Category Archives: City of Houston

Video of HPD Killing Nicolas Chavez Released

Four Houston PD cops were fired for the killing of Nicolas Chavez.

A well-prepared, yet, sickening video showing the various police bodycam vantage points of the Nicolas Chavez killing was released to the public  Thursday afternoon, with a play-by-play of the killing by the HPD Chief. The Chief and the cops union seem to have provided some points of defense for the fired cops, from a criminal case point of view.

It was not lost on me that the Chief (and therefore the City of Houston) took somewhat of a middle road in stating that at least two of the bullets shot into Chavez were “justified,” but that the final multi-cop volley of 21 shots were bothersome enough to fire the cops.

Of course, the cops union felt that all of the bullets were justified–even the last 21 shots. The Chief disagreed as the cops have been trained to use time as a means of deescalating a situation. I would think that allowing for more time in this situation would have effected a better outcome. The cops had already taken the time and used their training in attempting to do so.

I could go into what I think after watching the video, but I’ll leave that to the experts that I hope are utilized in explaining it to a grand jury. I just think that an already spent taser (left on the ground by one of the cops) that Chavez pulled toward himself using the wires that had already been shot into him would have done more damage to Chavez than to the cops based on what I’ve read about those contraptions. Therefore, 21 shots fired at will by four cops were not justified and such a violent reaction by the cops was not necessary.

The DA Kim Ogg has stated that the case will be presented to the grand jury once her people have reviewed the evidence. I hope it is presented well.

It is disappointing that it has taken over four months to get to this point. It would seem to me that the elaborate video presentation was more about defending the firing of the cops than about prosecuting a crime. The Chief has a knack for putting on a show when calling out crime and criminals to the cameras, but not in this case.

To watch the Chief’s presentation, click here.

 

 

Latinos and COVID-19

The LA Times recently featured an article about COVID-19 in South Texas, specifically, the Rio Grande Valley. I wrote a post about bad state leadership and COVID-19 in South Texas in early May. I had hoped that people would realize that bad leadership and a pandemic do not mix and that they wouldn’t listen to awful leaders. Unfortunately, it seems to be getting worse.

We’ve all heard that it’s pretty bad down there and it is. Hospitals are overloaded, deaths are happening so often that even a transporter of bodies has earned a feature in some newspapers because of how busy he has become. For Mexican Americans and other Latinos, it is bad everywhere.

In 2015, 27% of US Latinos were uninsured. It’s safe to say that given the undocumented population and the economic effects of COVID-19, that number is even higher today. Latinos did not have access to adequate health care pre-Coronavirus. This in itself is a public policy failure, but if there was an underlying condition that caused underlying conditions to become exacerbated by COVID-19, it is the lack of access to health care and wellness.

The LA Times article quoted one of the Medical authorities in the RGV who stated that people were finding it difficult to avoid family get-togethers, especially during the season of Mother’s Day, graduations, Father’s Day, and 4th of July. An article in the NY Times also gave mention to Latino “culture” in the form of family get-togethers. In other words, events that bring families together are a cultural thing in South Texas and folks can’t seem avoid them.

Miya Shay at ABC13  reported on the Del Toro family whose patriarch contracted COVID-19, along with other members of his family, after a Father’s Day dinner.

It’s bad enough that there are failed Republicans leaders in other states who blame Hispanics for the spread of COVID-19, but let’s not forget the failed Texas leadership that downplayed COVID-19 realities and sped up a re-opening of Texas. Greg Abbott chose profits over people.

As I stated in a previous post, the people model their behavior based on the attitudes and decisions of their leaders, and Greg Abbott didn’t start panicking and reversing course until the body count started worsening in July. Until now, it was all about limited COVID-19 testing, a lack of medical resources and preparation, and fast-tracking the reopening of states. Trump continues hell-bent on reopening states and schools. Meanwhile, there are local leaders who actually are–whether in Houston or in the Valley–trying to shut down their cities, yet, are forced to add a disclaimer that their orders have no teeth because of Greg Abbott.

Well, now we are at this point where the whole state is considered a hot spot and it must be restated:  STAY HOME! And if you need to go to the grocery store or to a doctor’s appointment (and I don’t see any other reason other than essential work to leave your home), wear a mask, distance from others and wash hands. It’s not that difficult. It’s up to us. And, if you’re an essential worker, you also have a responsibility to stop the spread by practicing safe protocols and CDC guidelines beyond your work environment.

In other words, fellow Brown people, screw what may seem to you like “culture,” and take responsibility for saving our families! Culture also means taking care of our own families when there is danger.

And if you are a leader of a state agency, college, or university, or a company that has the ability to continue operations from home, then it is your responsibility to be part of the solution–Keep your employees home!

Given the situation with the Florida Marlins and outbreaks at various school gyms prepping for Fall athletic programs, school sports need to shut down, too. And that includes university sports programs. Hell, even professional programs that are supposedly “in a bubble” need to stop this folly of a season. If they can get sick in a bubble, they will spread it beyond the bubble. And it sets a bad example.

Still, the diversity of my Facebook friends list runs the gamut and it freaks me out to see people at get-togethers with people who don’t reside with them at the lake or at the beach or eating at restaurants (even if they are at whatever percentage they’ve been told to be by Greg Abbott) or getting haircuts…the list goes on.

Forget about the fear of schools reopening as that’s still in the future. What is going on now dictates what happens later and all we see in the future are more funerals and more despair if behavior and public policy does not change. We have a responsibility to ignore bad leaders like Trump and Abbott and do whatever it takes to stop the spread.

It’s getting to where the people who are sick and dying are people we each personally know and love. I‘d rather miss (or be missed by) my family members for a couple of months of lockdown than forever. 

We Need A Vote-at-Home Order from Abbott

Well, it’s nice that Greg Abbott has finally decided to order everyone to wear masks during this pandemic. That it took over 175,000 Texans to get infected and over 2,500 dying, as well as an idiotic and sped-up re0pening of businesses which caused an obvious uptick in cases to finally make a mask order happen shows a total disregard of life and health on the part of Abbott and Republicans.

Anyway, thanks?

It was Anthony Gutierrez at Common Cause who captured the reality of the mask order:

“Issuing the mandatory mask order and encouraging everyone to stay home is the right thing to do right now, considering the mess we’re in. But the right thing to do months ago to avoid this very easily foreseeable mess was to allow all Texans to vote by mail so that no one would now find themselves having to choose between voting and endangering their health.

Our Governor and Secretary of State have thus far failed when it comes to adapting our election systems in a pandemic, but it’s not too late to get it right for November.”

We’re currently in the Democratic Primary run-off here in Texas. And while many 65+ voters ordered their mail ballots, thousands of others are going into polling locations risking our health because we believe in the power of our votes. Thankfully, our own Harris County has instituted some measure of protection, but it is never safer than voting from home at this time.

Instead of opening up access to voting by mail for all as a real option, Greg Abbott and Republicans fought against it, putting even more people at risk who may have already been practicing stay-at-home measures on their own.

Anyway, let’s hope there is a vote-at-home order soon. Even Abbott agrees that “it is getting worse,” although, leaders like Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo had said it would get worse if leaders didn’t take COVID19 seriously.

On Mayor Turner’s Police Reform Task Force

First of all, I am of the opinion that all the great ideas to reform our local police departments have already been discussed and presented, and that they have been presented prior to the events that occurred in Minneapolis.

There has been a dire need for police reform in most cities, including Houston, for decades and nothing has been attempted; if anything, it’s been avoided for political expediency and to appease those who do not support any kind of police reform. We don’t need committees, we need decisive leadership to change the system and the culture of policing.

A committee of favorites that doesn’t include groups that have been at the forefront of police reform advocacy will not come up with anything new. If anything, my fear is that a committee of favorites will only serve as a rubber stamp for the wants of the Mayor, the Chief of Police and the police union. This must be of, by, and for the people, and this committee has too many familiar faces that only talk a good game. For some, it seems it’s what they do for a living.

I wholeheartedly agree with Transform Houston which states:

  1. The 45-person board does not include any individuals currently associated with Black Lives Matter Houston. Moreover, it includes only one organization that is part of the Houston Right2Justice Coalition which has already offered community driven policy recommendations on policing to Mayor Turner.
  2. A number of individuals represented on the task force have been employed by law enforcement agencies. If our goal is to explore ways to end the status quo problems with modern policing, having so many individuals at the table who have been deeply entrenched within those broken structures seems counterproductive to achieving meaningful reform.
  3. Mayor Turner has now had 2 separate bodies recommend police reform measures – both his 2016 Transition Committee on Criminal Justice and a 2017 report on fiscal responsibility and economic growth. The recommendations from both of those reports have yet to be implemented. At today’s press conference the Mayor seemed to dismiss the recommendations as no longer valid given the current movement to reform our policing system. To be clear, there are measures that have been proposed that could be immediately implemented by Mayor Turner that would begin the process of reforming how HPD does its work.
  4. Finally, Pastor Max Miller is listed as a member of the task force. Pastor Miller is well known as an anti-LGBTQ activist who worked tirelessly to spread misinformation about Houston’s transgender community during the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance City Council debates and ballot initiative.

The list of members of the committee is here. I know a few of them personally and a few others I know of their works in the community. According to the Mayor, their charge is to review policies, review the current independent review board, assess release of body camera footage, study best practices, assess community policing practices, and study the presence of police in the community. So, I agree with Kuff when he says let’s see them do something.

But, this kind of “study” should be an ongoing thing and not just one that happens when 60,000 people show up to rally, or when HPD kills the next black or brown person and fails to release results of an internal investigation. When it comes to police practices, and given the current surge of bad apples in policing and those quitting because of rules being imposed on them, the whole system should be under citizen watch beyond our cell phones.

The Mayor and Council are supposed to be our advocates as we elect them to oversee our government services (including police), but it appears that they are falling short. And a committee of favorites does not help this cause.

 

Democratic State Reps Call Out Acevedo on HPD Audit

Eight Houston-area Democratic State Representatives have called out Houston PD Chief Art Acevedo and HPD on the lack of transparency and accountability regarding a taxpayer-funded audit of the department after its botched raid on Harding Street.   (CLICK  TO  ENLARGE)

Thanks to these leaders for speaking up for accountability on this particular instance of cops-gone-wrong.

Of course, this isn’t the only instance for which the community needs information. The name Nicolas Chavez immediately comes to mind as months have passed without any results of investigation. The online video isn’t enough, Chief! Perhaps this audit on procedures and practices would give a little light as to what could lead officers to kill others in all other instances in which has occurred.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Where Is Houston on Police Reform?

There is a campaign for police reform called 8CantWait. They list eight reforms to police policy that could reduce police violence if fully put into place.

  • Bans Chokeholds and Strangleholds
  • Requires De-escalation
  • Requires Warning Before Shooting
  • Requires Exhausting Other Means Before Shooting
  • Duty to Intervene
  • Ban Shooting at Moving Vehicles
  • Has Use of Force Continuum
  • Requires Comprehensive Reporting

Those in bold are in place in Houston. Meaning, a police officer may intercede to prevent unnecessary use of force by a co-worker and be free to report it to a supervisor; a department has guidelines as to how much force can be used on a resisting subject; and reporting of gun use, whether it is pointing a gun at a person, intentional discharge not resulting in bodily injury, and accidental discharge resulting in injury of a person.

A report written on the subject of police use of force is quite compelling. First of all, African Americans are three times more likely to be killed by police than white counterparts. It’s a fact. Ultimately, police violence would not only be reduced with these policies in place, but the threat of violence to police officers would also be decreased.  But, what is most disturbing is the lack of advancement on this by police departments as on average, they only accept three of the eight proposed reforms.

If these reforms are not being pushed at the federal and state levels, it is up to cities and their politicians to step up. Here in Houston, At Large 4 Council Member Letitia Plummer offered up amendments to the City of Houston Budget that is currently being debated. (click image to enlarge)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, this is leadership. And she’s on her first term. We have a term-limited mayor and council members who have yet to step up with solutions. But the people must let their own city council members know that they must support this amendment by calling them or e-mailing them. And telling them that these reforms are needed for the purpose of saving lives and improving community – police (and council) relations.

These are changes that have been promised for a long time in one form or another. When things are at their calmest is when they should be put in place. Our government should be proactive, but it is not. It is only after a murder-by-cop and direct action by the people that these changes are proposed. Hopefully, that will change.

If this is truly a lesson learned, then the changes that need to be made will be made. And soon.

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.