Laws for you not us

It’s dangerous to question authority.

This is how it started. Regardless of how you feel about open carry, this guy was not doing anything wrong. He was not breaking any law.

The officer disarmed him because he could. That might be sufficient justification for why a dog licks himself but in 2015, more is expected of officers.

So a few days later, the guy above filed a public information act request for information about the incident.  Two days later, I filed a similar request and the guy above showed up to follow-up on his pending request. At that time, I witnessed the public information officer assure him the call sheet was public information, but she told him the department had 10 days to make the information available. He left without the requested information. I think it is a violation of the Texas Public Information Act.

Texas Government Code Sec. 552.221
Sec. 552.221. APPLICATION FOR PUBLIC INFORMATION; PRODUCTION OF PUBLIC INFORMATION. (a) An officer for public information of a governmental body shall promptly produce public information for inspection, duplication, or both on application by any person to the officer. In this subsection, “promptly” means as soon as possible under the circumstances, that is, within a reasonable time, without delay.
Oops, nothing there about 10 days.

Now to look a little farther in the Act.
Texas Government Code Sec. 552.353
Sec. 552.353. FAILURE OR REFUSAL OF OFFICER FOR PUBLIC INFORMATION TO PROVIDE ACCESS TO OR COPYING OF PUBLIC INFORMATION. (a) An officer for public information, or the officer’s agent, commits an offense if, with criminal negligence, the officer or the officer’s agent fails or refuses to give access to, or to permit or provide copying of, public information to a requestor as provided by this chapter.
Once again, Nothing about 10 days.

There is also a requirement the Government Entity post a sign visible to BOTH the public AND the employees. I decided to visit with Chief Truehitt when I went back to pick up responsive information. It went kind of like this:

And here is the letter I sent the Chief after that meeting. The highlights are pretty simple. I relied on the comparison of Failure to Identify and Failure or Refusal to provide access to public information. I pointed out to the Chief, not only had he committed a Class “B” misdemeanor, he had it recorded on tape.

I followed up with the Chief and when I got hold of him, he said I would have to call a private attorney who represented the City. Due to the non-response of the Chief,  I filed a public information act request for the video of his violation. Curiously, the video of the violation was missing. 

The Chief thinks it is OK to shake down a citizen who is breaking no law, but when he is called out, he says call my lawyer. Consider what would have happened if the guy in the first video had told the officer he was not going to consent to a search of his person and told the officer to call his lawyer. 

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Laws are for you, not us.

A video was recently released detailing the death of a 17 year-old who had been stopped for flashing his lights at an on-coming vehicle. The traffic stop ended with his death.  Here is an example of a citizen killed after failing to provide information.

AmIBeingDetained

Now consider the dead kid was stopped for a minor traffic offense the officer explained had not resulted in a citation in earlier interactions. Then consider that withholding public information is a higher level of offense. In Texas, it is the same level as a DWI. The Texas Attorney General has repeatedly ruled that as long as a requestor eventually gets some information, it’s No Harm, No Foul.

This is how the law actually reads:
Sec. 552.221. APPLICATION FOR PUBLIC INFORMATION; PRODUCTION OF PUBLIC INFORMATION. (a) An officer for public information of a governmental body shall promptly produce public information for inspection, duplication, or both on application by any person to the officer. In this subsection, “promptly” means as soon as possible under the circumstances, that is, within a reasonable time, without delay.

If you apply that to a similar level of offense, say DWI, as long as a suspected drunk driver  at some point sobered up and was no longer drunk they would not be charged. Neither could a person be prosecuted for failure to identify if at some point the police learned their identity. You really don’t have to be imaginative enough to think how that might play out since you can just review the first link and get a pretty good idea how that would work out.

  Shiny badges do grant extra privileges. You will do what they say or go to jail and even though the law requires them to do something, there is not a damn thing you can do if they don’t.

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Don’t hold your breath.

Texas Government Code Sec. 552.221. APPLICATION FOR PUBLIC INFORMATION; PRODUCTION OF PUBLIC INFORMATION. (a) An officer for public information of a governmental body shall promptly produce public information for inspection, duplication, or both on application by any person to the officer. In this subsection, “promptly” means as soon as possible under the circumstances, that is, within a reasonable time, without delay.

It’s not brain surgery. It should be Pretty simple to understand even for a high school graduate. However, one would expect a licensed attorney to not get hemmed up. Then consider this part of the law:

Sec. 552.353. FAILURE OR REFUSAL OF OFFICER FOR PUBLIC INFORMATION TO PROVIDE ACCESS TO OR COPYING OF PUBLIC INFORMATION. (a) An officer for public information, or the officer’s agent, commits an offense if, with criminal negligence, the officer or the officer’s agent fails or refuses to give access to, or to permit or provide copying of, public information to a requestor as provided by this chapter.

There was a recent dustup over an allegation bond reductions for those arrested in the Twin Peaks incident were contingent on signing a waiver agreeing not to sue the city or county. I immediately call BS on this primarily because such a waiver would be worthless.

This is the recap.

It started with a press release from a law firm in Houston. The allegation was detainees were offered reduced bond amounts if they would sign a waiver and promise not the sue the citycounty. I checked their website and the press release is no longer available. The document is available at

MYSTERY LADY LAWYER BREAKS LEGAL LOGJAM IN BOND REDUCTION HASSLE

The story went viral. The effort to verify the claim was instantaneous. I filed a public information act request with the local DA’s office.

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On June 3rd, I received a letter from the DA’s office requesting clarification:

TPLetter

It is common for government entities who want to delay access to public information to send a similar letter. It should be clue one that you are onto something. It works 99% of the time and requestors abandon the request.  What is notable about this letter is the highlighted portion. In the letter, Mr. Harmon reveals there are numerous records responsive to the request. That’s great, right?! It would be, if the objective of the letter was to comply with the law instead of an effort to stall for time.

Local news media detailed the DA sent an e-mail to local media which denied any such waiver existed. The Trib covered a denial by both district judges.

Here is my response to the letter from Mr. Harmon:

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In a later meeting attended by the attorneys and Criminal District Judges Ralph Strother and Matt Johnson of the 19th and 54th District Courts, Jarrett repeated his earlier disclosure, reading the texts he received from Ms. Lannen from his phone to the judges.

I received not acknowledgement from the DA. It appeared they ignored my follow-up so I went to the office in person to access the information. On 6/10/2015, around 3:30 pm, I arrived and delivered the letter indicating there was numerous responsive documents. The lady behind the 2” glass called Mr. Harmon who said there was no responsive information available. I filed this request on returning to the office.

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So if you are the DA, you can ignore the law. If you are a little old lady who hasn’t mowed her grass, it’s the poky for you. Welcome to McLennan County.

It is the same for the Sheriff. This just came in today.

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Not the first time either:

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How to make no one happy.

No Kool-aid server here.  By R.S. Gates

This is not a write up to curry favor, just the facts as I see them.

Waco PD arrested 177 people on a boiler plate warrant.  Yea it happened. I think they were in a cluster and here is why I think it was justifiable.  9 people were dead. Think about the last time you heard about 9 victims of violence in one place. It was a serious situation. Serious situations require a serious response. It was necessary to identify the people there and there was another quickly forgotten element in that they did not know if the violence was over or what risk was posed to the 230,000 residents of the county. If you wanted Kool-aid, you can now click the little white X on the red button in the upper right corner.

Judge Peterson set million dollar bonds on the boiler plate warrants. Based on the information he had at the time, one of the persons could have been responsible for the deaths of 9 people. What if that one person was recently paroled and had no permanent address? That would warrant a million dollar bond. Review of the boiler plate warrants indicates they drafted one with a blank for name and date of birth and made a couple of hundred copies. I would not be surprised if the only one the judge signed was the original. Think about the cluster in which police found themselves.  See the next paragraph for why all of this is no real big deal.

When a magistrate issues a warrant there is still an arraignment which is the process actually addressed by the 8th Amendment of the US Constitution. The accused is brought before a magistrate, advised of their rights and the charges pending against them. The magistrate can ignore any bond on the face of the warrant because he has a constitutional duty set a bond that is not excessive. He should ask if the person has roots (owns a home or has maintained the same residence for a few years) has gainful employment (how long employed) and ask what resources he has to flee the jurisdiction. Then and only then can a bond be determined that is not excessive. The reality is, had the system worked, 90% would be out of jail in 48 hours. If 90% were out of jail in 48 hours, would there still be discussion? Probably. Would there be vitriolic ire of epic proportions? Probably not.

So how did it get so screwed up? It’s McLennan County business as usual. Several years ago a Judge was elected by the people. That guy did not “play ball” in the parlance of the day. Today it is complying with the swallowing policy.  He was replaced by a jail magistrate who did comply with the swallowing policy. The DA determined he was in violation of the Texas Constitution and had to go and they saw an opportunity. They appointed another compliant individual to take over the job. They set the starting salary at $24K a year to discourage applicants and today the same guy makes ~$86K a year. The reason for the elimination of the elected magistrate was to save money. If you guessed the guy who royally screwed up on the arraignments is the same guy they created a job for you would be right.

Bookingcard

Bookingcard2

Judge “Little Buddy” Bain has friends in the right places. Competency is not required.

The Sheriff should have intervened if for no other reason for the taxpayers. The Sheriff is the constitutional keeper of the jails.  I ran for Sheriff in ‘08 and I would have identified those with no criminal record and that would have been the start. No one without an affirmative link to the crime  and clean record would have been in jail more than 48 hours.  It really is that simple. What is the judge going to do? Hold the Sheriff in contempt. Nope.

Rail against the cops or the J.P. but the problems in McLennan County run much deeper.

R.S. Gates was elected Justice of the Peace for Precinct 6 in 2006. He embraces the title Self-appointed Minister of Irritance  -McLennan County. He ran unsuccessfully for Sheriff in 2008.

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This week in local government

What do you do if you have an employee who has been demoted at least three times and  failed to complete field training? You send him to Florida for two weeks on the taxpayer dime. Not really a dime but more like $5,000.00.

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Recent requests for information have revealed two disturbing trends.
The definition of is.
Apparently Sheriff’s office employees have a difficult time communicating with investigators from other agencies.

In a memo sent from a Sheriff’s Office Sgt. to a Waco Chief, the first evidence of miscommunication is revealed.

EubankE-Mail

No such apology was forthcoming for the second “confusion”. A staff member eagerly related the details of a restroom excursion to a detective of the Office of the District Attorney investigating a complaint.

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The problem is the incident related happened back in January.  While I was a little surprised it was such a memorable event to be burned into the mind of Ms. Drummond, the event was of sufficient amusement to me I had posted about it.

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The second disturbing trend is rather than lie about something, have the women folk lie and then they can revert to plan A and say there was simply some confusion.

The previously referenced Ms. Willis requested a ruling from the Attorney General about the release of in car video and other public information related to an accident. The original request provides some insight.

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That is a pretty lame public information act request but now check the request for AG ruling:

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What will really “interfere” with investigation/prosecution of the case is the fact the Sgt. who the defendant was supposed to be evading arrest/detention from repeatedly reports he was not pursuing the guy. Yea, I gotta think that will throw a real monkey wrench in the works.

Links:
Complaint filed with DA and response

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How it could all be avoided.

In 1962, John F. Kennedy famously said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

I effectively kicked off the week being told the only way I could attend a meeting of the Commissioners’ Court was to remove my belt. I remember the testimony of Sheriff McNamara before the Senate subcommittee.

I happen to agree with the Sheriff. It is not a matter of a lack of police to make the determination. When the staff was challenged on their “policy”, more officers were quickly summoned to address the disruption of a person unwilling to take their belt off. It turned out, the supervisor was only a phone call away and he (the supervisor) determined there really was no problem and I was allowed to attend the meeting without taking off my belt. Here is the point. If police can tell who the bad guys are, why do law abiding people have to SUBMIT to a search of their person? The powers-that-be will tell you it is for security, when in fact it serves two purposes. First, it sets the proper atmosphere where the sheeple know their place; and second, it discourages silly people who want to actually know what is going on in their government.

If the Sheriff is right, there is a high probability all of the “security” measures are designed to allow government employees to surf Facebook uninterrupted by the people they “serve.”

I was also there on Tuesday to exercise another statutory right. I filed a complaint with the District Attorney. If you visit the preceding link, you will see a clear display of my contempt for the “security”.”

This is probably what it looks like when the Facebook time is interrupted.

Two exceptions should be noted, County Treasurer Bill Helton and County Clerk Andy Harwell. I have walked into their offices on more than one occasion and no one hit the panic button. I stopped by the office of the District Clerk on Tuesday and found the new District Clerk standing right out front. The former District Clerk stayed in her office and if anyone got “uppity” security was immediately summoned. The new guy actually engaged in conversation.

The insanity has gone so far the only thing left is for them to make up an allegation. Unless there is a change, a person will walk in one day and ask for directions to the restroom and the pretty lady at the reception window will testify under oath that the person said bomb and boom. They really are that agitated by silly people who think such a thing as PUBLIC SERVICE exists.

Plenty of people just complain while providing no solution – just not my style. Texas is on the verge of passing licensed open carry. My proposal is to use taxpayer funds to subsidize licensure of government employees and eliminate security. Take down all the bullet resistant glass and open the doors. It really is that simple if it is a security concern. If the reality is government employees just don’t want their Facebook time interrupted, well…….

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Win some lose some.

Good news this week. Yesterday I received a check from McLennan County. It was a refund check for an overcharge for a public information act request.
RefundReceipt

There could be several explanations for the refund. On one hand, it could have just been a misinterpretation and on the other it could be a case where exorbitant fees were used to discourage access to public information.

I know people who just want to complain and not really do anything that requires work. They want to whine about what the law says but do noting more than complaint. The point in relation to public information is two-fold. 1. Never argue with them. It doesn’t do any good. 2. Never believe what the government tells you. At least half the time you are dealing with a person of limited capacity and that is why they work for the government.

What remains now is to see what the AG rules in the matter. The complaint requested the AG to award treble damages with the other $120.00 going to the McLennan County Sheriff’s Officers Association.

AGComplaint 

At this rate, in another year, I will have provided more free education to government entities on the Texas Public Information Act than any one else in the state. Proud to be of service.

Minister of Irritance.

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Fundraiser for Public Information Act training

I have never had to ask anyone for financial assistance, and I’m not really keen on the idea now.  That said, my wife made a very compelling case for using the family income for things like paying bills and buying food.

In order of priority, you should contribute, whether we are friend or foe, because eventually I am going to get my butt kicked by pissing off some government official if I continue at the current rate. In case you have not followed my previous work, here are a couple of examples

If I am unable to attend, all donations will be refunded. The class is restricted to government employees; so there is a real possibility they will reject my registration. The only reason I can attend is the private company is awarding continuing education credit to licensed peace officers. As a retired licensed peace officer, I have to have continuing education.  If they deny me access, they could jeopardize their ability to do training for credit.  I believe this training is more about how to screw over the public than it is about complying with the Texas Public Information Act. I also believe no one like me has ever attended this type of training.

You can check here for status updates on the campaign to raise funds so I can attend the training.

Message from campaign organizer.

Event Flyer

R.S. Gates
Self-appointed Minister of Irritance
McLennan County, Texas

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You can’t make this up.

HILARYIn case you missed it, the use of private e-mail has Hillary Clinton kind of jammed up lately.

With all the interest in the subversion of laws governing transparency and open government, you would think all government officials would be a bit more careful, but You would be wrong.

From the “You just can’t make this up” department.

A recent review of the detailed agenda of the Commissioners’ Court, there was a request for approval for two Sheriff’s Office employees to attend training in the Texas Public Information Act:

Requisition

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Given the recent visibility related to transparency, probably a good thing. It could be a coincidence or it could be that the company offering the training seized upon an opportunity. The unbelievable irony of this request is that the Lt., a former records supervisor, used her personal e-mail address in correspondence setting up the training. The office of the County Judge usually does a better job of obscuring the public record. (Judge Video)

E-mail

The county employs an attorney as “counsel to the court” and they run a few requests by him. The attorney general provides a toll free hotline for questions about public information. I was recently told requests for information had to be run by a private attorney who bills the county around a $250,000.00 a year for services of the firm. Causes one to wonder why taxpayers are sending two people to a day and a half training at a pretty high price. One is the records supervisor and the other is the training Sgt. I’m guessing if their supervisor is stupid enough to use a private e-mail account for public business, a day and a half class ain’t gonna cure the problem.

Consider further the Sheriff was recently raked over the proverbial coals for an overcharge complaint. (Previous Story) and currently has a complaint pending before the District Attorney for knowingly withholding public information (Previous Story) and the outlook does nothing to support optimism.

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End or solution

Has the new Attorney General found a new level of Fiscal Conservative?

According to the letter received Friday 2/27/2015, a statutory requirement for a determination to be made by a prosecutor or investigator is now translated so a records clerk is close enough.  Played out, we can do away with the judiciary, prosecutors and detectives in lieu of janitorial staff making decisions in criminal prosecutions.  Consider the request for a recording the existence of which came to light on review of civil forfeiture documents.
Request

After consideration, records supervisor Tamma Willis drafted the following AG request:
AGLetter

So here is the problem detailed in a requestor response to the AG request.
RequestorResponse

The Attorney General apparently ignored the response and issued the following memorandum opinion.
OR-2015-03660sm

You have to wonder if they even read the request for ruling and simply rubber stamped the response. If the requestor response was considered, the AG has ruled a statutory requirement for a determination to be made by a prosecutor or investigator combined with a requirement to articulate how the release of information would interfere is completely unnecessary. 

Again, if a statutory requirement is irrelevant, we can simply dispense with judges, prosecutors and investigators and simply ask the janitorial staff if a person so accused should go to jail.

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