Crime & Justice

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

This story comes to us from our city hall reporting partner, the Austin Monitor.

Representatives of Travis County children and parents involved in legal abuse and neglect cases have only 10-minute judicial hearings to present evidence of their safety and living situations, according to county civil court judges. County attorneys for indigent children and parents say their caseloads are to the point that they must hire private attorneys to help represent those involved.

Flickr user Light Brigading,

Police in Ferguson, Missouri finally released the name of the officer involved in the shooting death of Michael Brown this morning. Brown, an African-American teenager, was reportedly unarmed and with his hands in the air when he was killed August 10. The event has sparked public outrage in the predominately African-American community – outrage that has spread over the country.

The Ferguson Police Department has been criticized for its delay in releasing the officer's name, plus its militarized reaction to protestors including rubber bullets and tear gas. But officer involved shootings aren’t limited to Missouri – the reality is that they can happen anywhere.

When SWAT officers gathered up everyone at a McDonald's restaurant on Wednesday night, they arrested not just locals, but reporters for The Washington Post and The Huffington Post, The Associated Press reports.

Both reporters later were released without being charged.

This post was updated at 6:40 p.m. ET.

In suburban St. Louis, business owners are cleaning up after a prayer vigil turned violent over the weekend. Meanwhile, protests continue over the death of an unarmed teenager who was shot by police on Saturday.

Reporter Rachel Lippmann of St. Louis Public Radio says about 60 people gathered outside of the Ferguson, Mo., police department Monday. They're calling for police to identify the officer involved and to charge him with murder. Others want the police force diversified in the majority-African-American city.

Austin Toddler Abducted

Aug 8, 2014

Final update on this story (Saturday 10:00 a.m.): The Austin Police Department and  the Texas Department of Public Safety say this Amber Alert has been canceled. They say two-year-old Cheyenne Johnson is now safe and the suspect, Jesse Thomas, is in custody after a standoff with authorities in northwest Harris County.

UPDATE (10:00 p.m.):  An Amber Alert has now been issued for Cheyenne Johnson. Anyone who may have information about this abduction is asked to call the Austin Police Department at (512) 297-0825 or 9-1-1.

Austin police are asking for help from the public in locating a child who was last seen at 1:54 Friday afternoon on the 1800 block of Anita Drive in South Austin.

Two-year-old Cheyenne Johnson is about two-and-a-half feet tall, weighs 25 pounds and has brown hair and brown eyes.  She was wearing a navy blue shirt with flowers on it and navy blue shorts. She was last seen with 33-year-old Jesse Thomas, 6'01", about 220 pounds. 

Filipa Rodrigues/KUT

By the end of July, there had been twelve SWAT operations so far this year in Austin. Naturally, every time a SWAT team is deployed it costs money. But it’s not always the same amount – weekends and after-hours are a bit pricier than, say, a mid-day operation.

But, no matter the time, every time one of Austin's three SWAT teams rolls out on a call, it costs thousands of dollars an hour.

Are corporations people? The U.S. Supreme Court says they are, at least for some purposes. And in the past four years, the high court has dramatically expanded corporate rights.

WikiMedia Commons

An investigation has begun into the deaths of a 4-year-old boy and his 6-year-old sister who drowned in Lake Georgetown this weekend while under the care of a foster family. 

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) had placed the children under the care of a state sub-contractor called Providence Kids, an agency specializes in placing sibling groups with foster families.

DFPS spokesperson Julie Moody says the children had lived in the foster home since last August. 

The Supreme Court has ruled that family owned and other closely held companies can opt out of the Affordable Care Act's provisions for no-cost prescription contraception in most health insurance if they have religious objections.

The owners of the Hobby Lobby chain of arts and crafts stores and those of another closely held company, Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., had objected on the grounds of religious freedom.

The ruling affirms a Hobby Lobby victory in a lower court and gives new standing to similar claims by other companies.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday that unless police have a warrant, they generally cannot search data on a cellphone seized from someone who has been arrested.

The decision is seen as a sweeping win for privacy advocates.

"Modern cell phones are not just another technological convenience," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote. "With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans 'the privacies of life.'

Aereo, the company that lets subscribers watch TV stations' video that it routes onto the Internet, violates U.S. copyright law, the Supreme Court has ruled. The court's 6-3 decision reverses a lower court ruling on what has been a hotly contested issue.

U.S. law enforcement at all levels has undergone a dangerous militarization in recent years, with heavily armed SWAT teams being deployed to serve warrants and for drug searches, but rarely for the hostage situations they were designed for, the American Civil Liberties Union says in a new report.

Three groups filed a class action lawsuit Wednesday against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and its executive director, Brad Livingston, alleging Texas prisons' lack of air conditioning is dangerous.

The lawsuit, filed in Houston federal court, alleges TDCJ is housing inmates in inhumane conditions that violate constitutional rights. Wallace Pack Unit in Navasota, Texas, lacks air-conditioning, and summer temperatures can send living conditions sweltering into the triple digits.

The groups bringing the suit include the Texas Civil Rights Project, and the University of Texas School of Law’s Civil Rights Clinic. The suit was filed on behalf of four prisoners at Wallace Pack Unit in Navasota. It also names Wallace Pack Unit senior warden Roberto Herrera as a defendant.

Jon Shapley for KUT News

Across the country and here in Texas, counties have been setting up special courts specifically for veterans in recent years.

Those veterans that go through the court have to stick with a series of commitments to avoid jail time.

Travis County has had a veterans court since 2010. Two more Central Texas counties will open their own courts in the coming months.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday put off the execution of Russell Bucklew, a Missouri inmate who has maintained that his rare congenital medical condition would make the lethal injection procedure excessively painful.

In Augusta, Ga., a judge sentenced Tom Barrett to 12 months after he stole a can of beer worth less than $2.

In Ionia, Mich., 19-year-old Kyle Dewitt caught a fish out of season; then a judge sentenced him to three days in jail.

In Grand Rapids, Mich., Stephen Papa, a homeless Iraq War veteran, spent 22 days in jail, not for what he calls his "embarrassing behavior" after he got drunk with friends and climbed into an abandoned building, but because he had only $25 the day he went to court.

Adam Loewy

A Bastrop County Sheriff's deputy who Tased a 17-year-old in the hallway of Cedar Creek High School last year will not face any charges.

The teenager, Noe Niño De Rivera, spent almost two months in a medically induced coma and is now in a residential rehabilitation center in the Hill Country. He is believed to have suffered a permanent brain injury.

Daniel Reese for KUT News

Dozens of jurisdictions across the country have backed away from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deportation program known as Secure Communities.

But Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton is not backing away from the controversial program. And in response, a group of Austin attorneys announced Thursday they plan to start suing the county for its Secure Communities detentions.

As ICE writes, the program "prioritizes the removal of criminal aliens, those who pose a threat to public safety, and repeat immigration violators." But critics charge the program has been overused and resides on shaky legal ground. 

Physical abuse and excessive force top the list of hundreds of complaints filed against U.S. Border Patrol agents, according to a new report. The accusations include charges that agents kicked a pregnant woman, stomped on a man and physically forced a minor to sign a document.

Those accusations are in a report on government data about the complaints that was obtained by the advocacy group the American Immigration Council via a Freedom of Information Act request.

Update: After Tuesday night's botched execution in Oklahoma, Texas corrections officials say they have no plans to use midazolam in future executions. Midazolam was the first component of a three-drug cocktail administered to death row inmate Clayton Lockett yesterday. Read more about the execution here.

As KUT first reported in February, the state has supplies of midazolam on hand. But the Texas Department of Criminal Justice says in a statement that it "has no plans to change our procedures. Texas does not use the same drugs as Oklahoma as we use a single lethal dose of pentobarbital and we have done so since 2012.” 

Attorneys for death row inmates in Texas have unsuccessfully tried to find out who is selling compounded pentobarbital to the state. They're suing in civil court and making a case to the Open Records Division of the Office of the Attorney General that TDCJ should disclose its source.