A disappointing turn of events: in re Victor Trevino

(Due to technical problems during editing, this post was not able to be posted until today, Tuesday 2014-11-18. It was written in its entirety before the sentencing, and the original text has remained unedited since the night of Sunday 2014-11-16.)

This will be one of the more difficult posts to write for this blog. But it needs to be written. For the new people, it’s honestly quite rare I feel comfortable putting in a good word for a good cop. And this post, not surprisingly, is going to be about one of those cops I had a reason to say something good thing about, at one time.

If you haven’t read my post Nightmare on Shepherd Drive from 2010 November (just a little over four years ago to the day!), you may want to go back and take a look at it. In that post I quote then-Precinct 6 Constable Victor Trevino where he rips the cops running a questionable speed trap on North Shepherd Drive and North Durham Drive. Some months later, Constable Trevino gets indicted on four criminal counts: two counts of tampering with a governmental record, one count of abuse of official capacity, and one count of misappropriation of fiduciary property. It was this last count that he was being tried on until a few days ago when he changed his plea to guilty and shortly thereafter, he resigned as constable. Basically, you can stick a fork in Mr. Trevino’s law enforcement career because it’s done.

If you think I now feel like a bit of an ass for having said something good about him, you’d be at least partially right. I take a pretty dim view of those who divert money from a charitable cause for their own ends. In this regard Mr. Trevino is no better than the likes of the WordCamp Houston 2010 organizers who I have already written about at length. The difference here is, that was attempted theft, and Mr. Trevino’s actions are closer to an actual theft (“misappropriation” is really just a nicer and/or legal term for theft when it comes down to it). To say I expect better of those who work in law enforcement is an understatement. While I don’t think the charge to which Mr. Trevino pleaded guilty reflects the entirety of his career, it’s certainly going to be the main thing that many remember him for.

I didn’t know he was going to be accused of these kinds of crimes at the point in time when I wrote my post. And in the specific context where I commend him in my post from 2010, I stand by what I said; I’m not going to retract it now. I really wish some other constables or even the sheriff had spoken up about the speed trap and said the same thing that then-Constable Trevino did.

I drive through there once in a while, and it seems HPD has finally abandoned the speed trap in/near the 700 block of North Shepherd/Durham. There may be another reason for that (which I may address later) but either way, good riddance. So the story, and then-Constable Trevino’s words, may well have had a lasting impact.

Regarding Mr. Trevino’s criminal case, I may make another post in about a week after he’s sentenced, I may not. It depends on how I feel. I will say I am glad I felt well enough to write this post today (Saturday); it would have hit the wire earlier had I not been ill.

“And it goes without saying, what we do is always about justice”

I’m so glad we have people to help bring things like this to light. Remember, these are your tax dollars at work.

Mark Bennett recently blogged about an email he received from a source he identifies only as Mr. X. In it, several “competitions” for the assistant district attorneys are announced. I’ll quote just one of them here so you can get an idea what I’m talking about (I’ve left typos/spacing/punctuation errors intact):

Trial Court Award
If a court tries and completes THREE jury trials in a single week, the prosecutors in that court can comp. out by lunch time the following Friday. It is encouraged that the members of the court do something together….lunch, movie, bowling. Who will cover their court in their absence…keep reading. The court (that has a 2 and a 3) that does not try any cases the same week the winning court(s) tries three cases, will have to cover the duties for the winning court. If all courts , that have a 2 and a 3, try cases it will be up to Justin, Rachel, and I to cover. We have excluded five courts from this competition for equity purposes.

The email concludes with a paragraph starting with the quotation I chose for the title:

And it goes without saying, what we do is always about justice. Hopefully this will allow us to have some fun while we strive to achieve it…..

I don’t know how getting the most trials done inside of a week is about justice. Mark is right on when he rips the DA’s office for what he calls “summer-camp contests” and a “fratboy game.” I concur with Mark’s opinion here, and hope that we can shine more light on what is at best a dubious “contest” among attorneys we pay with our tax dollars to achieve justice. And justice is not always about getting the most convictions, or getting through the most trials in a week.

Mark also links to a post from 2009 March about trying “whales” or cases the prosecution thinks are sure wins (“Whales are cases that the State thinks it couldn’t possibly lose–like shooting whales in a barrel.”). Seriously, if the assistant DAs need to take cases like this to trial (especially if a defendant is willing to plead guilty) then I’m uncomfortable with such assistant DAs practicing with real cases. They need to go back to law school and get their practice in moot court.

Who ordered the plane?

Some of you may remember a post from 2009 September entitled “A tale of two perjuries” about Robert McClendon who was wrongfully convicted after those testifying against him perjured themselves (over 150 times, if Robert’s story is to be believed) and were not prosecuted, versus a similar case also involving perjury where those perjuring themselves on the side of the defense (once) were nailed to the wall. (Unfortunately the link to KHOU-TV in that post is dead and the story appears to no longer be online.)

This followup is long overdue, and primarily concerns new developments in Robert’s case. In the year and change since my blog post, more evidence has been uncovered to prove that Christine and Paula Trent did in fact commit perjury when testifying to convict Robert. The Harris County District Attorney’s office has turned a deaf ear and blind eye to the new evidence.

Hopefully, that is going to change Wednesday morning, as Robert and his supporters give an entirely new meaning to airing one’s grievances: an airplane with a banner reading “HCDA allows perjury to convict the innocent” will fly over downtown Houston on Wednesday, 2011 January 19, from about 11:00 am to 2:00pm. I am encouraging everyone in the area who can make it downtown to join us to do so. There is also a contest for the best video of the event, which will win a T-shirt as well as be published on americaswrongfullyconvicted.com.

I don’t have details on a specific meeting place in or near downtown as of yet; I will update this post with new information as I receive it.

Red light camera tickets and bully tactics

A recent KTRK-TV news story investigates the Houston Police Department’s red light camera program and the delinquency letters which recently went out to scofflaws who have not paid the fine. These letters threaten a hold on the vehicle’s registration if the fine is not paid, and that is where the issue lies.

Quoting from the Web version of the story:

“That’s just a false statement,” said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.

Harris County commissioners have refused to let the city use its tax assessor collector’s office to withhold registration renewals for delinquent red light violators. There was a unanimous vote a few months ago. Commissioners said it was based on issues, some said it was politics. HPD’s chief financial officer doesn’t understand.

Now, I’d like to make it clear I support the obedience of most traffic laws, and that specifically includes properly timed and warranted traffic signals. On the whole, disregarding (running) a red light is dangerous, both for the violator and the cross traffic at risk of a collision. Don’t do it. (Some of you may already wonder why I say “most” and not “all” and I’ll address those in a later post.)

That said, I have a huge issue with red light cameras. It would appear to me that HPD is trying to send a message to the people who whiz through at the last tenth of a second, sometimes at 10 MPH or more over the speed limit, trying to beat the change to red. However, I have observed some intersections with a camera and noticed the vast majority of presumed violators are those poking through at the tail end of a large group of vehicles–hardly the real danger to safety when one hears or reads “red light runner.” Unless you have someone who bolts out at the first sight of a green light–not a wise idea in Houston or any other large city–these drivers rarely pose a real risk to safety and are more of an annoyance. (The case could be made the driver who gives a traffic signal the race track treatment is the bigger risk to safety.)

Someone I know got a ticket for failing to come to a complete stop before a right turn on red. Originally, these types of violations were not going to be ticketed. Apparently, someone saw the dollar signs and said “Who cares if the city doesn’t get the money and it all goes to hospitals? Let’s max it out anyway.”

We already know HPD is willing to lie and usurp the FAA’s authority over airspace when it suits their best interests. It is not surprising to me at all that HPD is also willing to bully red light camera ticket recipients with an outright lie about vehicle registration.

Local traffic ticket attorney Scott Markowitz decries the misleading warning as “at best a hollow threat, at worst is fraud.” And I’m inclined to agree. Until HPD realizes red light cameras rarely if ever catch the real risks to safety and on the whole don’t work, the best we can hope for is at least some semblance of truth in the delinquency letters.

“Inmate…” revisited

I’ve let this sit here way too long. It’s time I post this and be done with it.

This is a follow-up post to my original post on this story back in 2009 November, so just in case you have not already read it, you may wish to go back and read that one and get some of the background. In case you don’t, here it is in a nutshell: I blogged my reaction to a Houston Press article describing an apparent lapse in medical care of a man at the Harris County Jail. While this man, Monte Killian, doesn’t start his unfortunate ordeal with our “justice system” in the best of medical shape, the medical care he receives is so sloppily managed that he is effectively coerced into pleading guilty, and on the day after his release he is immediately sent to the emergency room by his doctor.

Before I go any further: It is my position that regardless of the crime of which one is accused, that this kind of thing should never happen. One whom a government agency has taken into custody and thus accepted the responsibility for should not just be released into the free world in a condition where one should be in a hospital. To do otherwise is reckless.

I honestly had no idea when writing that post on this story that it would be so hotly contested by the Harris County Sheriff’s Department and that I would wind up exchanging several e-mails with both Randall Patterson, the Houston Press reporter, and Alan Bernstein, the HCSD’s director of public affairs. I did learn a few things about the case that I did not know before, that were not made quite as explicitly clear in the original story.

I have seen both the memo Mr. Bernstein sent to the Houston Press, and the response from Margaret Downing, the editor. Unfortunately, I am not permitted to quote from either, but I am permitted to relay my impressions after reading both. Were I not, there would be no reason to enter another post on the topic.

I, of course, did not expect the warmest reception to a story quite critical of a party, by a liaison for that party. Mr. Bernstein’s memo is very aggressive in calling out what he believes to be errors in the story, quotes taken out of context, and he like. I believed many of these errors to be minor and immaterial to the story, even before reading the official word from Ms. Downing that the Houston Press stands by the story as printed.

Even the slightly more significant errors do not really undermine the story. In fact, it’s kind of a stretch to call some of them errors, some can be seen as simply a different way of telling the story that doesn’t quite jive with the county’s PR people want out there.

This part is, or at least should be, public record: Monte did not plead guilty to the drug possession charge, he pleaded guilty to assaulting a police officer. However, this latter charge falls squarely in the category of the type of “trumped up” charges often laid on someone in the hope that even if the original case is thrown out, the other charge(s) will stick. Other examples of these kinds of charges: resisting arrest, evading arrest, disorderly conduct, escape and related charges (for those already in custody). These are not the only ones.

The laws are written specifically to make sure these trumped up charges stick even if the original charge is dropped. In fact, just to give you an idea, I’ll quote some of the penal code here, for the charge of resisting arrest:

Sec. 38.03. RESISTING ARREST, SEARCH, OR TRANSPORTATION. (a) A person commits an offense if he intentionally prevents or obstructs a person he knows is a peace officer or a person acting in a peace officer’s presence and at his direction from effecting an arrest, search, or transportation of the actor or another by using force against the peace officer or another.

(b) It is no defense to prosecution under this section that the arrest or search was unlawful.

There are similar sections of other laws (most notably, 38.08 as it applies to both charges related to escape).

I know I’m speculating big time here, but I can’t let this go unsaid. It is entirely possible the “crack rock” the original arresting officer saw was just a ploy to try to establish probable cause, of looking through events with “cop-colored glasses.” I will admit I wasn’t there, and I haven’t seen the original arrest report. At some point I’ll try to get whatever is available as public record.

Even if I were to give the HCSD every benefit of the doubt, and accept Mr. Bernstein’s memo as the gospel truth, I am still left with this: A man who HCSD was responsible for the custody and care of, was given “strict ER precautions” by a county doctor at LBJ Hospital, and yet the day after his release directly to the free world (not to a hospital or medical care facility), he’s in such bad shape he’s sent immediately to the ER by his own doctor.

And yet, the county (as evidenced by Ms. Garza’s statement quoted in the original post) stands by the PR spin that “Mr. Killian’s medical issues were always promptly addressed by the physicians,” everything is fine and dandy. Oh, what, he was barely alive when he pleaded guilty? This newspaper reporter writes this story that he pleaded guilty just to save his life? Hey, we did our job, we kept yet another trial off the court’s docket, we made sure the public defender didn’t have to deal with another trial, mission accomplished.

That’s inexcusable. That’s disgraceful. That’s the kind of stuff that wrecks years’ worth of goodwill and makes honest PR people cringe knowing they might have to clean up that mess.

I’m not expecting first-rate medical care out of the doctors and nurses the HCSD hires to work in the jail. But even the deputies should be able to make the call “hey, we can’t just let this guy wander out into the free world like this, he needs to go to the hospital or at least have a doctor look at him.” Maybe even say to the inmate (Monte in this case) “you’re a free man right now, but we really think you should get checked out by a doctor.”

It does not matter if one is accused of assaulting one of their own. There is a reason for the expression “one of Harris County’s finest.” The badge means one has a duty to be better than that. Those not up to fulfilling that duty shouldn’t be wearing that badge.