KUHF-FM: Federal Court Allows Harris County Judges to Keep Setting Bails

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals grants a stay of the order from Judge Lee Rosenthal

AL ORTIZ, KUHF-FM

AUGUST 15, 2018

The latest development in the lawsuit against Harris County’s bail system means judges and hearing officers will be able to keep setting the amount of bail for people arrested for misdemeanors.

An opinion filed Tuesday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit granted a stay requested by 14 Harris County judges with the goal of continuing the setting of bails. The stay will be implemented while the litigation keeps moving through the courts.

The opinion also put a temporary hold on an order from Federal Judge Lee Rosenthal that said people arrested for misdemeanor should be automatically released from the county jail if they stated they didn’t have money to post bail.

The opinion means Harris County judges and hearing officers will make the decision on bail amounts within 48 hours of an arrest.

Praise and criticism

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan praised the opinion and said in a statement that the it means the rejection of “a system that automatically releases offenders with no consideration of the rights of the victims or the protection of the community.”

Ryan added Harris County remains “committed to a settlement that maximizes the number of misdemeanor detainees who are eligible for prompt release from jail without secured bail.”

Harris County Precinct One Commissioner Rodney Ellis, who advocates for reforming the bail system, criticized the opinion and said it “fails to provide an adequate interim remedy for protecting the rights of poor defendants” while the litigation goes on.

Ellis added the time spent behind bars can cause “significant harm to defendants who may lose their jobs or be unable to care for their families simply because they cannot afford bail.”

https://www.houstonpublicmedia.org/articles/news/2018/08/15/300279/harris-county-judges-will-keep-setting-bails-as-litigation-over-bail-system-goes-on/

 

County Attorney Files Lawsuit Seeking to Stop Prostitution and Human Trafficking Along “Bissonnet Track”

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan today filed a lawsuit to stop the prostitution and human trafficking that pervades an area on Houston’s west side known as the “Bissonnet Track.”

Ryan is asking the court for  temporary and permanent injunctions to create the “Bissonnet Anti-Prostitution Zone” and forbid the 86 named defendants-- pimps, johns, and prostitutes-- listed in the lawsuit from entering the Zone or if in the area from engaging in any activities that lead to buying or selling sex or other crimes.  If the defendants violate the injunction, they would be in contempt of court and subject to a fine or jail time or both.  This type of anti-prostitution injunction is the first filed in Texas.

“For years, the residents and business owners in this area have been under siege due to the large number of people buying and selling sex and committing other crimes on and around the track,” said Ryan.  “Despite efforts by the County Attorney’s Office, law enforcement, prosecutors, judges and non-governmental organizations to try to stop the proliferation of prostitution and sex trafficking in this area, the crime has not decreased.  Today’s lawsuit is seeking a new tool in this long battle.”

The County Attorney lists 86 defendants in the lawsuit consisting of pimps, johns and prostitutes, —and says they are a public nuisance.  Each of these defendants has been arrested in the zone for a prostitution-related crime; many of them have multiple arrests.  Several of the defendants are currently charged with aggravated offenses consisting of sex trafficking and aggravated assault.

The lawsuit includes an “opt out” provision that would permit a defendant who has been a victim of sexual assault or human trafficking, to receive social services and opt out of the injunction.  The County Attorney’s Office will work with victim’s rights organizations to ensure each defendant receives needed assistance.

The lawsuit points out that more than any other area in Houston, the Bissonnet Track attracts buyers and sellers of sex from all over the country. The Bissonnet Track is listed on international websites as “Houston’s Red Light District.”  From January 2016 to July 2018, the Houston Police Department received reports of nearly four thousand crimes in the area, with one-fourth of them related to prostitution.  Law enforcement makes many arrests but unfortunately the crime continues. The County Attorney’s Office in the past has sued several motels, smoke shops, restaurants and spas to target prostitution and trafficking in this area.

The “Bissonnet Anti-Prostitution Zone” proposed by the County Attorney covers an area that is generally north and south of Bissonnet from Highway 59 to the Sam Houston Toll Road.  Included in this area are apartments, retail businesses, churches, banks and restaurants, as well as an elementary school. 

“We have to remember that prostitution is not a victimless crime,” said County Attorney Ryan.  “Many women engaged in prostitution have been coerced.  Many are brought from other countries and even from small communities around the United States with promises of jobs.  We recognize the traumatic effects of sexual assault and human trafficking.  That is why we have included an opt-out provision.”

The lawsuit was filed in cooperation with the Houston Police Department and is part of the County Attorney’s Community Protection Program with the Southwest Management District.

Click links below for additional information:

The Petition

A map of the zone.

Photograph of a busy night on Bissonnet

Another Photograph of a night on Bissonnet

Arkema, CEO indicted for 'reckless' chemical release during Hurricane Harvey

From the Houston Chronicle: 

A Harris County grand jury on Friday indicted the French chemical company Arkema and two executives for the "reckless" release of toxic chemicals during Hurricane Harvey last August, a move that alarmed industry leaders and surprised environmental advocates.

The company, CEO Richard Rowe and plant manager Leslie Comardelle put residents and first responders at risk when the Crosby plant caught fire as Harvey dumped record rainfall on the Houston area, according to the Harris County District Attorney's office.

Click here for more.

FEDERAL JUDGE DISMISSES FLOOD DISTRICT FROM ADDICKS BARKER FLOOD CASE

Federal judge Ewing Werlein, Jr. has dismissed civil rights claims filed against the Harris County Flood Control District by the surviving spouse of a man who drowned allegedly as the result of the release of water from the Addicks and Barker reservoir after Hurricane Harvey struck the Houston area in 2017.

Plaintiff sued the Harris County Flood Control District and the United States claiming that the Army Corps of Engineers and the District “deliberately began releasing water from both reservoir systems … out of fear that water would spill over and cause uncontrolled damage to downtown Houston.” 

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HARRIS COUNTY ATTORNEY VINCE RYAN'S OFFICE WINS ORDER TO SHUT DOWN SMOKE SHOP SELLING VAPE OIL LACED WITH DANGEROUS SYNTHETIC SUBSTANCES

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan’s Office obtained a Temporary Restraining Order on Thursday, June 21, to close down the Time Zone Smoke Shop, 5853 W Gulf Bank Road, in north Houston for selling synthetic cannabinoids, illegal gambling, and selling alcohol without a permit. The Houston Police Department Narcotics Division found laced vaping oil, large amounts of synthetic marijuana, PCP, natural marijuana, synthetic urine, 18 gambling machines, large amounts of cash, alcoholic beverages, and numerous credit cards in different names inside the store.

Syed Abidi and his sister, Tabbasum ("Tabby") Bhimji, owners and operators of the smoke shop, were named in the lawsuit along with the landlord, White Lotus Investments LLC.

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Harris County Attorney Ryan Celebrates First Year of Senior Justice Assessment Center

In honor of World Elder Abuse Day on June 15, Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan is lauding the accomplishments and contributions of the Harris County Senior Justice Assessment Center (SJAC).

In its first year, the SJAC has compiled a successful record of serving senior victims of abuse, neglect and exploitation. The County Attorney’s Office works collaboratively with several agencies and experts at the SJAC to help Harris County victims over the age of 65. The facility is the first of its kind in Texas.

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KPRC reports on bail bond case

New numbers: Accused criminals out on bond refusing to show up for court

 

By Phil Archer – Reporter, KPRC-TV

June 05, 2018

 

Federal Judge Lee Rosenthal found out more than a year ago that the county kept too many poor defendants behind bars simply because they couldn't afford to post bond.

Rosenthal ordered that misdemeanor defendants have to be released within 24 hours of arrest, regardless of their ability to pay, which means thousands have been released on unsecured bonds.

Critics of the order contend that's caused chaos in the courts, with defendants often failing to show up for the court.

“The data unequivocally shows that the preliminary injunction has resulted in skyrocketing, unsustainable and troubling failure-to-appear rates in Harris County," said Assistant Harris County Attorney Melissa Spinks, who is contesting the order.

And the county-compiled statistics over the last year have shown a steadily increasing bond-forfeiture rate.

The most recent data, released in May, show that between June 2017 and April 2018 defendants released on unsecured bonds either forfeited them or had them revoked. That is a rate of just under 48 percent.

But plaintiffs' attorney Neal Manne, who sued the county to change the system, said those statistics have been massaged to inflate the no-shows.

"The statistics that are being touted by the county are completely fraudulent. They’re using data they’ve made up, it’s not accurate, the problem they claim exists does not exist, and Judge Rosenthal is going to get evidence on that from us," Manne said.

The attorneys contend the statistics have been systematically skewed by misdemeanor judges who make showing up for court more difficult for defendants by setting hearings a day after their release.

Both sides will meet with Rosenthal on June 14 to discuss the current order suggested by the fifth circuit. 

https://www.click2houston.com/news/new-numbers-accused-criminals-out-on-bond-refusing-to-show-up-for-court

County Attorney Ryan Obtains $2.1 Million Judgment Against Telephone Road Smoke Shop for Selling Kush

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan, joined by the Texas Attorney General and the City of Houston, obtained a judgment for over $2.1 million in civil fines and penalties against the owners of Texas Tobacco smoke shop for selling synthetic marijuana.

Synthetic marijuana, known on the streets as “kush,” is a designer drug, typically manufactured overseas, that is marketed as a “safe” and “legal” alternative to marijuana.   Synthetic marijuana is not marijuana at all but a dried leafy substance that is sprayed with powerful, added-in hallucinogenic chemicals (called synthetic cannabinoids) that are dangerous and highly addictive to the user.   Kush is often sold in colorful packets, with names such as Spongebob and Zilla, in order to appeal to children, and is the second most abused drug by high school students, after marijuana itself.  It is also illegal in Texas. 


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County Attorney Ryan Wins Court Order Against Spring Branch Smoke Shops Stop Sales of Illegal Vaping Oil

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan has won court orders against two Spring Branch smoke shops to stop them from selling vaping oil laced with illegal chemicals.

The added-in chemicals, generally known as synthetic cannabinoids, are manmade, mind- altering chemicals that are either sprayed on plant material (Kush) or sold as a liquid to be vaped in e-cigarettes or other devices. They are dangerous and highly addictive to the user. They are also illegal in Texas. Also called “Spice” and “K2,” synthetic cannabinoids can cause rapid heart rate, vomiting, violent behavior, hallucinations and suicidal thoughts. Illicit drug manufacturers are adding synthetic cannabinoids to CBD (cannabidiol) oil, which is often used with a vaping device. Law enforcement agencies report increased use of “laced” CBD oil, particularly by teenagers and young adults. The tainted CBD oil is also sold by retail stores as “gummie” candy.

Ryan has filed more than a dozen lawsuits to stop retailers from selling Kush and in a number of cases put the retailers out of business. On Tuesday, Ryan filed lawsuits against Smokey Doke Smoke Shop, 5784 Bingle, and Dreamerz Smoke Shop, 2961 Bingle, for selling CBD oil tainted with synthetic cannabinoids. From February through April, undercover narcotics officers with the Houston Police Department purchased CBD oil products, which later tested positive for controlled substances. On May 1, HPD narcotics officers executed search warrants at the two stores and seized CBD oils, pills, edibles and synthetic urine (which is also illegal).

The County Attorney’s lawsuits claim that the stores are a nuisance and their owners violated the state’s Deceptive Trade Practices Act by selling products they claimed were safe and legal, when in fact they are unsafe and illegal.

Judge Larry Weiman of the 80th District Court of Harris County entered restraining orders, ordering that the stores immediately stop selling illegal CBD oil products.

“These drug manufacturers and the store owners who sell these products are causing severe harm to Harris County residents, particularly our young people,” County Attorney Ryan said. “Whether it’s Kush or CBD oil, the County Attorney’s Office will continue our efforts to stop these sales and protect our residents.”

Click here to view the Temporary Restraining Order against the Dreamerz Smoke Shop.

Click here to view the Plaintiff’s Petition against Dreamerz Smoke Shop.

Click here to view the Temporary Restraining Order against Smoke Doke Smoke Shop.

Click here to view the Plaintiff’s Petition against Smokey Doke Smoke Shop.

 

County Attorney Ryan obtains $2.16 million judgment against Happie Hippie Smoke Shop selling illegal synthetic drugs

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan, and Attorney General Ken Paxton have obtained a $2.16 million judgment against Happie Hippie Smoke Shop for selling dangerous, illegal synthetic drugs.

Judge Michael Landrum of the 113th Civil District Court signed a default judgment on April 14th awarding the State $2.16 million in penalties and $17,224 in attorneys’ fees finding 108 violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.  The court ordered the operators to halt all activities related to the production, transfer, possession, or sale of controlled substances, including synthetic cannabinoids. 


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Judge denies effort to stop VW diesel lawsuit filed by Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan has won a major victory in the County’s lawsuit against Volkswagen, preventing federal law from stopping state and county claims.

Harris County and the State of Texas can proceed with their case against Volkswagen for violating air emissions because a judge has determined that the company’s recall of autos to change emission control devices is not preempted by federal law.

Volkswagen claimed the state and county could not continue the case involving tampering with emission control devices on its diesel-fueled cars, because federal – and not state -- law prevailed. However, state District Judge Tim Sulak of the 353rd District Court in Austin signed an order Wednesday finding that because the recalled vehicles were already on Texas roads, the state is not pre-empted by the federal government in enforcing environmental laws.

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KHOU: Hundreds of suspected illegal massage businesses found near Harris County schools

Houston - Around 16,000 kids in Harris County go to school within 1,000 feet of a suspected illegal massage business.

That’s according to Children At Risk, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to protect the most vulnerable in this community.

The nonprofit released its findings on how close some local schools are to these type of businesses.

For instance, Edgar Allan Poe Elementary in Houston is identified as one of several schools to be within 1,000 feet of a suspected illegal massage business

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Katy News: Statement of Harris County Attorney Ryan on beginning of San Jacinto River Waste Pits Cleanup

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan praised the announcement today that the design for cleaning up the San Jacinto River Waste Pits will begin.  Ryan said that Harris County will review and comment on the plans as they proceed.

“We are grateful to see this process start,” said Ryan.  “Our memorandum of understanding with the Environmental Protection Agency allows the County Attorney’s Office to remain involved with the cleanup process, which we have pursued for many years.”

The EPA announced today that the agency has reached an agreement with International Paper Company and McGinnes Industrial Maintenance Corporation to design the cleanup of the Superfund site.  Those companies are the ones responsible for putting over 200,000 cubic yards of dangerous waste chemicals in pits near the San Jacinto River.  They will pay for the cleanup.

Read the EPA news release here:  https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-announces-san-jacinto-river-waste-pits-cleanup-action

Houston Chronicle: Clean up of San Jacinto Waste Pits moving forward

Clean up of San Jacinto Waste Pits moving forward

Chronicle Article by Alex Stuckey

A plan for designing the cleanup of the San Jacinto Waste Pits has been agreed upon by the Environmental Protection Agency and the companies responsible for the contamination, which means it likely will happen sooner rather than later.

The EPA on Monday announced the agreement, the next step toward removing about 212,000 cubic yards of material contaminated with cancer-causing dioxin from the pits. The work is estimated to cost $115 million.

Monday’s announcement “is a big deal for us and the community,” said Rock Owens, an environmental attorney for Harris County. “This is a very important step - now we’re officially on to the step where the (companies) are cooperating.”

The EPA, along with The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, will oversee the design work for the cleanup, which will be completed over the course of 29 months by the responsible companies — International Paper Co. and McGinnes Industrial Maintenance Corp., the release said.

“Let’s lay down the sword, pick up the shovel and start digging,” Owens said.

 

Stat: Harris County seeks to keep opioid litigation in Texas

Assistant County Attorney Pegi Block spoke to Stat about the County's efforts to keep its litigation against opioid companies in Texas.

Harris County, where Block is an assistant county attorney, sued opioid manufacturers and drug distributors in December, alleging — like other plaintiffs around the country — that they flooded communities with addictive painkillers while downplaying the risk of the medications. But the county, the country’s third largest, is fighting to keep its case in state court and separate from the so-called multidistrict litigation being overseen by a federal judge in Cleveland.

“The damages were incurred here,” Block said in an interview at the county attorney’s Houston offices. “We believe that our judge, our county, our juries in Harris County not only have the right, but that they should be the ones to decide the fate of this lawsuit. This is where it happened.”

Houston Chronicle: Harris County could take over Aldine cemetery where grave markers destroyed

By Mike Snyder

February 27, 2018 

State regulators have refused to renew a license held by the caretaker of a small northeast Harris County cemetery -- the first official finding that workers destroyed grave markers while clearing the site in 2016.

The order signed Monday by the state banking commissioner, Charles G. Cooper, could pave the way for Harris County to take over care of the cemetery, where members of several generations of Aldine-area residents are buried. The banking commission regulates "perpetual care" cemeteries in Texas.

Foresthaven Cemetery Corp., which has held the perpetual care license for about 30 years, has until March 29 to appeal the decision by requesting a hearing overseen by an administrative law judge. The banking department's action does not affect Foresthaven's ownership of the property, only its authority to operate the cemetery.

The company's president, Sugar Land attorney Corwin Teltschik, did not respond to a request for comment. Cooper's order said Teltschik maintained that no headstones were destroyed.

The order states that Foresthaven's agents destroyed "two or more" headstones in the fall of 2016, adding that "the manner in which (Foresthaven) allowed its agents to clear the cemetery was not undertaken with the care due to the persons interred in the cemetery and does not demonstrate a character that warrants the public's confidence."

Cooper also found that Foresthaven had not adequately maintained the cemetery — family members have handled mowing and other upkeep for years — and that Harris County was willing to maintain the cemetery if Foresthaven's license were not renewed.

Tammie West Wall, a family member who has led the effort to restore the damaged headstones and protect the cemetery, said she was grateful for Cooper's decision.

"This has been a long road, and to get anything positive out of it, to me, it's a true blessing," Wall said. "Everywhere else we've turned, we've gotten nowhere."

Harris County prosecutors looked into the case at the families' request and presented evidence to a grand jury last year, but no charges were filed. Assistant District Attorney Valerie Turner said her review concluded that at least four or five markers, and "probably more," had been removed by workers clearing the site.

More at Chron.com

County Attorney Vince Ryan says opioid lawsuit should stay in Texas court

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan is fighting to keep the opioid lawsuit filed on behalf of Harris County in a state district court.

Ryan is opposing an effort by opioid drug distributors to move the lawsuit to federal court.  He has filed a motion seeking to have the case returned to state district court.

Three distributors—McKesson Corporation, Amerisource Bergen and Cardinal—moved Harris County’s lawsuit to federal court. They are also seeking to have the lawsuit transferred to a federal court in Cleveland, Ohio. If they are successful, Harris County’s motion to return the case to state district court will be ruled on in Ohio, not Houston, and the case will remain in Cleveland, Ryan said, resulting in a substantial delay in proceedings.

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County Attorney Ryan Sues Southwest Freeway Strip Club Promoting Prostitution and Human Trafficking

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan has filed suit to shut down a Southwest Houston strip club promoting prostitution and human trafficking.

The lawsuit against the owners and operators of the Chicas Locas club at 6440 Southwest Freeway was filed Tuesday following a lengthy investigation by the Houston Police Department’s Vice Division-Human Trafficking Unit. Investigators discovered women were being recruited from Cuba and Colombia under the guise of a casting call for models and dancers. Instead of providing work as promised, the victims were forced to dance as strippers and engage in commercial sex at Chicas Locas to pay off their debts to their traffickers. 

The investigation also confirmed that prostitution was occurring frequently inside Chicas Locas and was being facilitated by the club’s managers. During a 16-month period, undercover officers made over 40 prostitution cases and promotion of prostitution cases at Chicas Locas. 

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County Attorney Ryan Obtains A $2.5 Million-Plus Fine Against Montrose Smoke Shop For Selling Kush

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan, joined by the Texas Attorney General and City of Houston, obtained a judgment for more than $2.5 million in civil fines and penalties against Fantasy Smoking & Accessories for selling synthetic marijuana.

Synthetic marijuana, also known as kush, is a designer drug, typically manufactured overseas, that is marketed as a safe and legal alternative to marijuana. Synthetic marijuana is not marijuana at all but instead is a dried leafy substance that is sprayed with powerful hallucinogenic chemicals that are dangerous and highly addictive to the user. It is often sold in colorful packets, with names such as Spongebob and Zilla to appeal to children and teenagers, and is the second most abused drug by high school students, after marijuana itself. It is also illegal in Texas. In June 2017, 16 people were hospitalized after overdosing on kush in Hermann Park.

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