Thursday, August 20, 2015

Bell: Garcia must answer for jail atrocities

Groogan at Fox, essentially the only reporter covering the city elections that's asking the tough questions.

Six fired, 29 suspended - the April bloodbath at the Harris County Jail put yet another dent in Sheriff Adrian Garcia's reputation as an effective administrator of the nation's third largest jail.

The mass terminations and punishment capped a seven year tenure riddled with jail related controversy - officers having sex with inmates, inmates raping other inmates and inmates dying after confrontations with jailers. In the minds of many, it just never seemed to get better. For mayoral candidate Garcia, management of the troubled jail looms as a potentially damaging portion of an otherwise solid resume.

In terms of political liability, Fox 26 asked University of Houston political analyst Brandon Rottinghaus to rate Garcia's jail house problems on a scale of one to ten.

"I'd rank this as a seven, rising perhaps to a nine if the issue becomes more pointed from the other candidates," said Rottinghaus.

That's because reforming the jail was arguably the biggest challenge in Garcia's career and consequently a measure of his ability to handle the city's most stubborn problems.

 "The reason is, if it happens multiple times and there is a cascade effect than it starts to look like a pattern that wasn't solved," said Rottinghaus.

It falls to Chris Bell, alone among mayoral hopefuls, to call out the former sheriff.

"He has to answer for the mistakes he made as sheriff and some of those were pretty serious mistakes that are going to cause a lot of people to question whether he really has the leadership skills to serve as the mayor of the 4th largest city," said Bel, adding, "You can't run a jail that way and you can't run a city that way."

In response to the criticism, Garcia offered Fox 26 the following statement:

"I always took responsibility and action for problems that occurred within the HCSO, disciplining or firing those responsible.  All of them were disappointing and some infuriated me.  I always faced the citizens to let them know how we were learning from each, correcting them and moving forward.  I took responsibility for any system failure that occurred during my administration.  And, we placed policies in place to keep them from happening again. This is the type of decisive and accountable leadership Houstonians want for our city."

It's nice that he took responsibility and all, but an effective sheriff would not have allowed things like this to happen in the first place, and would have moved faster to fix them, and put some measures in place to prevent other things like them from happening again.  That's the point here.

There's also these two wretched events.

A Spring woman claims sheriff's deputies violated constitutional protections by conducting a body cavity search on the concrete of a Texaco gas station parking lot during a routine traffic stop in late June.

Charnesia Corley, a 21-year-old African American, was driving in northern Harris County around 10:30 p.m. on June 21 when a male deputy pulled her over for allegedly running a stop sign. He said he smelled marijuana, handcuffed Corley, put her in his vehicle and searched her car for almost an hour. He didn't find any pot, according to her attorney, Sam Cammack.

Returning to his car where Corley was held, the deputy again said he smelled marijuana and called in a female deputy to conduct a cavity search. When the female deputy arrived, she told Corley to pull her pants down, but Corley protested because she was cuffed and had no underwear on. The deputy ordered Corley to bend over, pulled down her pants and began to search her.

Then, according to Cammack, Corley stood up and protested, so the deputy threw her to the ground and restrained her while another female was called in to assist. When backup arrived, each deputy held one of Corley's legs apart to conduct the probe.

"What these officers did out there at the Texaco station was unconscionable. I've worked many big cases and I've never seen that," said Cammack, who plans to sue the Harris County Sheriff's Office in federal court.

Garcia resigned in early May, so technically this incident didn't happen while he was sheriff.  But if you think the culture of the Harris County Sheriff's Office took a turn for the better two months after he left, then you've been smoking some of Ms. Corley's stash from the evidence room.  Sadly, for the lives of six children and two adults, sheriff's deputies topped that.

Earl Yanske heard early Saturday morning that his sister's ex-boyfriend was at her house, armed and angry.
Relatives called the Harris County's Sheriff's Office, asking them to go by the house in northwest Harris County to see if she was OK.

Hours passed.

Sick with worry and stuck in Montana, Yanske dialed David Ray Conley's cell phone number. He didn't pick up. His sister, Valerie Jackson, had two children with Conley, but feared him. She'd taken him back over the years, even after telling police he'd cut her and wrapping an electrical cord around her baby's neck. She'd changed the locks in July, after telling deputies he went after her 10-year-old with a belt.

Around 11 p.m., Yanske's cell phone rang. It was Conley.

"I need to ask you a question," Yanske said. "Did you kill my sister?"

Conley's voice was flat.

"He said, 'Yes I did.' It was like me asking if he went to the grocery store and he said, 'Yeah.' There was totally no emotion in his voice."

Conley, 48, surrendered to sheriff's deputies late Saturday night after a standoff outside the three-bedroom house on Falling Oaks. Authorities said he had broken in through a window, armed and with handcuffs, and methodically shot Valerie Jackson, her husband and six children, including his own son, one by one in the head. All eight died in the house.

Given the couple's history, Yanske said "they should have kicked down that door instantly. "

Chief Deputy Tim Cannon said deputies went to the house three times Saturday, starting in the morning.

Nothing was amiss. They came back in the afternoon. "They did not have enough information at that time to make a forced entry," he said.

On the last check around 9 p.m., they spotted a body through a window. Three officers and a sergeant tried to go inside, but Conley allegedly shot at them.

Conley was charged Sunday with multiple counts of capital murder and held without bail. Authorities identified the dead as Jonah Jackson, 6; Trinity Jackson, 7; Caleb Jackson, 9; Dwayne Jackson Jr., 10; Honesty Jackson, 11; Nathaniel Conley, 13; and Dwayne Jackson, 50.

My emphasis in bold above, to highlight Nick Anderson's cartoon with respect to what constitutes the appropriate time and circumstances for LEO to conduct a 'forcible entry'.  This tragedy also occurred after Garcia left the department, but the long-term failures of both the county's police officers and the CPS division (the latter outside the sheriff's purview, to be fair) is readily apparent.  And nobody's asking the greenhorn who moved in after Garcia moved out, Sheriff Ron Hickman, WTF happened in these two instances, either.  And if they did, he'd be sure to blame it on Garcia as well.

I have my beefs with Garcia as someone I believe is both intellectually in the slow lane and whose record as an executive demonstrates both neglect and cruelty.  Excerpting myself...

(Garcia) seems to be ambling toward the runoff as the most likable -- or least offensive -- dimwit in the race.  So far he is Teflon-coated.  Almost nobody has mentioned his lack of college degree, a la Scott Walker ... (nor his) failing the HPD sergeant's exam more than once, never having been promoted in his 23 years in the city's police department.  I have called him out numerous times: on his ugly record on deportations, his no-bid consultant scandal, his lousy responses to the county jail disaster, and even his whining about the personnel changes his Republican successor at the Sheriff's Office made after Garcia quit that job.

And if only one person in the media -- and one of his competitors -- is willing to get at how these things became commonplace in Garcia's tenure as top county cop, then we have a bigger problem than rogue, stupid sheriff's deputies.  But let's not blame the media for falling down on the job before the fact.  Let's put the accountability for these atrocities where it lies: at the feet of the former county sheriff, Adrian Garcia.

I can't vote for him even if makes the mayoral runoff against Ben Hall.  That's the definition of the lesser of two evils personified right there.  I'll have to pass on that race.

And I hope Chris Bell and Sylvester Turner are doing everything they can so that none of us have to make that choice in December.

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