Thursday, October 6, 2011

Police union targets city official who spoke out against police brutality

It would seem that Houston city councilwoman Jolanda Jones is paying the price for speaking out against the police. Ms. Jones has spoken out repeatedly about the problem of police brutality in Houston. She also raised concerns about the way the department operated its crime lab.

Now the Houston Police Officer's Union is striking back. Union vice president Ray Hunt has sent a letter to Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos asking her office to look into whether or not Ms. Jones was practicing law without a licence last month.

This isn't the first time Mr. Hunt has been involved in lodging a complaint against Ms. Jones. He is the one who pointed out that Ms. Jones put her city office phone number on her business card. He alleged that she was using city resources to operate her private law firm. Ms. Jones was cleared of those charges when the DA's office announced there wasn't enough evidence to prove any wrongdoing.

The latest allegations stem from two legal documents signed by Ms. Jones after her license to practice law had been suspended for her failure to pay her bar dues and occupational taxes on time.

This fight isn't about Ms. Jones' ethics. This fight is about whether or not the city is going to turn a blind eye to police brutality. Earlier this year I sat with Ms. Jones at a forum on police brutality. She was the only elected city official to appear at the town hall meeting. Her willingness to speak out in such a forum spoke volumes.

Mr. Hunt and his group are involved in the classic misdirection play. Instead of focusing on the issue of police brutality, Mr. Hunt would rather throw mud at Ms. Jones in an attempt to discredit her. If you can't debate the issue on the merits, go for the dirt.

The problem with Mr. Hunt's tactics is that the cat is out of the bag now. We've seen the videos. We know that  the police beat suspects for no reason. They do it because they can and because they think they can get away with it. And for a long time they did. The city turned a blind eye to the problem - as long as it could be made to go away.

Mr. Hunt is playing the public like a little child. We all know the punishment for contempt of cop. I've had clients who have been punched, kicked or tased multiple times. If there was no video camera or eyewitness willing to testify, it was just a perp's word against a police officer. And guess who judges and juries believed.

Maybe Ms. Jones has skirted the rules. Maybe she hasn't acted ethically. Maybe she did practice law without a valid license. Those are issues with which Ms. Jones must deal. But none of that changes the fact that the police beat suspects and Ms. Jones called them out on it.

Don't fall for the misdirection play. Keep your eye on the ball.

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