COVID-19, and whose experience with Greg Abbott isn’t much different than that of Big City leaders.

Socratic Gadfly has, over the last 10 days or so, written twice about the Jesse Ventura for Green Party presidential nominee nuttery. He first talks about how this shows how much Jesse is Just.Another.Politician.™ In a follow-up, he said he wants to see exactly what was in the “letter of interest” Jesse’s minions sent to the Green Party and who signed it, as the Green Party currently risks looking like Just.Another.Political.Party™.

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And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs.

Scott Braddock chronicles Greg Abbott’s various power moves during the crisis.

Lisa Gray interviewed Braddock about the “full-on culture war” that Abbott and others are leading over COVID-19.

Paradise in Hell brings us an important butt-shaking legal update.

Dan Solomon hands out some awards for coronavirus performance.

Paul Basaldua shows how recovered COVID-19 patients can help others by donating their plasma.

Beyond Bones would like to put your mind at ease about those murder hornets.

COVID19 in a Small South Texas Town

Here is your daily reminder that Greg Abbott and the Republicans are awful, evil people.

I just saw a Facebook live press conference of the leaders of my hometown/county reporting 4 COVID19 cases. The school district has shut down its food distribution program because of a positive test result. As they try to get ahead of it with contact tracing, medical care, quarantine, and providing the people with the latest information, they are basically fighting against Greg Abbott’s lack of concern for poor and struggling communities.

These elected leaders are urging people to stay home, use masks, stop traveling out of the town (which is difficult for those with medical appointments in Laredo or San Antonio), keep out-of-town relatives from visiting (some cases were apparently traced back to a traveler), and continue to follow CDC guidelines. The worry in their voices was palpable.

Good people are reporting get-togethers of 10 or more people out of concern for themselves and others. The townspeople, my friends and relatives, are worried and they are doing what they can, which is commendable considering that Texas leadership is purposely failing Texans.

My community has a lot of health issues and an aging population that is at risk. It doesn’t help when local leaders are trying to protect their communities, yet, Greg Abbott just shirks his responsibilities and shows us he just doesn’t care and offers up conflicting rants and misinformation on Fox News, while being lauded by the Trump administration.

My little town and county have around 7,000 and 12,000 people, respectively. I live in a metro area of 7 million and our local leaders struggle with bad Texas leadership, too. And the fear and worry are strong here, too.

My hometown and county is among the poorest in the nation and heavily uninsured. If one can’t afford to travel 10 miles to the next town’s hospital for COVID19 testing, they must wait for a monthly mobile testing unit that opens for eight hours for one day. The fear is only compounded by the wait.

Although I write about this because I worry, I can also say that I am not surprised by what Trump and Abbott are doing. I’m more pissed off at those who made an electoral choice to keep Abbott by either voting for him or “not voting” for the Latina Democrat because she didn’t “sound” like the leader they wanted (“sounds” like coded language, there) and they guessed Abbott wasn’t that bad. One can argue about not voting period. Hey, I get it. After decades of fighting for candidates, I can say that I’m pretty cynical about most that I simply do not identify with.

But in times like these, how our elected officials respond has everything to do with politics. It’s the difference between one State Representative who uses his contacts to gain access to masks and PPE to distribute to those in need versus a US Senator from Texas who just wants a haircut and makes a show of it. It’s the difference between small town leaders going on Facebook Live to practically beg people to put the people’s safety first versus a Governor who uses TV to whine about leaders who put the people’s safety first. And it’s the difference between a County Judge and a District Judge who make decisions based on facts versus Republicans who make decisions based on profit and hate. Voting matters!