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 . . .