Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Sheriff Arvin West: the Man Who Busted Willie Nelson for Pot over Thanksgiving Weekend

Hudspeth County, Texas, is located on the Texas - Mexico border, and for several years now, Arvin West has been the local sheriff there.  Lots of folk are getting to know Texas Sheriff West this week - maybe you already recognize his name. 

After all, it was Sheriff Arvin West who was responsible for pulling over Willie Nelson's tour bus at a border partrol checkpoint on the day after Thanksgiving.  Instead of getting an autograph, though, law enforcement ended up arresting the 77-year-old country singer for possession of six (6) ounces of marijuana. 

Nelson was booked - the mugshot is a popular online item this week.  Willie was then released on $2500 bond and not long thereafter was back on the road again, going home to Austin.  If convicted, Willie Nelson faces a possible two years incarceration in a state facility. 

Who is Sheriff West anyway?

Sheriff Arvin West has testified before Congress about the growing problem of drug distribution by drug cartels in his jurisdiction - you can read his testimony online from a February 2006 presentation he gave to the Committee of the House of Representatives.  It's got a title:  "Armed and Dangerous: Confronting the Problem of Border Incursions."  

Sheriff Arvin West also regularly appears on the national news shows.  You can read the transcript of his April 2010 interview by Greta Von Susteren at FoxNews telling Greta that the Texas-Mexico border is "wide open" and that he's been telling farmers and ranchers in his jurisdiction to arm themselves against the dangers of drug runners, since his Sheriff's Department only has 17 deputies to cover 5000 miles.  Sheriff Arvin West has also appeared on Nightline in July 2010 (click the link to watch the video), calling the area as being under "siege" and that his fight against Mexican drug lords as "war."

Already, the Texas Tribune (among other news sources) are looking into Sheriff West and his own "Texas legend" status (quoting Glenn Beck).  According to their investigations, Sheriff West may have his own agenda for busting Willie Nelson -- it brings more media coverage, it boosts what some argue is Sheriff West's goals of maximizing state and federal funding for his department. 

So, there is a growing distrust of Sheriff West and his motives for busting Willie Nelson on the day after Thanksgiving. 

Willie Nelson Starts the "Teapot Party"

However, Willie Nelson may have an agenda of his own.  Shortly after his arrest, he started the "Teapot Party," which favors legalization of marijuana with the arguments that it cuts back on the criminal operations, and gives a new tax base to fund governments in sore need of revenue. 

If you didn't know this was a real news story, you might think you were reading an Elmore Leonard novel -- where the Texas Sheriff wearing the big white cowboy hat and the Country Music Legend wearing the bandanna were secretly friends who had cooked up this media plot.  But that would just be fiction, right? 

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Texas Supreme Court and Texas Court of Criminal Appeals: 100% Republican

Yesterday was Election Day, and while many spotlights were focused upon the Governor's race between Rick Perry and Bill White (and Kathie Glass), some pretty powerful statewide spots were being decided as well. Positions on the two highest state courts - the Texas Supreme Court for civil matters, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for criminal matters - were also on the ballot.

And, once again, Republicans won every race. This keeps both high courts completely Republican - no Democrat, no Libertarian, no Independent, no Green Party - and it's been that way since 1994.

Sixteen Years of a Republican Monopoly in the Two Texas High Courts

Of course, there are those that argue this is not that big of a deal. Judges at the appellate level make decisions based upon law, not party affiliation. They aren't stumping for votes like Congressmen and Congresswomen. They aren't giving speeches and taking voters' questions like Mayors, County Commissioners, School Board Members, or even the Governor himself. Judges, it's argued, are above all that: taking on the label of one party or the other is simply a necessary evil given the reality that these are elected positions.

However, the mere fact that judges must run for office means that they must become politicians at some level. They need the campaign support that a party provides (at least most of them do) and they will have their own campaigns to run albeit smaller and more discrete than their legislative and executive contemporaries.

Does it Matter?

Are they swayed by their party affiliations? Some argue yes. These are the folk that push periodically for judges to be appointed, not elected. Look around, that's not been a very successful venture here in Texas. (Federal judges are appointed here in Texas and elsewhere, by comparison.)

As the appointment debate continues, the reality that Texas faces today is this: a uniform Republican presence on the state's highest courts. Are you comfortable with that?

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man? Court of Inquiry Into Execution of Cameron Todd Willingham Starts Today - Maybe

A two-day hearing is scheduled to start this afternoon in our state capital - actually in the 299th District Court in Travis County Courthouse down in Austin - and it's not your usual weekday hearing.  Today, an official Court of Inquiry is set to begin, brought pursuant to  Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 52.01(b)(2) and the motion filed by District Attorney R. Lowell Thompson of Corsicana. 

The purpose of the action?  To review the case of convicted arsonist/murderer Cameron Todd Williams in order to determine whether or not an innocent man was killed by lethal injection by the State of Texas back in 2004.

This is a big deal.  Of course, it's a big deal if an innocent man was executed -- but it's also a big deal that the Texas criminal justice system appears to be grading its own papers, instituting its own investigation into the matter.  Wow. 

Motion to Recuse the Presiding Judge Also Set to be Heard Today

Before you get ready to drive to Austin, wait a minute.  A challenge to the presiding judge has been filed, too.  Sometime this morning, it's expected that State District Judge Charlie Baird will rule on whether or not he'll preside over the Inquiry.  There are those that argue he shouldn't be involved - including the Navarro County District Attorney, who is seeking the recusal of Judge Baird. (Willingham was convicted in Navarro County - the prosecutor responsible for the conviction is seeking the recusal.)

However, it's curious because Judge Baird's role is not fact-finder: under Article 52.01(b), he must request that the district's presiding judge appoint another judge to review the evidence.  Baird doesn't have that job.

The recusal motion is set for 10:30; the inquiry, at 1:30 this afternoon.  Many are expecting a delay due to the recusal request. 

Of particular note:  Judge Baird has experience in handling a court of inquiry.  He oversaw the court of inquiry into the conviction of Tim Cole (of Fort Worth). 

Result:  Tim Cole was exonerated, posthumously.  (For details on Tim Cole's case, check out our earlier post.)

Was Cameron Todd Willingham Innocent?

Mr. Willingham went to his death never veering from his claim of being innocent of the murders of his three children, Amber (2 years old) along with 1 year old twins Karmon and Kameron, by arson in a fire that killed all three of them as they slept in their Corsicana home back in 1991.  Willingham was tried, convicted, and executed in 2004. 

Numerous respected experts have reviewed the arson investigation and determined that the case against Willingham was filled with errors and based upon outdated methodology. 

What Does This Mean for Us? 

This level of public scrunity into the justice system doesn't happen everyday - grading the papers long after the case is over, and in this instance, the man is dead.   If the State of Texas executed an innocent man, it's a travesty.  However, the fact that it isn't been swept under a rug -- that the system is checking itself -- this is a good thing for Texas. 

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

DPS Trooper Busted for Selling Real Texas Drivers' Licenses to Illegal Immigrants

A Houston Federal Grand Jury Indictment, unsealed yesterday by U.S. Attorney Juan Angel Moreno, gives the details behind the arrests of Department of Public Safety (DPS) trooper Mark DeArza, DPS clerk Lidia Gutierrez, and service station manager Maen Bittar, each charged with conspiracy to produce illegal identifications by selling fraudulent Texas drivers' licenses to illegal immigrants.

Apparently, this profitable DPS moonlighting business had been operating since last March. No news yet on how many Texas driver's licenses were sold. And, while they were fraudulently obtained, these weren't fake IDs made with the latest computer technology or some copier gizmo. Nope.

These buyers got the real thing: actual Texas Drivers' Licenses were being sold here. Real Ones. Just like the one in your wallet.

Smooth: Pay at the Gas Station, Scoot Over to the DPS Station and Get Your License

Apparently, they thought this through, and things were efficient: the service station guy sold the fake licenses to illegal immigrants from his gas station. Price? $3000 per license. Once he had the cash, he would send the buyers over to the nearby DPS office.

That's right: they walked right into the DPS office, where the clerk and the trooper would process them -- complete with driving test -- nevermind that they had no legal paperwork to establish citizenship, identity, or anything else.

These three are all out on bail right now ($50,000 each). If convicted of these federal charges, they may get 15 years in a federal facility along with a big, big fine of $250,000.00.

How Much Money Did They Make -- We Don't Know.

Let's see. Setting aside the illegally gotten gains here and just considering numbers: $250,000 equals 83 sales of $3000 Licenses. Wonder how much these folk made since March? Did they each sell over 14 licenses a month? Does this fine look that big to them? Just something to ponder.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Ex-Judge Samuel Kent Wants Out of Jail: It's Been a Cruel and Abusive Experience. Surprise.

We've posted about Samuel Kent before -- following his path from a setting federal district judge in Galveston, Texas indicted for sex crimes, through his incarceration after he entered into a plea agreement (he was also the subject of impeachment, but that's a rabbit trail at this point). 

He's always been rather creative and surprising in his legal strategies -- remember when he resigned one year in advance, in a fight to keep his pension?  -- and this week's filing is no different. 

Former Federal Judge Kent Finds Life Behind Bars "Cruel" so He Files Motion for Release

This week, Samuel Kent has filed a former request that his sentence be vacated and corrected. Why? Kent argues that the Bureau of Prisons has allegedly ignored the "intended sentence," entered in May 2009 by (1) denying him admission into the substance abuse program (for the reason that Kent had been sober for a full year before he was arrested); and (2) classifying Kent as a "sex offender" because the prosecution dismissed the sex allegation charges against him. Among other things.

While an inmate in a Florida facility, former judge Samuel Kent provides such facts to support his request as (1) he has suffered from listening to another inmate as the inmate was being raped; and (2) he was forced by a Florida prison official (a "sargeant") to do calisthenics in the nude. 

There's lots more.  Suffice to say, ex-Judge Kent's filing has a lot more juice to it than anything Lindsay Lohen has filed in the past six months. 

Read the details for yourself in the Memorandum filed in concurrance with the Motion yesterday.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

DPS Trooper Shoots Driver After Pulling Him Over For Speeding

Yesterday morning -- very early, about 1 AM -- on Interstate 45 in Montgomery County, not too far from Willis, Texas, a DPS Trooper was setting in his squad car, monitoring the radar as traffic rolled past him.  Weather reports show that while the area had seen lots of rain in the aftermath of Hurricane Alex, it wasn't raining at the time. 

Zip, zip:  a car sped by.  Radar clocked it at 100 mph. 

The Department of Public Safety officer drove off in pursuit, and soon enough the race ended.  The speedster stopped his car on I 45, just north of the Interstate 45 and Longstreet intersection. 

No crash.  No weaving through rush hour traffic.  Guy was driving fast at night on a lonely stretch of road, got caught by radar, and DPS was about to give him a big, fat ticket.  

But then, something happened -- and we're still not sure what that was except that the Montgomery County media has been informed that a "physical altercation" happened there on the roadside between the Trooper and the driver.  MyFox Houston is reporting that the guy tried to "resist arrest."  No source given.   The Houston Chronicle is reporting that the man exited his vehicle after being pulled over, and somehow the Trooper "feared for his safety" and shot the guy.  No source given.

What we are sure about:  the driver was shot.  By the DPS Trooper. 

And it was a serious gunshot wound:  first, the wounded driver was taken by emergency medical crew to Hermann Hospital in the Woodlands.  Later, he was LifeFlighted to Hermann Medical Center in Houston, and at last report, he's remains in critical condition.

Critical, as in this guy almost died and he's not out of the woods yet. 

It's reported that several agencies are investigating this incident.  The Texas Rangers are involved.  So is the Montgomery County Sheriff's Department, and the Montgomery County District Attorney.

No reports that the driver was armed in any way.  No weapon -- and it's pretty safe to bet that if this guy had a gun, or a knife, or some wild Martial Arts gizmo, that the DPS representatives would be hot to give the press that info at the get-go. 

So, looks like the guy was not armed. 

No dashcam video has been released, which might help to explain things -- and one has to wonder what story that camera may tell.  Remember the beatings caught on video when the Beaumont cops pulled over the two men over in a routine traffic stop?  It took two years before that video was released to the public (watch it here).

Why Did the Trooper Choose the Hand Gun Over a Stun Gun?

What about those Tasers?  We've reported cops tasering drunks, grandmas, the mentally ill, a pastor, and even their spouses -- if the Trooper "feared for his safety" wasn't this the perfect opportunity to use a stun gun?  The phrase "excessive force" comes to mind ....

We've already written about Montgomery County's problem with tasers -- the Sheriff's Department was involved in the Taser death of suspect Robert Lee Welch, 50 years old, and it was ruled a homicide by Taser last February. Does this mean that the Trooper was so wary of using a Taser that he pulled his GUN instead?

What's to learn here? 

Cops are humans with weapons that can kill you, strapped to their sides.  When they pull you over, you need to be careful.  They can shoot you.  We know, because they do. 

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Dallas Police Officer Indicted by Grand Jury for Oppression and Tampering with Police Report

Dallas police officer Daniel Babb was indicted yesterday by the Grand Jury, so he's officially facing criminal charges now.

Officer Babb expected this already -- he had turned himself in to authorities on May 24th. Today, Daniel Babb's already out on bail ($2500) and off the streets under administrative leave.

The Dallas Grand Jury charges Officer Babb with two things: official oppression and tampering with a government document.

How did the Dallas cop become a criminal defendant? This all started around two years ago, when a 14 year old was hurt as a man named Jorge Torres, 21, allegedly held the boy while another man hit him. After the dust settled, the boy tells the story that this was all "horseplay" that he himself began - but at the time of the incident, law enforcement had a different perception.

The cops were thinking a crime had occured: injury to a child.

According to the reports, Dallas police were called to a domestic disturbance. Once there, Officer Babb - on the job around two years at the time this is going down - told Jorge Torres he could stand up from the curb where he was sitting during questioning, because ants were crawling on Torres' hands.

Texas ants. We all know what they can do. So far, so good for Officer Babb.

What happens next, according the reports, is where things go haywire. In his police report, Officer Babb states that he "felt threatened" by Torres after Torres stood, so Babb "used a balance displacement technique." This "technique" made Torres fall backwards over the curb and onto the ground. No news on where the ants were.

Torres Suffered Minor Injuries From Officer Babb's Actions

The police reports confirm that Torres got some medical attention at the scene, so we know he suffer some kind of minor injury here. However, other cops at the scene also reported that Officer Babb lost his temper at Torres, and shoved him to the ground without just cause.

The public integrity unit investigated, and found that Officer Daniel Babb had used excessive force. They also ruled that he had fudged his police report about what had happened.

So, Officer Babb's three year career as a Dallas Police Officer is in question right now. Of course, he's still on the force (though he's not on the streets) and he's still got a defense to present.

What Happened to Torres?

Jorge Torres got three days in jail because he refused to give the police his name when all this went down. The injury to a child charges? Dropped. The 14-year-old boy told the police that he started the whole thing, he wasn't a victim here.

One lesson learned? When reading Dallas Police Department records, note that the definition of "balance displacement technique" is "shove."

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Dallas Grand Jury Subpoenas County Constable Adamcik - The Towing Plot Thickens?

The ongoing investigation into the Dallas County Constables may be expanding.

We've already posted on County Constable Jaime Cortes (Precinct 5) and Constable Derick Evans (Precinct 1) - they're in the midst of an ongoing investigation into possible criminal acts by Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins.

If you'll remember, it took awhile for Watkins to start investigations into the possible bad acts involving towing policies in Precincts 1 and 5 -- the Dallas County Commissioners had asked the District Attorney to investigate at least three times and zip had been done, etc., etc.

On Monday,
grand jury subpoenas were issued to Dallas County Commissioner Ben Adamcik (Precinct 3) and three of his deputies. Seems that Adamcik, as well as his underlings Tony Lewis, Richard McKnight (the Chief Deputy), and Bertha Roop will be testifying to the Grand Jury on Friday.

Adamcik's a former cop, and he's
telling the press that he's got absolutely no idea why he and his folk have been called downtown -- his precinct is "boring."

That may be. North Dallas may be boring. Adamcik and his folk could have been called down there for any number of reasons. But when the District Attorney's Public Integrity Unit Investigation into bad acts by County Officials spreads its web into yet another precinct, you gotta wonder.

And face it. These days (as reported on this blog and
its brother), having a background in Texas law enforcement isn't exactly a stellar recommendation of integrity.

Let's watch and see what happens here.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Miranda Warnings Changed By US Supreme Court Last Week - And It's Not Good News

The United States Supreme Court released two opinions last week that directly impact what we've all understood regarding Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966).

Now, according to the Supreme Court, confessions that wouldn't be admitted at trial in the past WILL BE allowed as evidence at trial -- despite the reality that law enforcement interviewed individuals and got those confessions in ways that weren't considered legal until last week.

Florida v. Powell

First came
Florida v. Powell, 08-1175 ___ U.S. ___ (2010). Here, the Court found that even though Florida's Miranda Warning does not state to the individual clearly and directly that he or she has a right to have a lawyer present when they are being questioned by police, the Florida warning is okay.

Guess the Court is depending upon all those TV shows to let everyone know that when the cops start to ask you questions, you have a constitutional right to an attorney.

Maryland v. Shatzer

Then, two days later, came
Maryland v. Shatzer, 08-680, ___ U.S. ___ (2010). Here, the "Edwards v. Arizona rule" gets whammied. That rule was clear: when an individual invoked his Miranda rights ("get me a lawyer!") then that's it. Even if the man or woman says something later that amounts to a "nevermind" it didn't matter. The cops couldn't question any further and it be okay under the law.

Now, it's a big huge mess. The Supreme Court tells us that the Edwards v. Arizona rule shouldn't be an "eternal" bar to police questioning someone. Now, if there's a 14 day long "break in custody" between the police trying to question the individual, then a confession after that two week interval is going to be just fine. What??? Really???

"That provides plenty of time for the suspect to get re-acclimated to his normal life ... and to shake off any residual coercive effect of his prior custody," opines Justice Scalia in the decision.

What about if the individual is spending those two weeks behind bars? Doesn't matter, apparently: Shatzer was in prison during the "break in custody" and the Supreme Court didn't think that was a big deal.

Wonder how many confessions we'll see in the future that aren't dated at least 14 days after the individual was initially questioned by the police?

Monday, February 01, 2010

Cops Admit that Dallas Crime Records Are Not Accurate

We need to be thankful that we have a great local newspaper here in Dallas, because they may be the only ones that are caring enough to give us the real skinny about crime in our community.

The Dallas Morning News has been waving the red flag for awhile now, telling anyone who would listen that the Dallas Police Department was NOT keeping track of crimes committed in our area according to FBI guidelines. And now, Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle has confirmed this, quoted in the paper as saying that he doesn't believe that the FBI guidelines should be followed " they were in the Bible."

What About Uniform Crime Statistics Across the Country?

There's a reason for the FBI guidelines. If everyone follows them, then there's a basis for organizing all the different records from all over the nation so comparisons can be made.

It looks like Dallas is monkeying with how it reports crimes so that the Dallas Police Department doesn't look like its dealing with as many serious crimes as it might be. The Dallas Morning News already reported on how auto burglaries weren't being included, so that the cop statistics looked better, and how Dallas PD tallies some assaults as lesser offenses -- which keeps Dallas' violent crime rate skewed lower than the truth in national studies.

Dallas Cops v FBI?

The Federal Bureau of Investigation isn't above taking on an entire city's police department. They're doing that right now, down in San Antonio. With all this number-crunching manipulation, will Dallas be next? You gotta wonder.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Cop Watch: What's With All the Gunfights Down in Pleasant Grove?

Pleasant Grove is a small community located in southeast Dallas -- lotsa folk here just call it "the Grove." And that may be a really accurate moniker these days because it appears that some very UNpleasant things are happening there.

The Backstory: a Gunbattle Last Month ....

Just last month, the Dallas Morning News had a report on December 12, 2009, of a "gunbattle" involving a young man named Jae-Ron Andrews. According to media accounts, shortly after lunchtime on a Friday afternoon, Jae-Ron was meeting up with a drug dealer to buy some illegal substances (presumably in preparation for a fun weekend). Things turned sour, and 23 year old Jae-Ron pulled a pistol on the dealer. The dealer pulled his own weapon, and the two began exchanging gunfire. Jae-Ron was killed in the skirmish.

... Next, Fifteen Cops Vs. An Injured Nineteen Year Old

Then, right before the New Year, DMN reports on another gunbattle in the Grove -- less than three weeks after the first one. And this one is scary because it involves thirteen (13) Dallas cops and two (2) more police officers from Mesquite drawing guns and giving fire in an altercation with a single individual, a teenager from Dallas who was killed during this onslaught.

Nineteen (19) year old Dontell Mitch Terrell died on the night of December 29th at the Dallas County Medical Center of multiple gunshot wounds. His sixteen (16) year old cohort, also shot, did not sustain life-threatening injuries -- he was shot in a separate incident, by a Mesquite officer.

Dontell was shot when the 15 law enforcement officers "opened fire" (quoting DMN) on the teenager after he allegedly failed to drop his weapon. Reports aren't revealing how many times Dontell was hit, but the Dallas Morning News has seen fit to list the names of every single law enforcement officer that pulled his gun on Dontell Terrell.

Dontell was a troubled kid

Allegedly, Dontell and two pals had been robbing the local Papa John's pizza joint and the police caught up with the three on the road, after they'd left the scene driving a white Chevy. A high speed chase began, ending with Dontell jumping from the car and running -- getting hit in the process by a Mesquite police car. Injured, he ran into a nearby home where there was a standoff with police while he threatened suicide and told his mother over the phone that he wanted to die rather than return to jail.

Here's the question: did Dontell have to be shot down? by 15 different shooters?

Assuming that Dontell was suicidal and refusing to put down his weapon as a way to commit "suicide by cop," did that mean that 15 cops needed to fire upon the teenager? The listing of each cop involved in the shooting, together with their years of experience in law enforcment, suggests that this blog may not be the only place where the question arises: couldn't an injured 19 year old have been protected from his own suicidal wishes? Or is the Grove its own little version of the Wild West today?