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Plano police do best 'Cartman' impersonation arresting black kid for walking home in the snow

If you needed another example why the Texas Legislature should forbid police from arresting people for Class C misdemeanors, here's yet another poster-child case for the history books.Rodney Reese, an 18-year old black man living in Plano, was walking home from his job at the Walmart during the Snowpocalypse when police officers stopped him ostensibly for a "wellness check." Carrying a plastic bag, underdressed for the cold in a short-sleeve shirt, he told them he didn't want their help and was ...
Tags: Texas, Law, Walmart, Plano, Reese, Texas Legislature, Southpark, Puente, Gritsforbreakfast, Cartman, Dillon Puente, Keller TX, Rodney Reese


Lots of local Texas #cjreform action, even as the #txlege is slow as Christmas

Here are a few odds and ends that merit Grits readers' attention:TX Senate Committees May Only Meet 2-3 Times: The Texas Legislature's ramp up remains slow as Christmas; a few things are happening, but "not much" appears to be the new normal. On its website, the state prosecutors' association told its members, "don’t be surprised if many Senate committees hold no more than two or three hearings on Senate bills for the entirety of this regular session." Yikes! Usually, you might see 8 or so.Vanis...
Tags: Twitter, Texas, Law, Senate, Austin, Dallas, Houston, Fort Worth, San Antonio, Sandra Bland, El Paso, Ny Times, Spencer, Harris County, Maurice, Maurice Chammah


Keller PD arrest puts a family face on 64k Class C arrests at Texas traffic stops

Out of Keller, TX comes the Lone Star State's latest police misconduct case with bystander video gone viral. Cops used a Class C arrest over a "wide right turn" to search Dillon Puente's vehicle when he refused consent to search, then used excessive force against his father, Marco, in retaliation for recording the incident. They arrested Dad on a phony obstructing the roadway charge. See WFAA-TV's coverage. and a New York Times story about the family's lawsuit.The Texas Legislature bears as much...
Tags: Texas, Law, New York Times, Rick Perry, US supreme court, Sandra Bland, Keller, Marco, Lone Star State, Perry, WFAA, Texas Legislature, Texas Commission, Atwater, Appleseed, Gritsforbreakfast


What does a successful "Defund the Police" campaign actually look like? Reconsidering Texas' abolition of Tulia-style drug task forces in light of 2020's #DefundThePolice frame

In 2020, the phrase "defund the police" captured the public imagination, for good or ill, and became the centerpiece of conservative messaging against Democrats in the fall. But it wasn't that long ago that Texas defunded dozens of regional drug task forces without any of the #DefundThePolice backlash. At their height, those task forces collectively made around 12,000 arrests per year (see FN 26 in this report), but in 2006, Gov. Rick Perry eliminated their funding with the stroke of a pen, the ...
Tags: Texas, Law, Obama, Austin, House, Rick Perry, City Council, Doj, Drug Policy Alliance, Legislature, Perry, DPS, Byrne, Rio Grande, Austin Police Department, Texas Legislature


Five random thoughts and a minor boast

Apropos of nothing, here are five random thoughts and a minor boast.1. Say what you will about the "defund" message, but there's more activity going on around the state regarding police reform, not to mention more bills filed on the topic at the Texas Legislature, than at any time this century. None of it would be happening if it weren't for the protests this summer. It's easy to forget that this time two years ago, the reform movement was more or less dead in the water.2. On top of COVID and ev...
Tags: Texas, Law, New York City, Karen, Gop, Willie Nelson, Texas Rangers, Houston Chronicle, Nieman Labs, Brown County, Austin Chronicle, Texas Legislature, DALHART, Shaver, Gritsforbreakfast, Texas Observer


Top Ten Texas Criminal Justice Stories of 2020: Looking back at a crazy, (literally) sick year

It's been a crazy year,  both for me personally (I underwent throat-cancer treatment and lost nearly 100 pounds) and for the state and nation generally, between COVID, the Trump un-election, and the massive protests surrounding Houstonite George Floyd's death that in many ways defined the year.If we were ranking criminal-justice stories, those protests would be the biggest one from any traditional newsroom perspective, even if the coronavirus in jails and prisons claimed more lives. But those pr...
Tags: Texas, Law, Minneapolis, US, Ransomware, Austin, Dallas, Houston, City Council, Apd, Fort Worth, San Antonio, Texas Rangers, Abbott, Trump, Greg Abbott


Policing protests, K-9 units barking up wrong tree, the 'toothless' agency regulating Texas cops, and other stories

I've been working on a larger project and ignoring the blog a bit this week, but here are a few odds and ends that deserve Grits readers' attention:TCOLE Sunset coverage. The Houston Chronicle published a nice story on the scathing Sunset report on the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, the agency that licenses and regulates Texas police officers, jailers, and 911 operators. "[I]n Texas," declared sunset commission staff, "the regulation of law enforcement is 'by and large, toothless.'” See re...
Tags: Texas, Law, Washington Post, Austin, Houston Chronicle, Texas Legislature, Gritsforbreakfast, Texas Observer, Fort Bend County, Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, Michael Barajas, TCOLE Sunset, Occupy Movement Ferguson


Understaffing at Texas prisons reaching dangerous levels: #txlege must close, consolidate units

Whether due to COVID or some other reason(s), vacancies among prison staff at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice have reached disturbing levels, according to this report from the agency. Thanks to Keri Blakinger of the Marshall Project for passing it along. Regular Grits readers know TDCJ has chronically short staffed several units in recent years, but the number with serious shortages is higher than any time during the two decades your correspondent has been tracking the agency. In the pa...
Tags: Texas, Law, Texas Legislature, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Gritsforbreakfast, TDCJ, Keri Blakinger, Blakinger, Oklahoma Utah Oregon


"Defund the police" is the new "Obamacare": The Texas #cjreform landscape post-election

Now that the most divisive presidential election in 50 years is over and, win, lose or (largely) draw, everybody can take a deep breath, it's time for criminal-justice reformers to peek our heads above the wreckage to see what remains of a state and local agenda after a tumultuous year and a grueling election season which, at the state level in Texas, resulted in a complete stalemate, from a partisan perspective. Criminal-justice reform is the new Obamacare It's been quite a year for criminal-ju...
Tags: Texas, Supreme Court, Law, Obamacare, Obama, Austin, Gop, House, Harry Potter, Dallas, Houston, Biden, Black Lives Matter, Apd, Fort Worth, San Antonio


San Antonio to #txlege: Fix the 180-day rule, stop arbitrators from overturning police firings, and make police-disciplinary records public

The San Antonio City Council added some police-reform-oriented items to the Alamo City's 2021 legislative agenda, reported the Express News' Joshua Fechter. Here are some of the items approved by the mayor and council:Change the 180 day rule to prohibit discipline 180 days after it's been discovered rather than when it occurred. This rule ended up prohibiting the department from firing a San Antonio officer who fed a literal "shit sandwich" to a homeless man.Make all disciplinary records for off...
Tags: Texas, Law, San Antonio, McManus, Texas Legislature, Alamo City, Gritsforbreakfast, San Antonio City Council, Joshua Fechter


Hemp law radically reduced pot prosecutions in Texas: Don't go back

Readers will recall that the Texas Legislature last year legalized "hemp" without a way for prosecutors to distinguish between legal hemp and illegal marijuana, which come from the same plant. To successfully prosecute, police would need to test the plant's THC levels, but few jurisdictions have the equipment to perform the task, much less staff to handle the extra work. The result: marijuana arrests and prosecutions plummeted statewide, with many jurisdictions eschewing them altogether. Grits...
Tags: Texas, Law, Don, Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Legislature, Texas House, Gritsforbreakfast


Slave patrols as apartheid enforcers in addition to chasing runaways

When your correspondent began researching the history of Texas slave patrols, I considered them mainly a way the government collaborated with slave owners to control black people and punish them for violating rules. But it turns out, slave patrols were as much about enforcing apartheid as protecting property rights, and they were empowered to arrest white folks for various co-mingling considered inappropriate.Grits' slave-patrol research homed in on Guadalupe County, in large part because recor...
Tags: Texas, Law, Mexico, Austin, John, Jack, Maria, San Antonio, Henry, Lawrence, DeWitt, San Jacinto, Indianola, Dina, Gretchen, Seguin


Police complaints and the politics of public-safety budgets

Just to see what was there, yesterday Grits went through recent, formal complaints against Austin police officers from protests last month, as compiled by the Office of Police Oversight. For highlights with links to the complaints, see this Twitter thread. This is information that was made public as a result of the Austin Justice Coalition's victory in the 2018 police-union contract fight.Until recently, no one could see this information unless 1) the complaint was sustained and 2) the officer w...
Tags: Texas, Law, Reagan, Austin, Gop, Apd, Abbott, Austin Police Department, Texas Legislature, OPO, Texas DPS, Gritsforbreakfast, Austin Police Association, Austin Justice Coalition, Ron Reynolds, Office of Police Oversight For


Early Texans couldn't get enough slave patrols, but didn't want to pay for them.

A bit more on slave patrols, which county commissioners courts were authorized to enact in the 1st Texas Legislature in 1846, the year after Texas became a state. We've discussed these antebellum slave-catcher patrol operations briefly: Created by county commissioners courts, comprised of local districts, sometimes many of them, with 4-6 officers in each. But I wanted to know more about them. Here are some related anecdotes from early Texas newspapers in the 1840s and '50s, found online at the U...
Tags: Texas, Law, Mexico, Austin, House, Houston, San Antonio, Jones, University Of North Texas, Hartley, Montgomery County, Powell, Dixon, Galveston, Indianola, Underground Railroad


Slave catching the dominant, early Texas law enforcement apparatus

Upon learning of Austin PD's racist, early history, Grits has been digging in a little to Texas' early law-enforcement agencies to discover if others have similar roots. This is a first installment, merely an initial inquiry, on a topic I want to delve into more deeply over time. So if it seems incomplete, it is. Please bear with me. If you're not satisfied in the end, you can have a full refund. Rangers not Texas' earliest law enforcement. Some might think the Texas Rangers were the state's ...
Tags: Texas, Law, Colorado, Mexico, Virginia, Austin, Rangers, Dallas, Houston, North Carolina, Sun City, Fort Worth, Lord, San Antonio, South Carolina, Jim Crow


What's in Texas' proposed 'George Floyd Act'?

Last week, while your correspondent was focused on Austin's budget battles, in Houston the Texas Legislature's Black Caucus unveiled what's been dubbed the "George Floyd Act," which will be carried in the House by state Rep. Senfronia Thompson and in the upper chamber by Sen. Royce West. See initial coverage:Texas TribuneHouston ChronicleDallas Morning NewsReaders may recall that Grits had suggested several reforms that one might reasonably include in such an eponymous bill that related to Geor...
Tags: Gritsforbreakfast


Texas agency that licenses peace officers up for 'Sunset' review: What needs to change to improve accountability?

The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, which is the state licensing agency for Texas police and jailers, is up for "Sunset" review during the next Texas legislative session in 2021. During a session when policing issues may dominate, this will be a track worth watching.* For the un-initiated, all state agencies in Texas every 12 years undergo a comprehensive "Sunset" review to analyze whether their core functions are still relevant and if the agency should continue to exist. If the agency is ...
Tags: Texas, Law, Sunset, Legislature, Vickers, Texas Legislature, Texas Texas, Gritsforbreakfast, Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, Kim Vickers, Sunset Commission, TCOLE, TCOLE Texas, TCLEOSE, Southwestern Cattlemen s Association, California Oregon New York New Jersey


On the folly of using prisons for drug treatment in the coronavirus era

The Texas Tribune's Jolie McCullough had a story a week or so ago that to me will be emblematic of how I recall this period: "He was supposed to be in prison less than a year. Instead he died after catching the coronavirus."  According to the latest data, there were 2,043 Texas county jail inmates and 572 staff who're currently diagnosed with COVID. In Texas prisons there are currently more than 2,200 inmates who've tested positive, along with 9,000+ more who acquired the virus and recovere...
Tags: Texas, Law, America, Oklahoma, Abbott, Greg Abbott, Texas Tribune, Texas Legislature, Gritsforbreakfast, Board of Pardons and Paroles, Jolie McCullough, See Jolie, Oklahoma Utah


Laws on rioting an anachronistic snapshot into Texas Legislature's anti-civil rights mentality in 1965

Grits has heard of people reading someone the Riot Act, but until recently had never read Texas' own riot act for myself. On the Reasonably Suspicious podcast the other day, Mandy Marzullo and I discussed Texas' laws on "riots," which were invoked via dozens of arrests around the state, including "several dozen" in Fort Worth. In Dallas, protesters have sued to challenge the constitutionality of the law. First, some historical context. Texas' offense of "Riot" was created in spring 1965, rea...
Tags: Texas, Law, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Martin Luther King Jr, Jim Crow, Daniel, Legislature, Trotsky, Texas Legislature, John Connally, Subsection, Gritsforbreakfast, UT Austin, Wiley College


TCOLE screwed up new racial profiling data required in 2017 Sandra Bland Act

Many kudos to the Houston Chronicle's Eric Dexheimer for identifying a big screw up by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement regarding racial-profiling data collection by Texas law enforcement agencies. In 2017, the Texas Legislature expanded the data collected to include after-stop data involving arrests, searches, contraband discovered, and use of force. But when the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement went to implement the statute's requirements via rule making, they excised the "racial" d...
Tags: Texas, Minnesota, Law, Sandra Bland, Houston Chronicle, Legislature, Eric, Texas Legislature, Gritsforbreakfast, Garnet Coleman, Eric Dexheimer, Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, Houston PD, Kim Vickers, George Floyd, TCOLE


A primer for new, local police-reform advocates in Texas

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful,  committed, citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  - Margaret Mead On the Reasonably Suspicious podcast this week, the Austin Justice Coalition's Chas Moore and I talked about the recent wave of Black Lives Matter protests across Texas, including in small towns and parts of the state without a significant history of civil-rights activism. In particular, we discussed how local reformers in smaller jurisd...
Tags: Texas, Minnesota, Supreme Court, Law, America, United States, San Antonio, Don, Marshall Project, Texas Legislature, Margaret Mead, Rushin, Gritsforbreakfast, Stephen Rushin, Public Information Office, Susan Chira


Imagining a "George Floyd Act" for Texas

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has already suggested he'd be open to signing a "George Floyd Act" next legislative session, and legislative offices have begun jockeying over who should carry such a bill and what should be in it. As a thought experiment, let's explore possible policy proposals such George-Floyd legislation might embrace. The Texas legislative session won't begin until January, so there's plenty of time to add to and refine this list. (As always, gentle readers, please suggest any omis...
Tags: Texas, Law, Aclu, Rick Perry, Houston, Greg Abbott, Legislature, Coleman, Harris County, West Texas, Texas Legislature, Sheriffs, Texas DPS, Gritsforbreakfast, Goines, Senfronia Thompson


Time to consider disbanding police departments in Texas (and no, I'm not calling to "abolish" police)

Grits has been thinking a lot recently about the barriers to meaningful police reform in Texas and ways around them. Chief among those barriers is the state civil service code governing most larger police agencies and various police-union contracts authorized by it. Both the civil service code and those contracts include provisions making it difficult to fire police officers who engage in misconduct and, in the case of the contracts, may lock in certain employment and spending levels that thwar...
Tags: Texas, Law, Minneapolis, Austin, Camden, Ferguson, San Antonio, Lone Star State, Texas Legislature, Express News, Texas Municipal League, Gritsforbreakfast, Austin PD, Austin Justice Coalition, Phillip Goff, Austin Christopher Taylor


Judge ruled Abbott exceeded his authority on executive order limiting personal bonds, but the fight's not over

Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton took one on the chin yesterday when Travis County District Judge Lora Livingston issued a Temporary Restraining Order barring enforcement of the barring jail releases of people with current charges or past convictions involving violent offenses. See initial coverage from the Austin Statesman, and briefs from the plaintiffs and Abbott/Paxton's attorneys.At another hearing scheduled for April 24, Judge Livingston will decide whether to t...
Tags: Texas, Supreme Court, Law, Senate, Austin, House, Aclu, Livingston, Abbott, Greg Abbott, State, Legislature, State Capitol, Ken Paxton, Harris County, Texas Senate


Trump Super Bowl ad bolsters red-state #cjreform prospects

It's a sign of changing times that two Super Bowl ads ran yesterday (worth >$5 million each) related to criminal-justice reform. One was from the NFL (on police shootings), which I suppose could be considered a house ad. But the more surprising one by far was a new commercial from President Donald Trump's re-election campaign touting his clemency for Alice Free and passage of the First Step Act, which among other things shortened sentences for thousands of presently incarcerated federal prisoner...
Tags: Texas, Law, NFL, Democrats, Gop, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Ava Duvernay, Trump, Central Park Five, Texas Legislature, Marc Levin, Texas Public Policy Foundation, Gritsforbreakfast, Texas House Corrections Committee, Jerry Madden


What do Greg Abbott, Croatia, the Roman Emperor Hadrian, ancient Hebrews, 6th century Greeks, Hammurabi, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders all have in common?

"Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." - Jesus Christ, The Lord's Prayer What do Governor Greg Abbott and the GOP-controlled Texas Legislature have in common with Croatia, Rome's openly gay emperor Hadrian, an ancient Hebrew religious celebration, 6th century Athenian Greeks, Hammurabi, as well as Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders?They all implemented (or in the case of the Democratic presidential candidates, want to implement) large debt forgiveness programs that boosted their ...
Tags: Texas, Law, Senate, Elizabeth Warren, Rome, Gop, Athens, Croatia, Warren, Bernie Sanders, Abbott, Greg Abbott, Sanders, Roman, Hammurabi, Augustus


Demagoguery vs. pot decrim focused on pretending violent crime will spike

The Austin City Council this afternoon will consider a proposal to forbid spending money for lab testing in user-level marijuana cases. Such testing is required to prosecute cases after the legislature legalized hemp, not realizing Texas crime labs were unable to distinguish hemp from marijuana. As a result, marijuana prosecutions around the state have plummeted. The Austin City Council essentially wants to make that situation permanent in the capital city. In response, law enforcement has pr...
Tags: Texas, Law, Austin, Austin City Council, Texas Legislature, Chacon, Gritsforbreakfast, Margaret Moore, Joe Chacon


Texas' natural experiment on marijuana shows decriminalization brings relief to an over-strained system

The number of marijuana arrests in Texas has plummeted since June, when the state accidentally legalized "hemp," even though Texas crime labs had no way to distinguish between legal hemp and illegal marijuana. The result, reported Jolie McCullough at the Texas Tribune: The number of new marijuana cases filed by prosecutors plummeted by two thirds, according to data  from an average of 5,900 per month last year to 1,919 in November. Think about that: Thanks to this happy accident, nearly 4,...
Tags: Texas, Law, Gop, Abbott, Legislature, Plano, Jolie, Texas Department of Public Safety, Collin County, DPS, Rio Grande Valley, Harris County, Texas Legislature, Gritsforbreakfast, Plano Police Department, Terry Canales


TX county jails seek to avoid, fail to cooperate with investigations into medical deaths, says Jail Standards Commission's Sunset 'self evaluation'

Grits took time this morning to read through the Texas Commission on Jail Standards'  created as part of the "Sunset" process, through which the Texas Legislature evaluates agencies' functions every few years. For my own purposes, I took a few notes. Here are the highlights:For starters, jail capacity in Texas has increased more than five-fold over the last 36 years, during which time the state's population didn't quite double: "From 1983 to date, the number of county jail beds has increased fr...
Tags: Texas, Law, Idaho, Commission, Legislature, TX, HIPAA, AG, Texas Legislature, Texas Commission, Sheriffs, Federal Courts, Gritsforbreakfast, TCJS, Garnet Coleman, Diana Claitor


Texas should raze last, large youth prisons in light of high sex-victimization rates

The Bureau of Justice Statistics came out with a new report last week declaring that one in seven youth prison inmates in Texas are sexually assaulted while in state custody, see the Texas Observer's coverage. This confirms based on data what legislators have already heard via anecdote: Texas juvenile prisons are unsafe for the youth incarcerated in them.The Observer did a good job fleshing out the reasons, which will be familiar to (very) long-time Grits readers: Texas continues to rely on larg...
Tags: Texas, Law, Bureau Of Justice Statistics, Gainesville, Legislature, Texas Legislature, Ron Jackson, Gritsforbreakfast, Texas Observer, McLennan Co, Texas Youth Commission, Nate Blakeslee



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