Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The more things change, the more they stay the same

I sat on a panel at a community meeting on police brutality on Tuesday night and listened as dozens of folks spoke of incidents in which they or their loved ones were the victims of police intimidation or brutality. One of the speakers was Janie Torres, the youngest sister of Jose Campos Torres, who was beaten by the police and then dumped into Buffalo Bayou in handcuffs back in 1977.

We heard from a young man who was working at a local grocery store late one night when the police made a traffic stop. He stopped to watch. Apparently the officer didn't appreciate someone watching him and he approached the young man -- who was wearing his work clothes. He told the young man he looked suspicious (he was sweeping around the gas pumps). He searched the young man's car - and even put a drug dog in the car - looking for anything he could use to arrest him. After trashing the car he escorted the young man inside the store and continued to harass him. The young man told the officer he had a concealed handgun license and when the officer asked for the gun, the young man pointed to his bag. The officer then took the gun and pressed it to his head before leaving.

We heard from a mother whose 52 year-old son suffered from a mental disorder. She called 911 while he was in the midst of a psychotic episode expecting a crisis intervention team to respond. The police came instead. Her son was tased 18 times before he was handcuffed and beaten. When it was all over, her son was dead. The officers had broken his neck while beating him.

Another woman told us of how her daughter, who also suffered from a mental disorder, was killed by the police as she walked down the street. Again, instead of a crisis intervention team, five patrol cars responded to the call. She was shot at close range. The official story? She had a gun. There was no gun.

We also heard from a mother whose son was involved in a car with HPD officers in 1998. When he was finally stopped, seven officers surrounded his truck and fired more than 50 rounds into the cab. She found out about the shooting while watching the news. When she asked the department what happened, no one would speak to her.

From Jose Campos Torres to Randall Webster to Ida Delaney - police brutality has been a way of life in this city for a very long time. The fact that Chad Holley was beaten by the police isn't new. The fact that there was  a video of the assault on this young man is.

The Harris County District Attorney's Office seems to think that all they can do is charge the officers involved with misdemeanor assaults. I would suggest that Ms. Lykos open up her copy of the penal code and look at Chapter 22:

AGGRAVATED ASSAULT. (a) A person commits an offense if the person commits assault as defined in Section 22.01 and the person:
(1) causes serious bodily injury to another, including the person's spouse; or
(2) uses or exhibits a deadly weapon during the commission of the assault.
(b) An offense under this section is a felony of the second degree, except that the offense is a felony of the first degree if the offense is committed:
(1) by a public servant acting under color of the servant's office or employment
(2) against a person the actor knows is a public servant while the public servant is lawfully discharging an official duty, or in retaliation or on account of an exercise of official power or performance of an official duty as a public servant; or
(3) in retaliation against or on account of the service of another as a witness, prospective witness, informant, or person who has reported the occurrence of a crime.
(c) The actor is presumed to have known the person assaulted was a public servant if the person was wearing a distinctive uniform or badge indicating the person's employment as a public servant.

Mr. Holley suffered neurological damage to his face as a result of the beating. Mr. Holley was struck by a patrol car. The officers were armed. I'm curious to know if the officer who thought it was a good idea to kick Mr. Holley repeatedly was wearing steel-toed boots.

If the state wants to allege that a car is a deadly weapon in an intoxication manslaughter case, why isn't the patrol car considered a deadly weapon in this case? You can believe that if a citizen were accused of assaulting another and he was carrying a gun, he would be charged with aggravated assault -- whether or not he used the gun. But if an officer commits an assault while carrying a weapon the DA's Office just turns a blind eye, holds up their hands and claims they did all they could do.

The old saw is that the DA could indict a ham sandwich if he wanted. Since the state is the party presenting cases to the grand jury, the state decides how hard to push a case. If the DA wants a case to go away -- just present it to the grand jury and let them know the DA doesn't care if the case is indicted. Then, when the grand jury no-bills it, the DA can tell the public that she had nothing to do with the case being dismissed. Marc Brown, who presides over the 180th Judicial District Court, presented the Holley case to a grand jury. The officers were charged with misdemeanor assaults. This is the same Marc Brown who campaigned that he had integrity and was tough.

When this issue of police brutality is raised at a city council meeting, the mayor, Annise Parker, waves her hand and tells the council and the audience that a public meeting is not the correct forum to discuss police brutality. What then, Ms. Parker, is the correct forum? We all know it happens. Until we acknowledge that fact, nothing will be done to stop it.

As Robert Muhammad told the crowd "Police chiefs, mayors and district attorneys come and go, but the problem persists."

See also:

"Houston residents outraged over videos of police brutality," Reuters (Feb. 15, 2011)
"Town hall meeting on HPD violence draws hundreds," Houston Chronicle (Feb. 16, 2011)

No comments: