Thursday, February 10, 2011

Right to Know vs. Right to a Fair Trial

By now, I'm sure that most of you are well aware of the video of Houston Police Officers hitting and kicking 15-year-old burglary suspect, Chad Holley.  I saw it the morning that Channel 13's Wayne Dolcefino aired it and was saddened and dismayed to see what happened.  As anyone who reads this blog with any regularity would know, I hold police officers in very high esteem.  They aren't flawless, and part of my job is to locate and bring to light flaws in procedures and investigations that relate to my clients.

It makes me sad for what a 15-year-old kid went through, and it makes me sad for the reputations of police in general that are tarnished by association with that video.

However, the release of the video leaves me with mixed emotions regarding the controversy of whether or not it should have been released pre-trial.  As you know, I'm completely against the idea of police officers and prosecutors and other public servants being crucified in the media when they are charged with a crime, simply because of who they are.

Yet, I find myself in favor of this particular video being released, for some reason.

First of all, I think that Quannell X showed cajones of steel by releasing it, knowing that the Federal Courts were attempting to block it.  Furthermore, I think that whatever officer was silly enough to file a libel suit against Quannell when truth is a defense to libel pretty much just waved a red flag in front of a charging bull.

But it is very clear that a release of video of police officers beating a surrendering juvenile is a double-edged sword.  The sanctity of a trial and the right of the Accused to have an unbiased jury is the absolute cornerstone of the jury system.

That being said, there is an even larger interest in the General Public being aware of the fact that there are some police officers who are victimizing citizens suspected of a crime -- either rightfully or wrongfully.

It is not an uncommon occurrence at all for a Defense Attorney to be told by his or her client that the police roughed them up when they were arrested.  Some of those claims are sometimes baseless and no more than an attempt to shift attention away from the crime they are charged with.  But others do have merit, and I think that we only have to look at the video of Chad Holley's arrest to realize that we, as both prosecutors and defense attorneys, cannot just ignore those claims every time they are made.

So, ultimately what we have here is a stalemate.  You have the competing interests of an accused's right to a fair trial versus the public's interest in keeping from being abused.  

What's the answer to resolving that stalemate?  I have no freaking idea.

But, what I do see, however, is yet another double standard coming out of Pat Lykos' District Attorney's Office -- you know, the one that campaigned on the issue of "Transparency".  While Lykos has yet to make a stand on other non-police officer involved crimes being detailed in the media (how many times has she tried to block the release of a surveillance video of a convenience store robbery?), we do see her and the upper Administration trying to block them when Public Servants are involved.

And it isn't just the Holley case where she does it.  If you look back to how Lykos handled the cases against Supreme Court Justice David Medina, Former-District Court Judge Woody Densen, and former County Court at Law Judge Don Jackson, you see that she has already developed a history of trying to protect those she so chooses.  I wrote about it here back in August of 2009.  The investigation into the Densen case seemed to have stalled out completely in the District Attorney's Office before the complainant on the case released the video to the media, as a matter of fact.

The release of the Holley video to the media seems to have once again caught the Lykos Administration with its pants down.

First Assistant Jim Leitner, as usual, wasn't helping matters for the D.A.'s Office with the remarks he made at the recent NAACP Meeting held at Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church.  Good Lord, Jim.  Really?  "You people?"  At this point you should have A-1 steak sauce on your loafers with as often as you put your foot in your mouth.

The charging decision of filing Official Oppression on those officers may have been inevitable.  While the Penal Code does provide that Aggravated Assault by a Public Servant is a First Degree Felony (just as Aggravated Assault on a Public Servant is), there is no corresponding statute for regular Assault by a Public Servant. (NOTE:  however, regular Assault on a Public Servant is a Third Degree Felony).  From what I have seen, it doesn't appear that Chad Holley was the victim of an Aggravated Assault.  No weapons were used and I don't believe he suffered from Serious Bodily Injury (the pre-requisites for an Aggravated Assault).

But there does seem to be a fundamental unfairness in the laws as written that there isn't a higher charge for a police officer, under the color of his authority, committing the offense of Assault.

That being said, the Lykos Administration may be justified in filing only the Misdemeanor charges against the officers, but damn, they could have done a better job of explaining that to the General Public. Instead, Lykos chose to hide the ball from the public, and now it has blown up in her face.  

And given the way she seems to handle cases against Public Officials, one has to wonder what other files are staying dormant in the Public Integrity and Civil Rights Divisions of the Harris County District Attorney's Office . . .


Anonymous said...

One of the few anti-Lykos pieces that didn't seem like it was based primarily on bad blood.

Too bad the majority of your readers would actually agree with her on this topic. They'll probably stay quiet about that though.

Also, it goes beyond just which cases she chooses to prevent the release of information on. In many cases she's out there intentionally trying to poison the pool, like all of the upcoming re-trials for the death penalty cases that were incorrectly charged. But that's something the DA's office has done for years, and will continue to do. And of course, the folks around here won't mind that, either.


Texas Nexus said...

Thanks for your post. Really helped me see things from another perspective when it was difficult to do so.

I don't have enough experience with HPD do hold them in as high regard as you do, and this video doesn't help. Still, there is obvious value in a fair trial.

Even the mayor said she would have shown the video, if she could do it over again.

This all seems to be the symptom of a cultural problem. The discussion centers around the video. Seems like it'd be a good idea to discuss the city, its socio-economic factors, and the goal of law enforcement in general, as well.

Anyways, thanks for your words.


Anonymous said...

I find it a very interesting point that videos are released to the media without any hoop-lah when a person robs a convenience store or some other crime, but when it comes to the police doing it, there is outrage and rush to suppress the video. Wrong is wrong, no matter who the individual is doing the wrong. A good officer shouldn't have anything to worry about as long as he is performing his job as he is supposed to and not trying to issue his own form of justice (which is the job of the courts). I find it alarming in this video that so many officers all seemed to attack at once as if it were routine to them and none of them tried to stop the others. As far as a fair trial, I suppose they will move it to another jurisdiction, which will be costly, but once the jurors see that video, the verdict will be the same whereever you go.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:21, you might be a little naive to make the statement, "I suppose they will move it to another jurisdiction, which will be costly, but once the jurors see that video, the verdict will be the same whereever you go." Just ask Rodney King and the good folks of Los Angeles who after watching that atrocious video assumed the officers in it would be held accountable. We all know how that turned out. Juries don't always do the right thing even when the evidence is blantantly obvious as to what the verdict should be.

Bartender Cabbie said...

What the heck. We all need a good kick in the backside once in a while.

One of the "You People" said...

Fresh off the Houston Press:
"Leitner, the short, graying assistant district attorney, took the podium........and then, unwittingly, Leitner lit the powder keg. 'We wanted YOU PEOPLE to be able to make the decision,' he said. People jumped out of their chairs, and a swell of 'ooooh man, you used the wrong word' rolled through the room. Leitner's voice was drowned in the din".

WHEW! Well now the public knows who the real Jim Leitner is: a stupid Napoleonic redneck racist. Pat Lykos and her 1st assistant are nothing but a cheap re-run of "Dumb and Dumber".
The rumor that Rage is actually little Jimmy Leitner is becoming more credible with each stupid outburst.

Anonymous said...

4:45, I didn't realize this was California. Can't we all just get along.

Anonymous said...

I don't have a problem with the video being released; it is what it is and nothing will change that. I do have a gigantic problem with race baiters; sleazy politicians (sheila Jackson)with no moral compass and others who feel the burning desire to reach over the mob and land a punch on these officers for their own petty political gain. The system is capable of giving unpopular defendants a fair trial if the above mentioned bottom feeders are called out for what they really are and silenced.

Anonymous said...

First, videos of convenience store robberies are often released in order to help identify who the robber is. So, that isn't a valid comparison.

We know who these officers are and unfortunately, they make all good police officers look bad.

The problem here is that for eons, the rule among many police officers was that if you run from them, you get your ass kicked. That went out the door more than a few years back, especially when you know you'll lose your job and likely get charged with a crime if you're caught doing it.

The problem is, this kind of police misbehavior has not been trained out of enough of the rank and file officers. There are many professional police officers who wouldn't do this. The video shows this was not the first rodeo the charged officers have been to.

That is why the video should have been released regardless of what effect it may have on a jury pool in Harris County because the truth needs the light of day in order for changes to occur.

Speaking of, Lykos has a very poor record of shining light in dark corners. Her coddling treatment of former Judge Woody Densen was abhorrent. She did the same with Judge Donald Jackson, until convictions were obtained, then she took credit for it, of course. Her morals are corrupt beyond belief.

I am a retired police officer.

Jason said...

Once the criminal cases were over wouldn't that tape have become public information anyway?

Anonymous said...

On a related subject. Last Mon or Tues Chronicle quoted Clarence Bradford as saying it was clearly wrong for GJ not to indict for felony assault since it was obvious if you only looked at the tape that there was serious bodily injury. He is a lawyer so I assume he would read the definition of serious bodily injury before making such an incindiary statement. I can't see how just the tape proves serious bodily injury so it seems irresponsible on Bradford's part to make such a statement. Obviously serious bodily injury could occur from kicking but no way to know without medical info and after I saw the victim walking around it didn't seem obvious that he had any long term damage.

Anonymous said...

The city needs to write a check with many zeros to the victim and make sure the fired officers stay fired. Those cops are professionally screwed, should plead guilty, do some jail time, and forever be held up as examples of how NOT to be an officer of the law.

Anonymous said...

Retired Police Officer -

You make some good and valid points. Thanks for your honesty.

On JL's remark about "you people." It is an unfortunate choice of words, but he isn't a stupid man and I really doubt he said that the way it was taken. I don't think he deserved that.

I hope we can get the attitude like Retired Police Officer - take an honest look at it and decide what to do.

These are hard jobs. Lots of emotions involved. That isn't an excuse - but police officers aren't robots - no more than lawyers or social workers - all these professions put people in the hot seat.

Sometimes it is really, really hard not to cross the line and respond like a "person" instead of a "professional."

For instance, I've seen plenty of lawyers lose their cool and resort to yelling and name calling. It isn't right. Somebody needs to apologize, but it happens.

Double standard, much? said...

"The sanctity of a trial and the right of the Accused to have an unbiased jury is the absolute cornerstone of the jury system."

Have you complained about this, ever, when one of your prosecutor buddies is out ginning up publicity on a capital murder case? You say you're sad not because HPD employs a bunch of thuggish a-holes but because of what exposing their actions on video does to their "reputation." But this isn't you preserving some cornerstone principle, you just want more protections for police and prosecutors than the rest of us.

The cops who beat this kid up are no better than street-thug gang members. The cops who watched and didn't report it either agreed with what was done or are all cowards of the first order. Don't sugarcoat it or worry about the "reputation" of such scum.

Also, you know for a fact that most HPD officers wouldn't report that beating if they saw it. This was the rule, not the exception, it just happened to get caught on tape. Whatever it does to the department's reputation as a result is totally deserved. Reputation is something you earn, not something you get because of the clothes you wear, a gun on your hip, or a piece of tin on your chest.

A Harris County Lawyer said...

That's some pretty amazing reading comprehension you have there, Double Standard.

Anonymous said...

This video issue has nothing to do with justice; it all about the ratings. The "activist" wants his community to get inflamed by seeing the video, and wants them to take to the streets. Then all the news TV gets to cover civil disobedience, public disorder, and hopefully a full blown riot; all of which will boost ratings. Then the Community Activist comes to the rescue and calms the unrest and is the big hero of the day.

Anonymous said...

When I first moved to Houston I heard about what a trouble maker Quanell X was. After being here over a decade I am continuously impressed with the things he does to help the community. He has searched for missing children, convinced suspects to turn themselves in and also talked suspects into coming clean. I wasn't around when he was a young hot head but the one I have witnessed seems to care about justice.

Anonymous said...

I question whether or not this should have been filed as an aggravated assault. I think a shoe can be a deadly weapon if its used to repeatedly kick the face of a human being. Many objects can be considered a deadly weapon and have been. Murray, I am pleasantly surprised by your take on this issue. This wasn't someone giving their spin of the evidence pre-trial, this was a view of what actually happened.


ANON 3:05,

Quannell X gets fellow black brothers and sisters to confess and turn themselves in to law enforcement so he can collect reward after reward.
Funny how no one questions whether or not these black people are even guilty so long as the sale is made and the case is closed.

What would you call a black man who, purely for money, has other black men and women shackled for the white man?

Quanell X is nothing more than a self promoting modern day slave trader.

Know the truth and the truth will set you free--it is an absolute defense.

BLACK INK said...

Anon 10:09,

I must take umbrage to your hypocritical defense of Jim Leitner.

Do you not understand the term "poetic justice"?

Anonymous said...

"On JL's remark about 'you people.' It is an unfortunate choice of words, but he isn't a stupid man and I really doubt he said that the way it was taken. I don't think he deserved that."

Maybe ignorant elitist instead of stupid MF'er is a better description for racists with doctorate degrees like your buddy Jim "Those People" Leitner.
I guess if "JL" referred to the group of individuals assemled as a bunch of n***ers that would have been an "unfortunate choice of words" as well?
Pissants like Jim Leitner tend to have racist views to compensate for their short stature and overall sense of inferiority.

Anonymous said...

From Anon 10:09

Well, so much for asking for honest discussion and trying to be fair.

Apparently, the penality I receive for disagreeing are these ugly comments.

Just for the record - I'm a nearly 20 year DA employee. I have probably had less than 5 short conversations with Jim Leightner for the past couple of years.

I have no dog in the fight - I'm just one of those nameless people who is trying to do his job the best way he can.

BLACK INK said...

Anon 10:09,

"Well, so much for asking for honest discussion and trying to be fair."

Why is it not fair that Jim Leitner be judged as he judges others?
"Fairness" would require non-selectivity in the defense of those who misspeak without actual malevolence; would it not?

"Just for the record - I'm a nearly 20 year DA employee. I have probably had less than 5 short conversations with Jim Leightner (sic) for the past couple of years'

Based on your self professed very minimal firsthand experience with Jim Leitner how can you possibly pretend to know the basic root values of the individual?

"I have no dog in the fight - I'm just one of those nameless people who is trying to do his job the best way he can."

I trust you are more thorough and insightful in performing your assignments at the office than you are in rendering a psychological assessment on an individual you hardly know.

Anonymous said...

Why do you think the sender and those that forwarded it are anonymous when sent from a county computer?

A Harris County Lawyer said...

Anon 5:45 p.m.,

I know you are trying to be clever and intimidate those people who may or may not have forwarded the e-mail from John Jordan to Mark Bennett (or others), but let me point out a couple of things.

#1 -- you attached it to the wrong story. The Jordan e-mail story is above. Work on your aim.

#2 -- I wouldn't be too worried about them tracking that down. There are plenty of ways to filter your outgoing e-mail when you are an employee for Harris County. But I sure as hell would love to see them try to do it. I would love the wrongful termination suit even more.

#3 -- I'm sure the Lykos Administration appreciates you trying to suck up to them on my blog, but I don't think they really smile upon their sycophants for posting here.

Just saying.

Anonymous said...

Quannell X is and always has been a thug. Just a few years ago, I was in the hall with a client filling out plea papers. He had been stopped for a traffic violation and when the police officer saw the all the drugs in baggies laid out on the backseat, he was charged with Possession with Intent to Distribute. Distributing was exactly what he had been doing all day. My client admitted the drugs were in plain view and didn't contradict the officer's account at all. I got the charge reduced to PCS, and he was getting 2 years deferred. Both of us considered this a good deal. Quannell and some of his jack booted thugs dressed in their spiffy black uniforms were in the hall for some reason and immediately started berating my client for pleading. When I told him to back off and leave my client alone, he motioned for some of his thugs, who got as close as they could to me and loomed over me in what they intended to be a threatening manner(I am a white female). I had to get the court bailiffs, both of them, to escort them off the floor so we could do our plea. The good news, my client completed his deferred and finished his college degree. He recently had his deferred sealed and got a job. To my knowledge, Quannell has never held a job, but manages to live quite well off of someone's money.

Rusty Gunter said...

Were the MVRs from the HPD cars ever released, or do they even exist?

Rusty Gunter said...

Were the MVRs from the HPD cars ever released, or do they even exist?