Thursday, September 27, 2018

Why Crystal Mason Should Be Free

Crystal Mason is a Tarrant County, TX resident who is currently sitting in jail for supposedly casting an illegal ballot in the 2016 election. Whether you believe her when she says that nobody told her that it was illegal to vote because she was on probation, there may be a major problem with her conviction.

According to campaign finance reports obtained by The Weekly Gavel, it appears that her attorney at the time of her original conviction,  J. Warren St. John, has made several campaign contributions to Sharen Wilson, the Tarrant County District Attorney who pushed for her conviction and harsh prison sentence.

For a lawyer to accept a client who is being prosecuted by a District Attorney's office that has accepted campaign contributions from his or her law firm is a clear conflict of interest. Furthermore, J Warren St. John testified at Crystal Mason's hearing for a new trial that he was the one who told her that she could not vote until her supervision was over. His campaign donations to Distict Attorney Wilson's campaign should have been disclosed at the time of trial.  It therefore follows that Ms. Mason's rights to effective counsel which is guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution of The United States have been violated. On those grounds, Ms. Mason's conviction should be overturned and any criminal record stemming from these charges that have been imposed on her should be expunged.

An itemization of those campaign contributions is as follows:


DateFNameLNameOccupationAmountReport
12/11/2013J WarrenSt. JohnLawyer250View Copy
10/23/2015J WarrenSt. JohnLawyer350View Copy
09/30/2016J WarrenSt. JohnLawyer500View Copy
04/26/2017J WarrenSt. JohnLawyer500View Copy
09/25/2017J WarrenSt. JohnLawyer500View Copy


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Jacksonville Sheriff Uses Misleading Data to Defend Pedestrian Ticketing

by Topher Sanders, ProPublica, and Benjamin Conarck, The Florida Times-Union [Jacksonville]


Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams in recent months has repeatedly defended his department’s enforcement of pedestrian violations. Claims of a racial disparity have been overstated, he has argued. There is no policy targeting people of color, he has insisted. He’s made his case before the City Council. Most recently, Williams had a report supporting his claims hand-delivered to a local NAACP official.

When making his case, Williams has relied on what he has said is a true accounting of pedestrian ticket data for recent years. That data, he claims, shows that 45 percent of tickets went to blacks. That figure, while greater than the city’s black population, is substantially less than the number reported by the Times-Union and ProPublica in a series of articles late last year. The Times-Union and ProPublica reported that 55 percent of the tickets over the prior five years had been issued to blacks.
This week ProPublica and the Times-Union obtained the sheriff’s data, and the numbers are misleading.

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Sunday, September 23, 2018

Justice Department Inspector General to Investigate DEA Program Linked to Massacres in Mexico

by Ginger Thompson, ProPublica


The Justice Department’s inspector general announced on Tuesday that his office would investigate a Drug Enforcement Administration program linked to violent drug cartel attacks in Mexico that have left dozens, possibly hundreds, of people dead or missing.

In a letter to senior congressional Democrats, Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz said that an internal review had flagged the DEA’s Sensitive Investigative Units program as “an area of high risk.” His office, he wrote, would examine the drug agency’s management of the program and whether internal controls are in place to ensure that “DEA operations, information and personnel are protected from compromise.”

Under the program, the DEA vets and trains teams of Mexican federal police officers, known as SIUs, that conduct DEA-led operations in Mexico. Last year, ProPublica and National Geographic reported that at least two such operations were compromised and triggered deadly spasms of violence, including one that occurred less than an hour’s drive away from the Mexican border with Texas. A June 2017 story revealed that an attack on the small ranching town of Allende in the Mexican state of Coahuila in 2011 was unleashed after sensitive information obtained during a DEA operation wound up in the hands of cartel leaders, who ordered a wave of retaliation against suspected traitors.

A second story in December investigated a 2010 cartel attack on a Holiday Inn in Monterrey, Mexico, and found that it, too, was linked to a DEA surveillance operation. Four hotel guests and a hotel clerk, none of whom were involved with the drug trade, were kidnapped and never seen again.
Both operations involved the DEA’s Mexican SIU. ProPublica’s reporting detailed that the Mexican SIU had a yearslong, documented record of leaking information to violent and powerful drug traffickers. Since 2000, at least two supervisors have been assassinated after their identities and locations were leaked to drug traffickers by SIU members, according to allegations by current and former DEA agents who worked in Mexico.

Last year, another SIU supervisor, Iván Reyes Arzate, flew to Chicago and surrendered to U.S. authorities, who charged him with collaborating with drug traffickers. Arzate pleaded no contest to the charges in May and faces 25 years in prison. He is scheduled for sentencing this year.
The DEA, ProPublica found, had long been aware of this corruption and failed to address it, even when innocent lives were lost. In an email, a DEA spokeswoman, Katherine M. Pfaff, said the agency declined to comment on the inspector general’s investigation. The DEA considers the SIU program an “effective international program,” she wrote.

The agency has similar units in at least 12 other countries.

The Justice Department’s decision to investigate the SIUs marks the culmination of a campaign started by several leading Democrats in Congress after the publication of ProPublica’s stories. In a series of letters, the ranking members of three powerful committees — judiciary, appropriations and foreign affairs — began pushing for the Justice Department and the DEA to investigate. “These operations raise serious questions about the practices of DEA-trained and funded SIUs,” the legislators wrote in February, “and point to the need for greater accountability for these vetted units.”
That letter was signed by Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, who has long pursued accountability for the DEA’s operations abroad, as well as Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and one of the country’s leading authorities on national security matters, Rep. Eliot L. Engel, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the leading Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. The two representatives are from New York, and their committees oversee the State and Justice departments.

“In light of these incidents,” the legislators wrote, referring to Allende and Monterrey, “we believe that a thorough investigation into the practices of the DEA’s vetted units is essential.”
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Sunday, September 2, 2018

A Splendid Little Dictatorship

Tarrant County District Attorney who pushed for harsh sentencing in Rosa Ortega illegal voting case may have some election irregularities of her own to explain.

Rosa Ortega was brought to the United States from Mexico as an infant and had lived and worked in the United States all of her adult life after being granted permanent residency and a green card. Although Ms. Ortega's status as a permanent resident entitles her to work, go to school, and even own property in the Unites States, and although America is the only home that she has ever known and she has paid taxes to the U.S treasury for all of her adult life, she had to find out the hard way that there is a fine line between "citizenship" and "permanent residency."

Unlike at least fifty percent of U.S. citizens, Ms. Ortega took enough interest in the future of our nation to get up off her couch and actually register to vote.  She voted for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012 and also for Republican Texas attorney general Ken Paxton in 2012. After moving from Dallas to Tarrant County in 2015, she updated her voter registration information and that is when her troubles began.

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Saturday, September 1, 2018

How the Trump Administration Went Easy on Small-Town Police Abuses

by Ian MacDougall, ProPublica

On a chilly morning in December 2016, 12-year-old Bobby Lewis found himself sitting in a little room at the police station in Ville Platte, a town of 7,300 in southern Louisiana. He wasn’t sure exactly how long it had been, but the detective grilling him had been at it for some time. Bobby was a middle school student — a skinny kid with a polite demeanor — and though he got in trouble at school from time to time, he wasn’t used to getting treated like this. He was alone, facing the detective without a parent or a lawyer.

A blank piece of paper sat on the table in front of Bobby. He and his friends were thieves, the detective insisted. They sold drugs. They trafficked guns. The detective brushed off Bobby’s denials. She knew what he was up to, and if he didn’t write it all down — inform on his friends and confess to his crimes — she’d charge him. She’d confiscate his dog, Cinnamon, she told him. She’d throw his mother in jail. Bobby was nothing but a “B” and an “MF,” as he later relayed the detective’s words to me, sheepish about repeating them. When his mother finally turned up at the station house, it seemed only to enrage the detective further. “Wipe that fucking smile off your face, and sit up in that fucking chair,” Bobby and his mother recall the detective barking at him.

Earlier that day, Bobby told me, he had been walking home from a friend’s house when a police cruiser pulled up alongside him. He recognized one of the officers. Her name was Jessica LaBorde, but like most people in Ville Platte, Bobby knew her only as Scrappy. The sobriquet was too fitting not to stick. Profanity prone in the extreme, LaBorde was known for her tinderbox temper and hostile disposition. She styled herself like a Marine drill sergeant — fastidiously pressed police blues, jet-black hair pulled back tight — and she would become Bobby’s interrogator. (LaBorde did not respond to calls or a detailed list of questions about the incident.)

Somebody had put a rock through a window in one of the abandoned houses that litter Ville Platte, and a neighbor had seen three boys taking shelter from the rain under a carport nearby. But, the neighbor later told Bobby’s mother, Charlotte Lewis, he didn’t know which of the boys had thrown the rock. Bobby admitted he had been there but insisted he wasn’t the culprit.

Police need probable cause — evidence sufficient to show there’s a fair likelihood that a person committed a crime — to take someone into custody. Generally, an officer can’t detain somebody just because that person was near the scene of a crime. “Mere propinquity,” the U.S. Supreme Court has written, “does not, without more, give rise to probable cause.” Whether LaBorde didn’t know that or didn’t care, she ordered Bobby into the back of her squad car.

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