Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Waco City Attorney Stonewalls Public Information Requests

Most bad actors are released on personal recognizance long before the crime reports become available to victims, news media or insurance investigators

An Investigative Story
By The Legendary Jim Parks
Reporting and Video by R.S. Gates

When does public information become vital?

It becomes especially vital when it comes from the police blotter and tells a story of violent aggression.

When people are injured, their lives placed in disarray due to the violent aggression of a bad actor, it's high time for people to know why that accused criminal keeps getting out of the jail to do it again – sometimes within hours.

Waco police jailed Gary Dale Clark and charged him with assault on Dec. 26, but he didn't stay there long. Within 10 hours, he was given a notice to appear and released.

But at the same time, he was locked up for an additional charge of assault causes bodily injury. The result, a $5,000 bond and being locked up again, was in the cards.

It still didn't get the job done.

A mere 20 days later, Jail Magistrate Raymond Britton authorized his release on a $10,000 Personal Recognizance Bond, an instrument for which Mr. Clark put up no bond fee whatsoever.

He was free as a bird, with the provision that he must return for a court hearing in the future.

Not for long, as it turned out, was he free. Within a few hours, he was booked back into the County Jail for the offense of Assault Family Violence at 22:37 hrs.

Sometimes, it appears, a man just needs to cool his heels in the striped sunshine of the local hoosegow.

But why is the fact of the arrests and multiple charges for related offenses vital to the public good?

Well, it's a matter of public health, if nothing else. Epidemiologists have identified violence, sometimes deadly violence that has escalated from mere fisticuffs to the level of the knife and the gun, the cudgel and any other weapon that may come to hand, is rampant in American society.


They say it's because the bad actors don't value their own lives and health very much – for a variety of reasons – so why is anyone else's all that important?

Why not? That's the point.

But due to a curious City of Waco Legal Department policy in the interpretation of the Public Information Act, Section 552 of the Texas Government Code, usually criminals are released long before the news of their arrest and the charges filed against them reaches the public.

Numerous news gatherers have run into trouble with this policy, including radio, television, newspaper rreporters and the odd blogger, facebook fan, tweeter and private investigator.

Take a look at the accompanying video and make up your own mind. If your safety, your personal dignity, or that of a daughter or niece or nephew, a grandchild or elderly parent was on the line, would you be satisfied with the policy laid down by City Attorney Leah Hayes and ratified by the City Council?

Watch, listen and learn. See the hassle R.S. Gates, a seasoned criminal investigator, uniformed patrolman, crime scene technician and investigative journalist ran into at the Waco Police Department the other day.

Mr. Gates decided to ask for the first page offense report and arrest report on these offenses, as well as the probable cause affidavit presented to the Municipal Judge in support of the arrest warrants and orders of commitment.

He got one great big hassle. That's what he got.

He knows what he's talking about. Randall Scott Gates completed a training program devoted to the ins and outs of the Texas Public Information Act. He will be glad to furnish the certificate signed by Greg Abbott, Attorney General of the State of Texas.

He has it right. The City Attorney and the City Council have it wrong.

It's not pretty when you consider the source and the consequences of the public not knowing what to expect, or when to expect it, when a violent actor is released on his own recognizance – just like that, with no fanfare and no real consequences – to attack again, and then again.

Watch the video and try not to think about the gum-chewing, insolent secretary who used to appear on the Carol Burnett Show with Tim Conway playing an obsequious boss who was trying to dictate a letter or find a file or place a phone call. Check it out.

Behold, the official face of the City of Waco, the only impression most people ever get, safely ensconced behind bullet-proof glass, inflexible, adamant and uncooperative.

Bon appetit, ami!

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