Harris County Attorney Ryan Sues Arkema Over Chemical Release during Harvey

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan today sued Arkema, Inc., whose Crosby plant released toxic substances into the air when chemicals stored at the site burned during flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey.

Ryan is asking a state district court to hold the company legally responsible for violations of Texas environmental laws and to recover the County’s costs for responding to the week-long incident. Dozens of first responders were tied up at the scene for days as organic peroxides ignited when the company’s back-up refrigeration units failed during the days following the storm.

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County Attorney Vince Ryan wins court order shutting down illegal warehouse bar

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan has obtained a restraining order closing a warehouse operating as an unlicensed bar in south Houston near the Texas Medical Center.

On Tuesday, Judge Kyle Carter of the 125th District Court of Harris County ordered the Dixie Warehouse bar at 3365 Dixie Drive closed immediately and to remain closed until a valid liquor license is obtained. 

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EPA Administrator Pruitt Commits to Dioxin Cleanup in meeting with County Attorney Vince Ryan

At a meeting hosted by Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt committed to using the full authority of the EPA to remove dioxin from the San Jacinto River Waste Pits.

Ryan, members of the County Attorney’s Office, and other stakeholders met Thursday with Pruitt to discuss the cleanup. Last week Pruitt signed a Record of Decision that approved a $115 million cleanup plan of the toxic site that will remove highly contaminated material and secure the less contaminated areas.

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Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan and Commissioner Jack Morman Praise EPA For Decision to Remove Waste Pits

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan and Commissioner Jack Morman  praised Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s decision to order the removal of the dangerous material in the San Jacinto River Waste Pits.

The Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday approved a plan to permanently remove dioxin, one of the most dangerous chemicals known to man, from the San Jacinto Waste Pits - a Superfund site that was heavily flooded after Hurricane Harvey.

“I want to thank EPA Administrator Pruitt for this decision,” said County Attorney Ryan.  “We appreciate that he visited the San Jacinto site personally and that he had EPA personnel checking it out to discover the dioxin exposure after the hurricane.”

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EPA approves plan to remove San Jacinto Waste pits from river

The Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday approved a plan to permanently remove tons of toxics from the San Jacinto Waste Pits - a Superfund site that was heavily flooded and began to leak cancer-causing dioxin into the river after Hurricane Harvey.

The plan, which comes after years of litigation and citizen activism that built public support for permanently removing the pits from the San Jacinto River, includes installing cofferdams to prevent release of the pollutants before excavating and removing an estimated 212,000 cubic yards of dioxin-contaminated material.

The decision comes only two weeks after the EPA confirmed that a concrete cap used to cover the pits since 2011 had sprung a leak during Harvey's floods. An EPA dive team found dioxin in sediment near the pit in a concentration of more than 70,000 nanograms of dioxin per kilogram of soil - more than 2,300 times the EPA standard for clean-up.

The extent of damage caused by that release remains unknown. But flooding of the Superfund site prompted the EPA's Scott Pruitt to visit the area and move up a decision on the proposed clean-up plan that had been pending for about a year. The estimated cost is $115 million, the EPA announced. 

Click here to read the Houston Chronicle's account.

County Attorney Vince Ryan Wins Court Order to Close Richmond Avenue After-Hours Bar

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan obtained a court order to close ALAA, an unlicensed club located at 9275 Richmond in southwest Houston where a 26 year old man was shot and killed on Sunday morning, September 24.

Judge Ursula Hall of the 165th District Court signed a temporary restraining order on Thursday, September 28, closing the club which has also used the names Blush Lounge, Blush Lounge 365, Willy Blush, Allure, and Village Gang Nightclub.

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County Attorney Vince Ryan Advises Homeowners To Beware Of Contractor Scams

Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath left more than 100,000 Houston-area homes flooded. Unfortunately, with every major disaster comes unscrupulous home repair contractors, many from outside of Texas, who prey upon desperate homeowners struggling to make repairs quickly and get back to their normal lives. 

The Office of Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan offers the following tips to protect homeowners from contractor scams:

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County Attorney Vince Ryan advises Hurricane Harvey Flood victims: Know your rights

 The recent floods in the Harris County area have been a nightmare for many families struggling to clean up the mess and have repairs made.  The Office of Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan offers the following tips to flood victims who rent their apartments or homes: 

·       If your apartment is unlivable, you have the right to terminate your lease by giving your landlord written notice and obtain a refund of the unused portion of the rent you have paid plus any security deposit that is owed to you.  You cannot be charged a penalty for terminating the lease due to unlivable conditions.

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Harris County Wins Suit Against Bishop of Bleach-Drinking "Church"

The Houston Press reports on a permanent injunction obtained against Shane Hawkins of Angleton, for selling a chlorine dioxide solution as a "sacrament" for an organization called Genesis II Church.

The bleach, sold as "Miracle Mineral Solution," is marketed by Genesis II and various "church chapters" as a cure for 95 percent of the world's maladies.

In the county's May 2016 application for a permanent injunction, prosecutor Rosemarie Donnelly cited the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's 2010 warning that ingesting high dosages of the bleach can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and severe dehydration. Prosecutors alleged that Hawkins held sales pitches — marketed as  “sacramental training classes" — in Houston-area hotels. Attendees were told to bring a $500 cash donation in an envelope.  More at http://www.houstonpress.com/news/bleach-drinking-church-bishop-barred-from-selling-cure-in-texas-9727661

Iconic Driscoll hat donated to Harris County

The iconic hat of former Harris County Attorney Mike Driscoll will join other items at the historical display at the Kleb Woods Nature Center.  Driscoll served as Harris County Attorney from 1981 to 1996.  The hat had once belonged to Driscoll’s uncle, Senator Ralph Yarborough, and Driscoll wore it often.  Dricoll gave the hat to Elmer Kleb in 1990 when he played an important role in ensuring Kleb was able to remain on his property during his lifetime, despite owing a significant tax bill. Driscoll then helped the County obtain the land and turn it into a 133-acre nature preserve in northwest Harris County. The hat was returned to Driscoll after Kleb’s death; now, following Driscoll’s death, his brother Vic has donated the hat to Harris County.  Pictured (left to right) at the presentation of Driscoll’s hat are Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan, Vic Driscoll, Kleb Woods Nature Center Diretor Fred Collins and Special Assistant County Attorney Terry O’Rourke.

Harris County reforms bail bond system to be more fair to defendants who cannot bail

A new tool has gone into effect to try to make the bail bond process in Harris County more fair to defendants who cannot afford to post bail.

The Arnold tool, which went into effect July 29, is designed to measure the pretrial risk level of defendants unable to post bail, focusing on whether the individual is a threat to the public and how likely he or she is to show up for trial. It applies to defendants who have committed felonies as well as Class A and Class B misdemeanors.

"The Arnold tool does not base (decisions) upon wealth or poverty; it deals with justice and fairness for all," Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle said at an Aug. 1 commissioners court meeting.

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Harris County implements sweeping change to bail system

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas - While Harris County is battling a federal lawsuit over what some claim is an unfair, unconstitutional bail system, wholesale changes are going into effect.

However, county officials said these changes were in the works long before the lawsuit was filed.

“This is very different than what we’re used to," said Harris County criminal court Judge Robin Brown.

Harris County is the first in Texas to start using The Public Safety Assessment. This is a tool that helps judges assess someone’s risk of not showing up for court or committing another crime before they go to trial. Risk is a key factor in determining how high a person's bail should be set.

The tool applies to felonies and Class A and B misdemeanors. This assessment replaces the old assessment tool that Brown and Judge Susan Brown called "outdated." Both said the old system assessed risk based on questions like, ‘do you have a home phone number?’

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County Attorney Vince Ryan Wins Two Court Orders In Crackdown on Unlicensed After Hours Bars

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan has obtained two court orders against three unlicensed, after-hours bars.  The Envy Lounge and Climax Lounge, in southwest Houston, and the Palacios After-Hours bar, in north Houston, have all closed since the lawsuits were filed.

Judge Larry Weiman of the 80th District Court signed a temporary restraining order against the owners of Palacios After-Hours bar at 414 North Sam Houston Parkway East, ordering them to cease selling or serving alcohol at the bar or any other location without a valid liquor license. The owners are also ordered to cease allowing patrons to consume alcohol after 2 a.m., which is illegal in Texas.  The bar advertised on social media that it is “Houston’s Premiere After-Hours Nightclub,” open from 2 a.m. to 7 a.m. 

According to the lawsuit, on July 7, 2017, undercover vice officers with the Houston Police Department entered the club and purchased two tequila shots and Amaretto from two bartenders, even though the club had no license.  The bartenders were arrested for selling liquor without a license.  Since the County’s lawsuit was filed, the Palacios club has closed.

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Fifth Circuit finds County, Deputy Constables not liable for arresting groom and guests at wedding reception

The Fifth Circuit has affirmed a judgment in favor of Harris County and three deputy constables in a civil rights lawsuit filed by a groom and his guest who was arrested during a wedding reception.

During the reception the groom’s father began loudly complaining when the bartender decided to stop serving alcohol because the bartender “noticed a significant number of guests who were dressed slopp[ily], slurring their words and stumbling.” According to witnesses the groom’s father “struck or pushed” a plain clothes deputy constable who was working security at the event. When a uniformed deputy constable who was also working off duty began escorting the father from the room his son, a deputy sheriff, came to his aid along with thirty to forty other people.  The constable ordered party goers to move away and to leave the premises.  A guest who was also a deputy sheriff refused to leave.

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Harris County Prosecutors Are Trying to Shut Down an After-Hours Strip Club

The Harris County Attorney's Office is seeking a permanent injunction against a southwest Houston after-hours strip club prosecutors say is selling liquor without a license.

According to a petition filed in Harris County District Court Monday against Paradise City Southwest (9870 Westpark Drive), undercover Houston Police Department vice officers bought vodka-cranberry cocktails from bartender Andrea Dancy and manager Arthur Cisneros, who were subsequently charged with misdemeanor liquor violations. (The club otherwise advertises as a "BYOB" establishment.)

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El Abogado del Condado, Vince Ryan, Introduce Escrito Judicial Buscando Detener el Senate Bill 4

“El SB4 dañará a nuestros niños,” dice Ryan, el Abogado del Condado

Declarando que el Senate Bill 4 podría dañar a los niños de Texas en forma significativa, Vince Ryan, el Abogado del Condado de Harris, ha introducido un escrito “amigo de la corte” en la demanda judicial que busca impedir que esa legislación se convierta en ley.

El SB 4 prohíbe una política, patrón o práctica que prohíba o limite el cumplimiento de las leyes de inmigración. Ryan sostiene que la ley propuesta está en conflicto con la responsabilidad de los abogados del condado de servir a los niños de Texas.

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Harris County Attorney Ryan Files Court Brief Seeking to Stop Senate Bill 4

"Bill will harm our children" says County Attorney Ryan

Declaring that Senate Bill 4 could significantly harm Texas’ children, Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan has filed a “friend of the court” brief in the lawsuit seeking to stop this bill from becoming law.

SB 4 prohibits a policy, pattern or practice that would prohibit or limit the enforcement of immigration laws. Ryan contends that the proposed law conflicts with the responsibility of county attorneys to serve Texas children.

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5th Circuit Finds County Not Liable for inmate's death

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed a federal district court’s grant of summary judgment holding Harris County was not liable for the death of an inmate who punched a detention officer prompting a responsive punch.  The inmate fell, struck his head on a concrete ledge and died. The Court of Appeals reaffirmed the principle that counties may not be liable under civil rights claims on the basis of vicarious liability.  The Court said that respondeat superior liabilty was expressly prohibited in these type of cases and counties may be liable onely where “the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated by that body’s officers.”

The Court found the plaintiffs had not produced evidence of prior acts by Harris County similar to those alleged to establish an official policy of the County sufficient to establish a practice or policy.  Accordingly the Fifth Circuit affirmed the granting of summary judgment rejecting all claims against Harris County.

 

The case is Hicks v Harris County.

County Attorney Vince Ryan Continues Battle Against Unlicensed After Hours Bars

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan has obtained a court order shutting down an unlicensed, after-hours bar known as Las Palmas in a strip center near Almeda Genoa and the Gulf Freeway.

Judge Elaine Palmer of the 215th District Court of Harris County entered a temporary restraining order closing the bar at 9960 Kleckley Drive, Suite B, and ordering it to remain closed until a valid liquor license is obtained.  It is a crime to sell alcohol in Texas without a license.  Las Palmas was even advertising on social media that it is an after-hours bar, open from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m.

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First Court of Appeals finds County not liable in police chase case

   The First Court of Appeals has affirmed a summary judgment in favor of Harris County in a case in which the plaintiffs sued Harris County, claiming a deputy constable improperly engaged in a police chase that ended when the deputy’s car crashed into the car occupied by a mother and her two children. The Court concluded that the County conclusively established that the officer, who was driving a car, acted in good faith when, pursuant to policies established to promote the safety of law-enforcement officers, he took over a pursuit previously initiated by another law-enforcement officer on a motorcycle. The Court said that over the course of the pursuit which lasted about seven minutes, no subsequent developments altered the balance of need and risk factors sufficiently to require an end to the chase.  

   The Court said, Harris County Constable’s guidelines provide that a constable in a cruiser generally should take over any pursuit initiated by a law-enforcement officer on a motorcycle. The policy promotes the safety of motorcycle officers, for whom a pursuit is more dangerous as compared to officers driving cars. The officer properly determined that the fleeing driver posed a danger to the general public. While speeding, the fleeing driver forced several other drivers from the road during the pursuit. Though the deputy recognized that the pursuit itself posed some risk, he concluded that the fleeing driver posed a greater risk to the public.

The case is Martinez v Harris County. Assistant County Attorneys Steve Smith and Bruce Powers were the attorneys in charge of this case.