Yesterday the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association made its presence felt at the monthly Metropolitan Transit Authority's (METRO) monthly board meeting regarding the use of TSA's VIPR teams on April 13, 2012.
Click here for a link to the video of the board meeting.
Prior to the meeting a letter from METRO CEO George Grenias was circulated that attempted to explain all the confusion about whether or not there were random searches of bags on April 13. According to the letter the initial press release on April 13 and the blog post on April 16 quoted from TSA's national "campaign" literature. Board members stressed that they were unaware of any random bag searches on April 13. Of course some of the board members, namely Burt Ballanfant, said they were unaware of the controversy.
Metro letter 04/26/12
Earl Musick, president of HCCLA, spoke about the duty to uphold the Constitution. He read the text of the Fourth Amendment to the board and presented the board with a copy of the Constitution suitable for framing. Past HCCLA presidents Mark Bennett and Robb Fickman also spoke. Mr. Bennett let the board know that a viper is one of the most dangerous snakes on the planet and that once you let a viper in your house you may never get it out. Mr. Fickman told the board that if METRO police wanted to practice their counter-terrorism moves they should practice them on each other, not the citizens of Harris County. He decried the assault on the civil liberties of the bus-riding public.
Also speaking from HCCLA were Randall Kallinen who reminded the board of their fiduciary duty to protect METRO's assets from plaintiffs' attorneys, Franklin Bynum, who spoke "from the heart" about the respect that was due those who use METRO's services and yours truly who equated the war on terrorism with the war against individual liberty.
Also present and speaking at the meeting were US Congressional Candidate Steve Sussman (in his "Tyranny Response Team" T-shirt and members of the Houston Free Thinkers. One of the Free Thinkers quoted Benjamin Franklin's line "those who would sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither."
According to METRO Chairman Gilbert Garcia, as long as he serves as chairman there will be no random bag searches on METRO buses. He also stated that TSA was here on METRO's request and that METRO set the parameters on the operation. While the purpose of the operation was supposedly to ferret out any terrorists who might be riding the bus, no terrorists were caught. The arrests were for prostitution and drug possession.
We were also informed that TSA agents had been on METRO rail many times in the past but that April 13 was the first time they had gotten involved with the buses. What were TSA agents doing on the trains? METRO serves the Houston metropolitan area. Every point of departure and arrival is within Harris County (with a few exceptions where the city limits stretch into Fort Bend County). There are already a bevy of law enforcement agencies in Harris County - we don't need to add TSA to the mix.
After the meeting, as we had lunch at Zydeco's, I was left with a couple of thoughts to ponder. First, if the board knew as little about the operation as they claimed, who's really running the show down on Main Street? Second, is anyone vetting press releases and social media posts before they get circulated?
"Metro says it won't do random bag checks," Houston Chronicle (Apr. 27, 2012)
"Metro faces public backlash over counter-terror initiative," KTRK-13 (Apr. 26, 2012)