Crime & Justice

Courts, trials and crime coverage for Austin and the Central Texas region.

Irving police say they won’t file charges against a Muslim teenager who brought a homemade clock to school that was mistaken for a bomb. 

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (U.S. Government Work)/flickr

From Texas Standard:

It's been called the checkpoint of the stars: Willie Nelson, Snoop Dogg and Fiona Apple have all been snagged at the Sierra Blanca Border Patrol checkpoint.

Musicians and other celebrities have been booked and charged for marijuana possession by Hudspeth County Sheriff Arvin West. But West now seems to be saying his days of cracking down on every joint and baggie may be over.

NPR Southwest Correspondent John Burnett just returned to Austin from West Texas, where he checked out that checkpoint.

"I wasn't holding. They passed me right through," Burnett says, for the record.

But what if Burnett had been carrying a personal amount of marijuana?

KUT News

Part of the city of Austin’s new budget includes $3 million to equip Austin Police officers with body cameras. As for how that money will be spent, buying the body cameras themselves is just one part of the equation.

“The biggest investment in body cameras is not the camera itself,” Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo says.

Ready Houston

The recent on-camera shooting of two television journalists in Virginia has led some to ask whether workplaces could be better prepared for these types of scenarios. So what can employers do?


Flickr/thomashawk (CC BY-NC 2.0)

We’ve been hearing a lot lately from politicians and public figures about crimes committed by immigrants to the U.S., but a new study by a group of researchers, including a University of Texas at Austin professor, suggests foreign-born teens are actually much less likely to commit crimes than those born in the U.S.

Joey Palacios/TPR

The FBI is now monitoring an investigation of a fatal, videotaped shooting involving two Bexar County sheriff's deputies. Some neighbors of the man who died in the San Antonio subdivision of Walnut Pass are on edge.

Photo by KUT News

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo may be considering a move south to San Antonio. Acevedo announced Thursday that he has been selected as one of five finalists in the running for the Chief of Police position in San Antonio.

He said in a statement released Thursday:

Flickr/Ira Gelb (CC BY-ND 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

Last week Amnesty International joined a chorus of other human rights groups, including the United Nations and the World Health Organization, in calling for the decriminalization of sex work.

Joining us in the studio is Angel Daniels, Assistant Professor in the Department of Forensic Psychology at Marymount University. Daniels teaches and studies the psychology of sex work, human trafficking, sexual exploitation, violence and abuse.

Flickr/Joe Gratz (CC0 1.0)

From Texas Standard:

A Smith County judge recently ordered a 21-year-old man to marry his 19-year-old girlfriend after he assaulted her ex-boyfriend.

The story has gone viral, but as strange as it may sound, this unorthodox sentence is just one of a handful of “shaming”-type rulings that have made headlines in the past few years.

Evan Young is an attorney with Baker Botts in Austin, and he says the marriage sentence isn’t all that uncommon. “The reality is that this is one of many types of sentences that a judge might try to impose,” Young says.

KUT News

A female inmate in the Travis County Correctional Complex has died after being found unresponsive Monday in the shower. 

Investigators announced the death this morning. Autopsy results are pending, but investigators found no evidence of foul play.

No cause of death was immediately released for 40-year-old Athena Covarrubias. Roger Wade of the Travis County Sheriff’s Department says that officials aren’t ready to speak on what the cause of death might be, but suicide is still being considered among other possibilities. “There’s a list of possibilities, but detectives aren’t ready to pin it down to one thing until the [medical examiner]’s office makes a ruling,” Wade says.

Image via Flickr/Paul Townsend (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

Tamara Tabo runs The Center for Legal Pedagogy, and she has some concerns over how authorities are handling the cases of more than 170 bikers arrested in the May 17 shootout in Waco, Texas.

Flickr/Chris Miller CC BY 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

For 35 years, Jerry Hartfield sat in a prison awaiting trial — and now he’s finally getting one. Hartfield was convicted in 1977 of murdering a woman in Bay City. He was sentenced to death, even though by today’s standards, his IQ of 67 is considered mentally impaired.

Three years after that conviction, in 1980, it was overturned because of problems with jury selection. The governor of Texas at the time, Mark White, commuted the sentence to life in prison. The problem? The underlying conviction has been invalidated, so there wasn’t even a conviction to commute. Hartfield waited for years in prison for a trial that never came.

Flickr/thomashawk (CC BY-NC 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

The highly publicized shootings of Michael BrownSam Dubose and several other African-American men has shined a spotlight on how the criminal justice system interacts with men of color. But with Sandra Bland’s recent death in the Waller County Jail, some are now asking how that same justice system treats women of color.

On the cover of the largest African-American-owned paper in the City of Houston — The Houston Forward Times — the headline reads, “The New ‘Jane’ Crow: Black Women Are The Target For Mass Incarceration.” Jeffrey Boney is the author of that article, and he lays out some pretty staggering statistics on African-American women being involved with the criminal justice system:

  • 1 in 100 African American women are in prison.
  • African-American women are seven times more likely to be incarcerated than White women.

Nathan Bernier for KUT News

VonTrey Clark, the Austin Police Officer linked to a murder in Bastrop earlier this year, is now in FBI custody in Indonesia.

Clark was given an indefinite suspension of duty last month after he refused to attend an in-person interview related to the Bastrop murder investigation. But before he was suspended, Clark spent several months on "restricted duty" with APD.

But what does being on “restricted duty” actually mean?

Cody Duty/Houston Chronicle

From Texas Standard:

Sandra Bland’s case has made international headlines. But as the Houston Chronicle reported this week, Bland’s suicide is hardly a one-off incident in Texas county jails. Since 2009, 140 inmates in Texas jails have died by suicide; that’s when the state started tracking those numbers. Journalist Sinjin Smith has been following the issue for some time. His most recent article on this issue focuses on the methods and ways that inmates complete suicide in jail. He investigated the case of Danarian Hawkins, who was found last year hanging from a noose he’d made from a bed sheet tied to his cell’s sprinkler system.

Screenshot via Facebook video/1168639983152111

From Texas Standard:

As officials further investigate Sandra Bland’s case, the Standard continues to ask questions. Tuesday we talked about the legalities of the arrest itself. Here we look at mental health procedures for Texas inmates. This interview discusses suicide and provides some details of Bland’s death.

Flickr/punchup (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

On July 10, 28-year-old Sandra Bland was arrested and charged with assaulting a public servant. She was taken to the Waller County Jail; three days later, she was found in her cell dead from what officials called suicide. Both the FBI and the Texas Rangers launched investigations trying to find out what happened.

Dashboard camera footage from Bland’s traffic stop was released on Tuesday.  (Note: The video was uploaded to YouTube Tuesday evening; it has since been taken down, after people pointed out errors and inconsistencies in the video, which led many to believe it had been edited. A DPS spokesman denied editing the video, and re-uploaded the footage without errors or omissions this afternoon.)

Sandra Bland Mourned From Illinois to Texas

Jul 20, 2015
Callie Richmond/Texas Tribune

From the Texas Tribune: Sandra Bland began her Facebook videos by greeting viewers as "kings and queens." Those close to her believe she truly meant it.

“She talks to us as kings and queens,” one of her sisters, Shavon Bland, said outside the family's church in Illinois on Sunday. “That’s how she went around the world speaking. From here to Chicago to Texas — wherever she went.”

On both ends of the path that marked Bland's 28-year life — the western suburbs of Chicago where she grew up, and the Texas town where she died — family, friends and supporters continued to raise questions Sunday about her startling death in the Waller County jail as they took time to remember, honor and reflect.

For more background information on the case of Sandra Bland, the Texas Tribune has coverage here, here and here.

Bob Daemmrich/Texas Tribune

From the Texas Tribune:

The Texan who is the U.S. House's top Republican on homeland security issued a scathing indictment of Mexican officials on Tuesday for letting Joaquin Guzmán, the world’s most notorious drug lord, tunnel out of a maximum-security prison.

Guzmán, who was captured last year after being sought since 2001, fled one of Mexico’s maximum-security prisons last weekend through a one-mile tunnel that was connected to the shower in his cell.

“The idea that there wasn’t complicity and corruption going on when you got a mile-long tunnel underneath the facility is absolutely absurd,” U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, told CNN Tuesday morning. 

The Guardian

Austin has the fourth-highest total number of people fatally shot by police this year, according to a new analysis by the Guardian Newspaper.

The report shows Austin has six deaths caused by police in 2015 – the same as New York City. All six of those shot reportedly had a gun, or one was found near the scene. In one case the weapon turned out to be a BB gun.

Houston had the second-most deaths caused by police this year with eight. Los Angeles, with 11 so far this year, tops the list.

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