Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Public Record – Local Violent Offenders Often Go Free

Cops, Prosecutors, Courts fight to keep secrets of public record

Please allow me to introduce myself;
I'm a man of great wealth and taste.
Been around for a long, long year,
sold many a man's soul to waste...
- The Rolling Stones, “Sympathy for the Devil”

(A poster prominently displayed on the wall of the press room at Houston Police headquarters, ca. 1972-73)

Waco – When the smoke clears in a public records fight involving complaints to the Attorney General's Open Records Division, The Legendary is left with pitiful xerox copies of reports involving sad little episodes involving murder, terror, rape, mayhem and - in general - man's infinite capacity to perpetrate acts of cruelty and evil toward other men, his women, his kids, other peoples' kids and the rest of God's ever-loving children.

It makes a man wonder if it's really worth it. It must be. Just look at the fuss it causes when you ask questions on those downtown errands.

So mote it be.

For instance, the Robinson Police Department finally relented and sent along a copy of the original offense and arrest report regarding an attempted capital murder of an elderly car dealer in that city.

It was an assault so vicious that the stabbing instrument, a knife blade, actually penetrated the skull and left Ray Easley of Excel Motors with a brain injury for which he was hospitalized for a week.

When his accused assailant was apprehended days later, he was in jail a mere 4 days before Jail Magistrate Raymond Britton released him on his personal recognizance. It cost Steven Ray Johnson only his signature to go free – that, and a promise to appear when summoned for court.

The lieutenant in charge of the investigation and a records clerk swore up and down that the information is not a matter of public record. They didn't know they were talking to a police reporter from Houston who was there when the local gendarmes tried the same tactic and got slapped down by the First District Court of Appeals in Houston. That case went on to be codified into the Texas Open Records Act, an instrument that – along with the original case law – delineates what the public has the right to know and not know regarding offenses against the peace and dignity of the People Of The State Of Texas and arrests made therefor.

It's called Houston Chronicle Publishing v. City of Houston, 531 S.W.2d 177, 184-185 and 536 S.W. 2D 559 (Tex. 1976) (per curiam).

The rest may be found in §552.108, Tex. Govt. Code, Roviaro v. United States, 353 U.S. 53 (1957) and Texas Rules of Evidence 508, according to John W. Segrest, McLennan County Criminal District Attorney.

The Legendary extends his gratitude to Mr. Segrest for taking the time to draft a memorandum of law concerning these matters. It is an act of professional courtesy much appreciated.

Basically, you cannot know about matters that are the object of an “ongoing” police investigation. That means ballistic reports, polygraph examinations, witness statements, medical reports and other lab analyses.

Once an offense has been reported and an arrest made, either/or, it's a matter of public record, according to an AG's opinion, which the Robinson police chose to defy.

They got some help making up their ever-loving minds after The Legendary contacted the Open Records Division of the Attorney General's Office.

Then there is the case of Keith Lewis Hill, who originally assaulted his wife Janice in Hewitt back in January of 2008, according to an offense report.

He blacked her eyes, bent her over a dresser and bruised her face.

Police charged him with aggravated assault and when he got to court in August of that year, Asst. Criminal Dist. Atty. Mark Parker allowed him to plead guilty to assault – family violence, a misdemeanor conviction which netted him a 365-day sentence to be served in the County Jail and a $300 fine. District Judge George Allen suspended the sentence and imposed community supervision by the Adult Probation Department and attendance at the family violence course. Despite ongoing efforts to bring light on the subject, no evidence has yet surfaced of Mr. Hill complying with either requirement of his sentence.

It didn't do much to change Mr. Hill's way of doing things.

He found his wife where she was hiding in Grand Prairie not much later and tried to take her wedding rings away from her. When she put them in her mouth, he tried to choke her with them.

A month later he located she and her mother at an east Dallas address where he murdered them before turning the gun on himself.

Dallas authorities were flabbergasted, to say the least.

Aaron Firquin of Bruceville-Eddy is held presently under a $5,000,000 bond in McLennan County Jail after he allegedly murdered his grandfather with a large butcher knife and a hammer.

According to a probable cause affidavit in support of an arrest warrant, he tried to tell the investigating officer who arrived after he called 9/1/1 that he had found his victim in the bathtub with water running on him. The officer looked at the scene, which had blood spatter on the walls and ceiling and a trail of destruction and signs of violence, blood trails and the blood-stained murder weapons soaking in the kitchen sink under a running facucet.

The list goes on and on, headed by the cases of two accused child rapists, Benjamin Morrison and Danny Passmore, both of whom were charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child, and then let go on writs of habeas corpus after 90 days in which the prosecution had failed to seek and get an indictment.

Judge Ralph Strother authorized the release of Mr. Passmore after the District Attorney declined prosecution because it takes about 9 months to get results of DNA tests from the DPS laboratory at Austin. Mr. Morrison is back in jail following his indictment in August.

The Legendary puts it to the members of the public. Do you feel you have a right to know these facts? I think it's a fair question.

Apparently the People of the State of Texas feel that way, too. They encoded the means of discovery of these kind of facts in their Government Code and Justices of Appeals courts have made these holdings.

In cases of hotly disputed public policy involving the peoples' right to know, ask yourself this question.

Who benefits?

Cui bono.

May I assure you this is not Latin for status quo, or, as a Texas Ranger once testified in court, “The mess we done got ourselves in now.”

For instance, in neither the case of Mr. Morrison, nor Mr. Passmore, was any bond fee posted. They merely signed an agreement that a $100,000 lien would be levied against their properties and chattels if they failed to appear in court. Media reports differed and made it sound as if they had posted a $100,000 bond, which they did not, as reflected clearly by the record.

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