Tag Archives: criminals

‘High threat’ Texas border busts aren’t always

Drivers in Texas busted for drunken driving, not paying child support or low-level drug offenses are among thousands of “high-threat” criminal arrests being counted as part of a nearly $1 billion mission to secure the border with Mexico, an Associated Press analysis has found.

Having once claimed that conventional crime data doesn’t fully capture the dangers to public safety and homeland security, the Texas Department of Public Safety classified more than 1,800 offenders arrested near the border by highway troopers in 2015 as “high threat criminals.”

But not all live up to that menacing label or were anywhere close to the border — and they weren’t caught entering the country illegally, as Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who is Texas’ chairman for GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, has suggested.

In response to the AP’s findings, the Department of Public Safety said it will recommend removing child support evaders from the list and signaled a willingness to stop classifying other arrests as “high threat.”

However, it defended the data overall, saying it isn’t intended to measure border security, even though the figures are included in briefings to lawmakers.

“It’s deceptive to say the least,” Democratic state Rep. Terry Canales, from the border city of Edinburg, said of the data. “I would say it’s shocking that a person arrested with a small amount of cocaine in Odessa is used to show supposedly high-threat criminal arrests on the Texas-Mexico border.”

The AP used open records laws to obtain a list of 2015 Texas Highway Patrol arrests classified as “high threat” in a broad 60-county area that the DPS has defined as the border region, then reviewed online court and jail records for cases in Hidalgo and El Paso counties, which had the most such arrests.

Among the “high threat” incidents was a trailer that unlatched from an RV and rolled into oncoming traffic, killing another driver in a town more than 150 miles from the border. Other crimes lumped in with suspected killers and human traffickers were speeding teenagers and hit-and-runs that caused no serious injuries.

Republican leaders have used crime, smuggling and immigration data to justify an intensified deployment of troopers, armored boats and spy planes to the border since 2014. And Trump’s promises to wall off the border with Mexico resonate with many in Texas, where Republican lawmakers tripled border security spending last year, and in 2017 will consider approving another $1 billion.

A threat overview published by DPS in 2013 defined high-threat criminals as “individuals whose criminal activity poses a serious public safety or homeland security threat.” But about 40 “high threat” offenses can be overly broad. For instance, nearly half the 2015 arrests were for possession of a controlled substance, but DPS doesn’t distinguish between a gram of cocaine and a drug smuggler’s 50 pounds of marijuana. And failure to pay child support is included with sex crimes under offenses against the family.

High-threat arrests, which are tracked statewide, are among nearly three dozen “border security related” metrics collected by DPS, according to agency briefings given to lawmakers.

But DPS Director Steve McCraw told the AP that high-threat data isn’t used to assess border security but rather is included in briefings for the sake of transparency. McCraw said the term “high threat” was never meant to suggest only the worst of the worst, but rather to distinguish more serious crimes.

“I don’t care, we can change the name,” McCraw said. “Just so long as, internally, we have a way of differentiating.”

Hidalgo County, in the Rio Grande Valley, is one of the busiest corridors for drug and human trafficking in the U.S., and where Texas deployed an influx of troopers, National Guard patrols and camera surveillance. While dozens of 161 high-threat arrests for drug possession were alleged pot smugglers, about 1 in 5 were charged with having less than a gram or other low-level drug charges. Drunken drivers who didn’t pull over are also counted the same as fleeing traffickers.

In El Paso County, more than half of 190 high-threat arrests last year were for drug offenses. Of those, about three in 10 were arrests for less than a gram of drugs such as cocaine or small amounts of marijuana.

Some lawmakers, including members of Texas’ House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety, said they didn’t pay attention to high-threat arrests and that the data isn’t included in high-level briefings.

But following a border visit in March, Patrick incorrectly tweeted that DPS had arrested about 14,000 high-threat criminals in the previous year. Patrick senior adviser Sherry Sylvester said the lieutenant governor had been “unintentionally unclear,” but then herself falsely described the arrests as “criminal illegal aliens” who she said pose a “serious threat to public safety in Texas.”

Starving the Wisconsin prison system

As the wife of a Wisconsin correctional officer, I’d like to thank all of the DOC employees who continue to show their professionalism by showing up for work, tirelessly, despite their dismal treatment by department Secretary Ed Wall.

Wall has built a house of cards, with 10,000-plus people relying on it for shelter. Under Wall, vacancies in the staff of state prisons have quintupled.

There were 88 vacancies when he accepted his appointment. Today, there are more than 500. Wall, who has never worked one day within the confines of a correctional facility, continues to shoot from the hip managing his staff. He continues to implement policies that are destined to fail, policies that he knows will create more vacancies because of his mistreatment of staff. There is zero accountability because nobody oversees the secretary.

Use common sense when asking yourself, what is the ultimate goal? The answer: privatization. The vacancies within the DOC are staggering enough to shut down activities in the prisons and create mandatory overtime, all at extra cost to taxpayers. Gov. Scott Walker has long lobbied for privatization and Wall is the tool he’s using to accomplish his goal.

As a career politician, Walker made it no secret that he supported private prisons. Corrections Corporation of America has been one of the major contributors to his political career. Walker was instrumental in the legislation that authorized sending prisoners out of state in the 1990s and early 2000s, when he headed the Committee on Corrections. He sent roughly 5,000 inmates to different states, at a cost of $45 million to Wisconsin taxpayers. When they returned to Wisconsin, they came back with PlayStations, Xboxes and — among other things — pornography. All of these were allowed by the corrections facilities. We no longer send inmates out to other states for a reason — it did not work.

Research has proven that private prisons are plagued with lack of security, falsifying records to cover up understaffing problems (much like we are experiencing now), prisoner abuse, staff assaults and riots. They ultimately cost the taxpayers more money than state-run prisons.

In 2010, three inmates escaped from a private prison in Arizona, kidnapped two tourists and burned their bodies in their own camper. State investigators found the perimeter of the prison was left unmonitored for 15 minutes at the beginning of every shift, with only one person responsible for monitoring the perimeter at the time of escape. So many false alarms went off that staff in the prisons ignored them and one-third of the security staff had less than three months on the job — with zero training.

Yet Walker lobbied for privatization anyhow. Even then Gov. Tommy Thompson did not approve of Walker’s plan and each time Walker introduced legislation to privatize prisons, it failed.

When giving thanks this season, please remember to thank your state employees who, in spite of dismal treatment, continue to show up for workday after day because they know your public safety falls squarely on their shoulders.

Christine Ewerdt is a resident of Waupun.

‘Season of Light’ goes dark

I usually write something frothy around the holidays, but the terrible events in Beirut and Paris and now in a women’s clinic in Colorado have turned the so-called “season of light” into something dark and foreboding.

Contributing to the toxic atmosphere have been comments from politicians that incite violence, scapegoat refugees and spread prejudice and xenophobia. That includes Carly Fiorina’s deliberate, vicious lies about Planned Parenthood; Ben Carson’s reference to Syrian refugees as “dogs” from whom we have to remove the “rabid” element; and Donald Trump’s scurrilous description of Mexicans as criminals and rapists.

We are right to be concerned about the growing threat from ISIS, but we should be equally concerned about the Taliban-like rantings of our own political leaders. Attacking our government as incapable of screening refugees (when in fact multiple agencies spend up to two years vetting individuals) and characterizing desperate victims fleeing ISIS terror as would-be terrorists is utterly counterproductive.

We have demonized refugees and immigrants during many crises in the past and have always come to regret our behavior. 

In the 1930s and 1940s we shut the door to Jews fleeing Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe. This was due to a prevailing anti-Semitism among the public (registered in many polls) and to the blatant anti-Semitic views of administrators in our State Department and Visa Division. Memos to President Franklin Roosevelt also cited fear of “penetration of German agents” as rationale for keeping Jews out.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt signed an executive order to intern Japanese-Americans, most of them U.S. citizens. More than 120,000 people were deprived of due process, shorn of their goods and property and imprisoned in isolated camps patrolled by armed guards. The census bureau provided the demographic data used to locate and lock up these innocent people.

While their families suffered in camps, thousands of Japanese-Americans won distinction fighting against the Nazis in the 442nd Infantry Regiment. Of the 14,000 men who served, 9,486 received Purple Hearts, 560 won Silver Stars for valor and 21 won our highest military award, the Medal of Honor.

Today, many Mexicans and other Latinos new to the United States join the Armed Forces as a means to earn citizenship. The people demeaned by Donald Trump are actually playing an outsize role in the defense of our country.

As for Planned Parenthood, in the past 38 years, 10 doctors, clinic personnel or patients have been assassinated. Other acts of violence include: 26 attempted murders; 42 bombings; 182 arson attacks; 199 assaults; 1,507 incidents of vandalism; 80 acid attacks; and 983 death threats or stalking incidents. 

Women who go to Planned Parenthood clinics for health services and birth control are routinely harassed by screaming crowds of anti-abortion zealots. In this context it is a travesty that the media fails to identify the latest attack as an act of domestic terrorism. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo did the right thing by ordering state police to protect Planned Parenthood clinics in that state. 

While we deplore the misogynist cruelty of ISIS and the Taliban abroad, we must fight the growing terrorism against women here at home.

For end-of-year charitable donations, I recommend giving to Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin at www.ppwi.org and the United Nations Refugee agency at www.unhcr.org. Your donations will support critical services and make an important political statement in these times of domestic and international terrorism.

Trump accuses Mexico of sending criminals across border

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump this week criticized U.S. immigration and trade policies on in speeches that veered from accusing Mexico of deliberately sending criminals across the border to professing respect for the Mexican government and love for its people.

Speaking to a gathering of Libertarians in Las Vegas before headlining an event in Phoenix, Trump repeated his charge that Mexico was sending violent offenders to the U.S. to harm Americans and that U.S. officials were being “dumb” in dealing with immigrants in the country illegally.

“These people wreak havoc on our population,” he told a few thousand people attending the Libertarian gathering FreedomFest inside a Planet Hollywood ballroom on the Las Vegas Strip.

In the 4,200-capacity Phoenix convention center packed with flag-waving supporters, Trump took a different view — for a moment — and said: “I love the Mexican people. I love `em. Many, many people from Mexico are legal. They came in the old-fashioned way. Legally.”

He quickly returned to the sharp tone that has brought him scorn as well as praise. “I respect Mexico greatly as a country. But the problem we have is their leaders are much sharper than ours, and they’re killing us at the border and they’re killing us on trade.”

His speeches in both venues were long on insults aimed at critics and short on solutions to the problems he cited. When he called for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, the audience in Las Vegas groaned.

In a break from the immigration rhetoric that has garnered him condemnation and praise, Trump asserted that he would have more positive results in dealing with China and Russia if he were president and said he could be pals with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Asked by an audience member in Las Vegas about U.S.-Russia relations, Trump said the problem is that Putin doesn’t respect Obama.

“I think we would get along very, very well,” he said.

Trump’s speeches were filled with tangents and insults leveled at business partners such as Univision and NBC that have dropped him in the wake of his comments that Mexican immigrants bring drugs and crime to the U.S. and are rapists. He also directed familiar barbs at other presidential contenders, including Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton (“the worst secretary of state in the history of the country”), news media figures (“lyin’ Brian Williams”) and President Barack Obama (“such a divisive person”). He called journalists “terrible people.”

As Trump lambasted Univision for cancelling its broadcast of the Miss USA pageant, one of his many business enterprises, a group of young Latinos unfurled a banner pointed toward the stage and began chanting insults. They were quickly drowned out by the crowd, and nearby Trump supporters began to grab at them, tearing at the banner and pulling and pushing at the protesters. Security staff managed to get to the group and escorted them out as Trump resumed speaking.

“I wonder if the Mexican government sent them over here,” he said. “I think so.”

Arizona’s tough-on-immigration Sheriff Joe Arpaio introduced Trump in Phoenix after outlining the things he and the candidate have in common, including skepticism that Obama was born in the United States. He went on to criticize the federal government for what he called a revolving door for immigrants, saying many of them end up in his jails.

“He’s been getting a lot of heat, but you know, there’s a silent majority out here,” Arpaio said, borrowing from a phrase Richard Nixon popularized during his presidency in a speech about the Vietnam War.

A single protester standing outside the room where Trump spoke in Las Vegas was more concerned about the businessman being tied to the Libertarian Party.

“I’ve been a Libertarian for 43 years and Trump ain’t no Libertarian,” said Linda Rawles, who asserted that including Trump in FreedomFest set back the party’s movement.

Tennessee attorneys: Sterilizations of women were part of plea deal talks

Nashville, Tennessee, prosecutors have made sterilization of women part of plea negotiations at least four times in the past five years, and the district attorney has banned his staff from using the invasive surgery as a bargaining chip after the latest case.

In the most recent case, first reported by The Tennessean, a woman with a 20-year history of mental illness had been charged with neglect after her 5-day-old baby mysteriously died. Her defense attorney says the prosecutor assigned to the case wouldn’t go forward with a plea deal to keep the woman out of prison unless she had the surgery.

Defense attorneys say there have been at least three similar cases in the past five years, suggesting the practice may not be as rare as people think and may happen more often outside the public view and without the blessing of a court .

Sterilization coerced by the legal system evokes a time in America when minorities, the poor and those deemed mentally unfit or “deficient” were forced to undergo medical procedures that prevented them from having children. 

“The history of sterilization in this country is that it is applied to the most despised people — criminals and the people we’re most afraid of, the mentally ill — and the one thing that that these two groups usually share is that they are the most poor. That is what we’ve done in the past, and that’s a good reason not to do it now,” said Paul Lombardo, a law professor and historian who teaches at Georgia State University.

Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk agrees. A former defense attorney who took over the office in September, he recently ordered lawyers in his office not to seek sterilization by defendants. He said he hadn’t heard of it happening before but didn’t ask.

Funk said people could be ordered to stay away from children, and the state wouldn’t have to resort to such invasive measures.

“The bottom line is the government can’t be ordering a forced sterilization,” Funk said.

However, such deals do happen.

In West Virginia, a 21-year-old unmarried mother of three agreed to have her tubes tied in 2009 as part of her probation after she pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute marijuana.

And last year, a Virginia man who fathered children with several women agreed to undergo a vasectomy in exchange for less prison time in a child endangerment case.

Forced sterilization came up in a different way in California last year, when Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that banned state prisons from forcing female inmates to be sterilized. The law was pushed through after the Center for Investigative Reporting found that nearly 150 female prisoners had been sterilized between 2006 and 2010. An audit found that the state failed to make sure the inmate’s consent was lawfully obtained in every case .

The most recent Nashville case involved Jasmine Randers, 36, who had been under court supervision for mental illness when she left her home state of Minnesota. She gave birth in West Memphis, Arkansas, then fled a homeless shelter to come to Nashville, said her attorney, assistant public defender Mary-Kathryn Harcombe.

Court records show Randers reported awakening in a motel, where she’d slept in a bed with the baby, only to find the child unresponsive. She reportedly called a taxi two hours later and took the child to a local hospital, where the infant was pronounced dead.

There was no sign of injury, and the cause of death was undetermined.

Police later learned that in 2004, Randers stabbed herself in the stomach while pregnant, though the fetus was not harmed. She told investigators that it happened when she fell down the stairs while cutting fruit.

The assistant district attorney who worked the case, Brian Holmgren, is a child prosecutor who speaks around the country, was once a senior attorney with the National Center for Prosecution of Child Abuse and serves on the international advisory board of the National Center for Shaken Baby Syndrome. He has been both praised and fiercely criticized for his aggressive courtroom tactics on behalf of children.

Harcombe said he previously asked that another client agree to be sterilized in order to get a plea deal. She refused and it didn’t become part of the plea deal reached in that case. 

Holmgren did not respond to several messages seeking comment.

Nashville defense attorney Carrie Searcy said Holmgren asked that two of her clients who gave birth to children who tested positive for drugs undergo sterilization. Neither did, Searcy said, because both women had already undergone the procedure.

Assistant public defender Joan Lawson, who also supervises other attorneys, said she also had been involved in cases in which a prosecutor had put sterilization on the table. Lawson said it was typically not an explicit demand, was not an everyday occurrence and was made off the record. Lawson said she refused the idea and resolved her cases without sterilization.

“It’s always been more of ‘If your client is willing to do this, then I might be inclined to talk about probation,”” Lawson said.

This time, when Holmgren insisted Randers ungero sterilization to avoid prison, Harcombe complained to his boss. The district attorney took over the case, and Randers was not sterilized. The prosecutor agreed Randers was mentally ill, and she was institutionalized after being found not guilty by reason of insanity.

“Any time a woman is given a choice between prison and this surgery, that is inherently coercive, even in cases where there is no mental illness,” Harcombe said.

Catnapping still under investigation, but missing hotel cat found

The beloved hotel cat that was snatched over the weekend in Fort Collins, Colo., has been found safe but scared.

Two Armstrong Hotel guests found Oreo on March 18 crying out from behind an art museum about a block away.

Hotel general manager Nick Gliszinski says Oreo’s return marks the end of a citywide search for the famed feline, but authorities are still trying to find the perpetrators.

According to the Fort Collins Coloradoan, videos showed two men catnapping Oreo from the hotel lobby on Saturday.

Oreo first came to the hotel in 2004. Since then, she has warmed her way into the hearts of hotel guests and owners.