Tag Archives: Houston

Anti-abortion activists indicted over phony videos targeting Planned Parenthood

A Houston grand jury has indicted anti-abortion activists who released a phony undercover video making it appear as if Planned Parenthood sold fetal tissue to researchers for a profit — a violation of federal law. The video stirred Republican outrage and led to investigations and defunding of the group in many states, including Wisconsin.

Planned Parenthood provides reproductive and sexual health care to poor women.

The grand jury indicted David Daleiden, founder of the Center for Medical Progress, on a felony charge of tampering with a governmental record and a misdemeanor count related to purchasing human organs. Another activist, Sandra Merritt, was indicted on a charge of tampering with a governmental record, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

At the same time the anti-abortion activists were indicted, Planned Parenthood was exonerated of any wrong doing, although it’s unlikely the “pro-life” movement will believe the findings or let up in their obsessive crusade to destroy the group.

The Texas jury was the first to charge the hoaxsters criminally since the videos were released last year, setting off a maelstrom on the fringes of the religious right.

The footage from a clinic in Houston showed people pretending to be from a company called BioMax that procures fetal tissue for medical research. Fetal tissue research led to the vaccine for polio and other major medical advancements. It’s currently helping to make gains against Alzheimer’s, cancer and other major diseases.

Planned Parenthood has previously said that the fake company sent an agreement offering to pay the “astronomical amount” of $1,600 for organs from a fetus. The clinic said it never entered into the agreement and ceased contact with BioMax because it was “disturbed” by the overtures.

In a statement announcing the indictment, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson did not provide details on the charges, including what record or records were allegedly tampered with and why Daleiden faces a charge related to buying human organs. Her office said it could not disclose more information and a court spokesman said it was unclear whether copies of the indictments, which typically provide more insight, would be made public.

“We were called upon to investigate allegations of criminal conduct by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast,” Anderson, an elected Republican, said in her statement. “As I stated at the outset of this investigation, we must go where the evidence leads us.”

Daleiden issued a statement saying that his group “uses the same undercover techniques” as investigative journalists and follows all applicable laws.

“We respect the processes of the Harris County District Attorney, and note that buying fetal tissue requires a seller as well,” he said.

Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has his own ongoing investigation into Planned Parenthood, said Monday that the “the videos exposed the horrific nature of abortion and the shameful disregard for human life.”

The Texas video was the fifth released by the Center for Medical Progress.

Planned Parenthood has said a few clinics in two states used to accept legally allowed reimbursements for the costs of transporting tissue donated by some of its abortion clients to labs. In October, Planned Parenthood announced that it would no longer accept reimbursement and would cover the costs itself.

The group called Monday’s indictments the latest in a string of victories since the videos were released, saying that by its count, 11 state investigations have cleared the nation’s largest abortion provider of claims that it profited from fetal tissue donation.

“This is absolutely great news because it is a demonstration of what Planned Parenthood has said from the very beginning: We follow every law and regulation and these anti-abortion activists broke multiple laws to try and spread lies,” said spokeswoman Rochelle Tafolla of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast.

Before the Texas video was released, Melaney Linton, president of the Houston Planned Parenthood clinic, told state lawmakers last summer that it was likely to feature actors — pretending to be from a company called BioMax — asking leading questions about how to select potential donors for a supposed study of sickle cell anemia. Linton said the footage could feature several interactions initiated by BioMax about how and whether a doctor could adjust an abortion if a patient has offered to donate tissue for medical research.

Despite the lofty name of the Center for Medical Progress, public filings suggest only a small number of people are affiliated with the nonprofit, none of whom are scientists or physicians engaged in advancing medical treatments. The people named as its top officers are longtime anti-abortion activists with a history of generating headlines.

Earlier this month, Planned Parenthood sued the center in a California federal court, alleging extensive criminal misconduct. The lawsuit says the center’s videos were the result of numerous illegalities, including making recordings without consent, registering false identities with state agencies and violating non-disclosure agreements.

Associated Press Writers Juan A. Lozano in Houston, Will Weissert in Austin and David Crary in New York contributed to this report.

Houston voters reject equal rights ordinance

Houston voters on Nov. 3 failed to affirm an ordinance that would have secured protections from discrimination for the people of the fourth largest city in the country.

The measure, Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which appeared on the ballot on Election Day, fell short of a majority vote.

The ordinance would have prohibited discrimination in places of employment, city contracting, housing, public accommodations and private employment at businesses on the basis of sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity and pregnancy.

American Civil Liberties Union national political director Karin Johanson, said, “The work in Houston must continue until everyone is protected from discrimination. Houston continues to be the only major American city without a law protecting its residents from discrimination. As a result, the only protection Houstonians have is a costly federal lawsuit. In the case of LGBT Houstonians there are no explicit protections at the federal or state level. A strong local coalition will continue to work to end discrimination against all Houstonians and the ACLU will support them.”

ACLU of Texas executive director Terri Burke added, “It’s a tragedy that Houston remains the only major city in Texas—indeed, the last big city in the United States — that does not extend equal rights protections to all of its residents and visitors. Those of us who have worked to bring equality to Houston will continue the fight to ensure that everyone can live fairly and equally under the law. The next mayor and newly elected members of Houston’s city council must prioritize the passage of a new equal rights ordinance as quickly as possible.”

The city council approved Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance in May 2014, but enforcement was placed on hold pending the outcome of the citizens’ vote on Election Day.

Kenneth D. Upton Jr., senior sounsel in Lambda Legal’s South Central Regional Office in Dallas, said after the election, “We knew this vote would be an uphill battle and we witnessed the opponents of HERO pull out all the stops, launching a campaign full of distortions and fear-mongering designed to mislead and confuse voters.

“But we also saw an impressive coming together of the Houston business, faith and civic communities in Houston Unites, which campaigned tirelessly in support of HERO and for ensuring that all Houstonians can live their lives and provide for their families without fear of discrimination. Sadly, the ugly and divisive tactics of the opponents of HERO succeeded in persuading a majority of Houstonians to vote no. But we have faced disappointments before that did not stop us — this fight for fairness is far from over.”

The coalition that makes up Houston Unites includes the ACLU of Texas, Equality Texas, NAACP Houston Branch, Texas Freedom Network, Freedom for All Americans and the Human Rights Campaign.

The coaliton’s statement read, in part, “Although Houston won’t yet join the 200 other cities that have similar nondiscrimination measures, the fight continues. We will continue telling the stories of Houstonians whose lives would be better off because of HERO – including people of color, people of faith, veterans who have served our country, women, and gay and transgender people.”

Editor’s note: This story will be updated.

Review: ‘Pleasantville’ has gripping, believable plot

The compelling “Pleasantville” continues Attica Locke’s insightful look at African-American life in Houston, where politics, race and classism converge in myriad ways.

Locke sets her third novel in Pleasantville, a Houston neighborhood that was built after World War II specifically for black families “of means and class.” But this new black middle class also began to wield “unexpected political power” as the community became “a bargaining chip to politicians.”

Jay Porter, a former black activist turned lawyer, has witnessed the changes in race relations through the years, yet he knows that deep-seated prejudice continues to simmer.

“Pleasantville” picks up in 1996, 15 years after the events in 2009’s “Black Water Rising,” which introduced readers to Jay. The years haven’t been kind. His wife has been dead a year now and his mourning has stymied a close relationship with his teenage daughter. His major victory over an oil conglomerate still languishes in the courts, and in his grief, he has neglected his private practice. Jay becomes mired in neighborhood politics when he reluctantly agrees to represent the grandson of a Pleasantville power broker in a murder case.

Locke, a writer and co-producer of the Fox drama “Empire,” gracefully melds politics and racial issues with greed and a family rooted in secrecy for a gripping, believable plot. Jay is a bold character, flawed and realistic, who has had to come to terms with reconciling his activism with supporting a family. His missteps as a parent are true to life, as is his determination to succeed as a father _ and a lawyer.

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Scientists explore using trees to clean pollution

Before Houston and its suburbs were built, a dense forest naturally purified the coastal air along a stretch of the Texas Gulf Coast that grew thick with pecan, ash, live oak and hackberry trees.

It was the kind of pristine woodland that was mostly wiped out by settlers in their rush to clear land and build communities. Now one of the nation’s largest chemical companies and one of its oldest conservation groups have forged an unlikely partnership that seeks to recreate some of that forest to curb pollution.

The plan drafted by Dow Chemical and the Nature Conservancy is only in its infancy and faces many hurdles. But it envisions a day when expensive machines used to capture industrial pollutants might be at least partially replaced by restoring some of the groves of native trees that once filled the land.

“It looks very promising at the early stage of the research,” said Mark Weick, director of sustainability programs for Dow. “But for this to become something that is an emission control, everyone needs to know it works.”

Many plants, and especially trees, capture pollution naturally when it hits their leaves. Trees with the biggest leaves and the widest canopies capture the most pollutants, especially nitrogen oxide, a common byproduct of combustion that can irritate lungs and contributes to the formation of ground-level ozone. The reforestation proposal imagines emissions from Dow’s largest North American factory drifting downwind into the trees near Freeport, Texas.

Dow and the Nature Conservancy began a six-year, $10 million collaboration in 2011, when they came together to look at ways natural resources could be used to save the company money.

After reading an obscure notation by the federal Environmental Protection Agency that suggested reforestation could improve air quality, the two groups decided to research how the idea might work and whether it could be cost-effective.

Scientists used a complex model from the U.S. Forest Service that considers everything from wind patterns to the size of tree leaves and the overall canopy to estimate the air-quality improvements that might come from 1,000 acres of forest.

“The big discovery was that you could combine the traditional infrastructure with reforestation and still meet regulation,” said Laura Huffman, the conservancy’s director in Texas.

The trees, Huffman said, may not completely replace traditional technology, but they could complement it, allowing factories to use smaller, cheaper equipment.

The research found that over 30 years a 1,000-acre forest would remove 4 to 7 tons of nitrogen oxide annually, said Timm Kroeger, a senior environmental economist with the conservancy. A traditional mechanical “scrubber” removes about 50 to 70 tons annually.

So a 10,000-acre forest equals one average industrial scrubber, he explained. And in this part of Texas, where open land is ample, reforestation is within reach.

The cost of the project not including the land would be about the same as using traditional forms of pollution control, Weick said.

Organizers hope to work with a landowner interested in reforesting, probably with help from conservation tax credits. Or the Nature Conservancy or the federal government would buy the land and give it to Dow free of charge.

A recent progress report determined that the cost of cleaning a ton of nitrogen oxide through reforestation was $2,400 to $4,000, compared with $2,500 to $5,000 using traditional equipment.

The research is still being reviewed by other scientists. And before any formal plan could be adopted, it would have to win approval from state and federal regulators, who would require any pollution-cleansing method to be quantifiable and enforceable. Trees may not fit the bill. Unlike machines, they are living organisms that are subject to diseases, droughts and other threats such as hurricanes or fires.

Back in 2005, another scientific group researched a similar idea and decided it would not pay off.

“The conclusion that we reached was that what they were trying to do was difficult and that the degree of uncertainty was larger than the benefits,” said Mark Estes, a senior air quality scientist with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Even if it wins broad support, the plan won’t be approved anytime soon. In Texas, it can take up to four years to change clean-air rules. And that’s before any proposal moves up to the EPA.

As he looked out over land ripe for reforestation, Jeff Wiegel, the conservancy’s director of strategic initiatives in Texas, was realistic about the pace of progress.

“It’s a long road toward that,” he said.

Vigils planned across Texas for slain lesbian couple

Vigils are planned for Wednesday in several locations in Texas in memory of Crystal Jackson and Britney Cosby, the 24-year-old girlfriends slain earlier this month. Their bodies were found on March 7 in a dumpster near Galveston, Texas.

The women had been together for about two years and were raising a daughter.

Cosby’s father has been arrested in connection with the case and there have been reports that the women were killed at his residence. There also have been conflicting reports as to how the father, James Larry Cosby, was dealing with his daughter’s sexual orientation and relationship with Jackson. He was taken into custody for allegedly tampering with evidence in the case but authorities have said charges could be upgraded to capital murder.

Detectives in Galveston are asking for the public’s help in identifying a man in a composite sketch who was last seen with the women and may be driving Cosby’s silver 2006 Kia Sorrento. The vehicle is considered a key piece of evidence in solving the killings.

Activists planning the vigils reminded authorities and the public that in 2012, in a park in Portland, Texas, someone fatally shot Mollie Olgin and seriously injured her girlfriend, Mary Kristine Chapa. The crime hasn’t been solved.

C.D. Kirven, an LGBT activist and member of the Dallas LGBT Taskforce, said, “We want to celebrate the way Britney and Crystal lived and not the way they died. They were a part of a community, an LGBT family, that mourns their loss.”

Tiffani Bishop, co-state lead organizer for GetEQUAL Texas, added, “The tragic murders of Britney and Crystal are truly heartbreaking. To discover that Britney’s father is suspected of committing these crimes is difficult to wrap my head around. It is beyond time that our community begin an open and honest dialogue about violence against queer women of color.”

Said Patrick Fierro, co-state lead organizer for GetEQUAL TX, “Let us come together as a community and celebrate the lives of Crystal and Britney. Let’s continue our fight to protect our sisters and the LGBT family from violent acts against us. Love conquers all so, let’s love one another.”

The vigils are set to take place on March 19, but plans are still coming together. Some early details:

• Austin Vigil at 8 p.m., MCC Austin, 8601 South First St..

• Corpus Christi Vigil, 7:30 p.m. The Water Gardens, 1902 N. Shoreline.

• Dallas Prayer Vigil at 7 p.m., Living Faith Covenant Church, 3403 Shelley Blvd, Dallas.

• Fort Worth Vigil at 8 p.m., Rainbow Lounge, 651 South Jennings Ave, Fort Worth.

Bodies of slain lesbian couple found in Houston

Authorities have identified the bodies of a lesbian couple that were found near a garbage bin on the Bolivar Peninsula near Galveston.

The Galveston County Sheriff’s Office identified the victims as Britney Cosby and Crystal Jackson, both 24 years old and from Houston. Jackson had a 5-year-old daughter. The couple had reportedly lived together for two years.

Their bodies were found near a store in Port Bolivar on March 7. Authorities believe the women were killed elsewhere and their bodies dumped near the bin.

Investigators are trying to determine how the women died. It’s also unclear whether the killings were a hate crime or there was some other motive for the murder.

The bodies were discovered about 7:45 a.m. Friday.

Authorities are looking for the victims’ vehicle, a silver 2006 Kia Sorento SUV with gray trim.

10 U.S. mayors unite to address climate change

Mayors from 10 major cities this week unveiled a united effort to boost energy efficiency in buildings to cut as much climate change pollution as generated by 1 million to 1.5 million passenger vehicles every year and lower energy bills by nearly $1 billion annually.

The cities participating in the City Energy Project are Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Orlando, Philadelphia and Salt Lake City.

The project is an initiative from the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Institute for Market Transformation and gets inspiration from New York City’s sustainability efforts, as well as funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, along with the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and The Kresge Foundation.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in a news release, said, “New York City’s sustainability efforts are a major reason our greenhouse gas emissions are down 19 percent since 2007 and our air is cleaner than it has been in more than 50 years. They have also substantially driven down energy costs for consumers. “The City Energy Project will bring the significant economic and environmental benefits that energy efficiency has to offer to other cities — and accelerate progress by helping them learn from each other’s successes.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the project a promising opportunity. He said, “More energy efficiency means new jobs and continued economic growth, and a more sustainable City, which will lead to a further increase in the quality of life for the people of Chicago.”

Largely due to their electricity consumption, buildings are the largest single source of U.S. carbon emissions, representing 40 percent nationwide — more than either the transportation or industrial sectors. That number is even more dramatic at the city level, with more than half of carbon emissions in most U.S. cities coming from buildings — and in some cities as much as 75 percent. Much of the energy these buildings use, however, is wasted.

But there is technology and there are best practices that can make buildings vastly more efficient.

“City skylines have long been symbols of aspiration and innovation — this project takes that to a new level,” said Laurie Kerr, director of the project for the NRDC. “These mayors are showing there is the political will to put people to work to build a healthier, more prosperous future for America’s cities. In the face of a changing climate and increasingly extreme weather, they know they must act now to make their cities more resilient and sustainable.”

The project is projected to save ratepayers a combined total of nearly $1 billion annually on energy bills (at current prices).

Southern Baptists holding annual meeting in Texas

The Southern Baptist Convention has gathered in Houston for its annual meeting at a time when the denomination is contemplating a different cultural and political climate than a decade ago.

The meeting of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination happens today (June 11) and June 12 at the George R. Brown Convention Center. The executive committee met on June 10.

One top leader expects there to be a resolution declaring the threat to religious liberty posed by federal policies on contraceptive care and gays in the military. Others expect a resolution on withdrawing support for the Boy Scouts of America, which recently agreed to lift its ban on gay boys but maintained its prohibition against gay adults.

The meeting comes at a time when the conservative denomination holds less political influence than it did during the two terms of President George W. Bush and public acceptance of gay marriage is growing.

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Gay veteran alleges Houston jailer raped him

A gay military veteran filed a federal suit this week alleging that a jailer sexually assaulted him with a billy club.

In the complaint, the man identified as DL says his attacker asked, “How do you like this, you faggot?” as he committed the assault.

The suit names three defendants – the city of Houston, John Doe Jailer No. 1 and Jane Doe Jailer No. 2.

The alleged incident took place in January 2011.

DL, in the complaint, says that after two people robbed him at knifepoint outside a restaurant, he called 911 several times.

Four Houston police officers arrived to the scene and sent witnesses away, according to DL, who called 911 again and was arrested for telephone harassment.

He was booked and taken to the Houston city jail, where he “declared” his homosexuality. The complaint states that a sign at the jail encourages gays to come out to be segregated from the general population.

DL says he then was harassed by several jailers and that John Doe Jailer No. 1 removed him from his cell, took him around the corner, stripped his clothes off and knocked him to the ground with a billy club.

Allegedly Jane Doe Jailer No. 2 stood by, watching and laughing, as Jailer No. 1 kicked DL, hit him with the club and then sexually assaulted him with the weapon.

Jailer No. 1 then, according to the complaint, lifted DL from the ground using the handcuffs and placed him in solitary confinement, where he was denied medical treatment.

DL says he reported the assault to the Houston Police Department’s internal affairs division and the local district attorney took the complaint to a grand jury, which did not indict the jailers.

The federal complaint states that jail video is missing or was erased, but one segment shows DL visibly shaken and collapsing after being taken to a cell.

He is seeking punitive damages for assault, battery, excessive force, due process violations, cruel and unusual punishment, sexual assault, wrongful use of medical treatment, conspiracy, false arrest, false imprisonment, abuse of process, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence and gross negligence.

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Soccer player suspended for anti-gay slur

Houston Dynamo midfielder Colin Clark was suspended for three games by Major League Soccer on March 28 and fined for directing a gay slur toward a ball boy during Houston’s 2-0 loss at Seattle against the Sounders last week.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber also directed Clark to attend diversity and sensitivity training.

“Major League Soccer will not tolerate this type of behavior from its players or staff at any time, under any circumstances,” Garber said. “I believe that he will learn from this incident.”

The incident occurred on March 23.

“I am sorry about what happened during the Seattle match,” Clark said in a statement. “I have personally apologized to the ball boy, and I want to take this chance to say I’m sorry to everyone that I’ve offended. I intend to never use those words again in any context. There is no excuse for them. What I said does not properly represent who I am or what I believe. I made a mistake that I truly regret. I accept the punishment that has been handed down by MLS, and I want to learn from this incident and move forward.”

The suspension is believed to be the first of a pro athlete in the United States for an anti-gay slur in a decade.

Houston said, “This incident is not a true representation of Colin’s character or beliefs and that he is remorseful for what happened.”

The Sounders last season produced an “It Gets Better” video, part of a national campaign against homophobia and bullying.

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