Houston Chronicle: San Jacinto Waste Pits Watchdogs

Waste pit watchdogs: Residents near San Jacinto Superfund site maintain constant vigilance

Emily Foxhall 

Houston Chronicle, Feb. 8, 2019 

Four days before Christmas, Beach City’s new mayor learned something worrisome: A company was seeking a permit to dredge near hazardous waste pits in the San Jacinto River. The firm wanted to dump the potentially toxic sludge 15 miles away on a neighborhood lot next to the only park in Beach City, which stretches along the coastline south of Mont Belvieu and Baytown.

Mayor Jackey Lasater heard about it not from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which received the application, but because of an advocacy group, which in turn was tipped off by a Channelview resident the Corps notified by mail. At the time, Lasater was on his way to Arkansas to visit his father, who fell and had hip surgery. But the 15-day public comment period for the project was halfway over. The mayor and others got to work.

This was their reality. With clean-up of the waste pits planned but not yet started, local politicians, nonprofits and residents still vigilantly watch what takes place around the river’s Superfund site, a scary sounding name for a spot, visible from Interstate 10, where waste from a paper mill was dumped decades ago and is today unsafe. Pollutants like that are not a concern in Beach City, where residents rely on water from wells.

More at the Houston Chronicle.

Huffington Post reports on Texas’ Allegations Of Voter Fraud

Many are skeptical about claims from Texas’ Secretary of State David Whitley (R) and Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) that 95,000 noncitizens may be on the voting rolls and that 58,000 of them voted in at least one election since 1996. Election officials, lawyers and experts said that number is likely inflated because of people who applied for driver’s licenses when they were legal permanent residents and later became naturalized.

Douglas Ray, a special assistant Harris County attorney, said officials were “very skeptical about the accuracy of this list.” He said the county previously received inaccurate data from the state, including in 2011, when the state sent a list of allegedly deceased voters, some of whom turned out to be alive.

More at Huffington Post.

County Attorney Vince Ryan Appoints Ieshia Champs Assistant County Attorney: Mother of 5’s law school pics went viral

Ieshia Champs has been appointed Assistant County Attorney to work in the Children’s Protection Practice Group. Champs was sworn in on January 9 at the Harris County Attorney’s Office at 1019 Congress in downtown Houston.

Champs previously interned with the County Attorney’s Office and received national attention when she graduated from the Thurgood Marshal School of Law at Texas Southern University and a photo of her and her five children went viral. Champs, who has experienced periods of homelessness and who is raising her children as a single mother, graduated from law school with honors before passing the Texas bar and beginning her career as an attorney with the County Attorney’s Office.

Read More

Houston Public Media: In Latest Development About Bail System Lawsuit, Misdemeanor Judges Withdraw Appeal

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan said in a statement he supports the newly-elected judges in their effort to resolve the case “on terms they find acceptable.”

Ryan added his office is “confident” the parties “will be able to reach a settlement that maximizes the number of misdemeanor detainees who are eligible for prompt release from jail without secured bail and that also provides due regard for the rights of victims and protection of the community while preserving the independence of the judiciary.”

Read More

County Attorney Ryan Encourages Awareness Of Revised Sexually Oriented Business Regulations

A revised Harris County ordinance regulating Sexually Oriented Businesses (SOB’s) went into effect January 1, 2019, and will apply to areas of unincorporated Harris County.

The regulations include additional sections on prohibited conduct by employees, contractors and customers of SOB’s. Among the revisions is a specific prohibition against using “an anthropomorphic device or object”—a so-called sex robot—for sexual activities in a business. The ordinance has also been rearranged into sections based on SOB type to make reading and enforcement easier.

Read More

Harris County sues after exploding Glock injures deputy

From the SE Texas Record:

HOUSTON – Last March, a Harris County deputy was allegedly seriously injured when his handgun exploded.

On Dec. 31, the county filed suit against the makers of the gun, Glock Inc., along with the makers and sellers of the ammunition, Olin Corp., in Harris County District Court, seeking up to $50,000 in damages.

According to the lawsuit, Deputy Herman Sanders was on duty on March 1, 2017 and injured as he pulled the trigger of a Glock 21, 45 caliber handgun “that exploded in his hand and face.”

Sanders was training at the firing range when the incident occurred.

“The bullets were ejected out of the barrel of the gun,” the suit states. “The round never left the pistol and blew back into Deputy Herman Sander’s face and hand.”

The county alleges the defendant companies negligently placed defective products into the stream of commerce.

The county is suing to recover worker compensation benefits paid to Sanders.

Harris County Attorney Yvette Jircik represents the county.

County Attorney Vince Ryan Wins Order to Cleanup Unlicensed Salvage Yard

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan has obtained a court order to require the cleanup of an unlicensed automotive salvage yard that has been damaging the environment by allowing automotive fluids to contaminate the ground and water near the business.

District Court Judge Caroline Baker ordered Aloysius Ikwuezunma on October 26 to cease operating an automotive wrecking and salvage yard at 5607 Charrin Drive in north Harris County until he obtains a license from Harris County.

Read More

Harris County Moves to Ban “Robot Brothels”

From Houston Public Media:

Harris County commissioners are prepared to ban so-called robot brothels, just as Houston did last week.

Harris County already bans live sex acts at any place of business. Robert Soard, First Assistant County Attorney, said that, in his reading, that includes sex with “anthropomorphic devices.”

“Now, that being said, because of changing technology, it might be a good idea to amend the current sexually oriented business regulations,” Soard said.

The Office of the Harris County Attorney has been working with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office on the amendment.

Click here for the article.

Harris County Attorney Ryan’s effort To stop Sale of Fraudulent “Miracle Solution” Upheld by Appeals Court

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan’s effort to stop the sale of a fraudulent medical treatment has been upheld.

The Fourteenth Court of Appeals in an opinion issued last week affirmed an injunction obtained by Harris County Attorney Ryan that halts the promotion and distribution of a fraudulent medical treatment known as the “Miracle Mineral Solution.”

After Ryan filed a lawsuit in 2017, District Judge Randy Wilson ordered Shane Hawkins D/B/A Genesis II Church of Health and Healing, Chapter #119 to stop promoting or selling the “Miracle Mineral Solution.” This alleged medical treatment was called a “health sacrament” of the church and was touted as a cure for 95 percent of human diseases. The solution, also marketed as MMS, is actually a sodium chlorite product used in disinfectants and as an industrial bleaching agent.

Read More

Harris County Attorney Ryan Celebrates National Voter Registration Day

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan celebrates National Voter Registration Day today by making training for lawyers available online.

Ryan recently hosted a Continuing Legal Education session about voting issues that could be raised by government officials or members of the public.  It included an overview of the Texas Election Code and Voter ID laws. That seminar is now being offered free online for any lawyers who wish to view it.  CLE credit will be given.

Read More

Alleged plot to eliminate Third Ward voters with ‘registration challenges’ isn’t what it seems

According to Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan, Chairman of the Harris County Republican Party's Ballot Security Committee Alan Vera, matched addresses against a data base to find things like a post office box, for example.  And that's not a good enough reason to submit a challenge.

“Many people have for instance post office boxes because they get a lot of mail or they have some personal reason for not wanting their personal address out there for the public,” Ryan said.

Read More

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.

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.” 

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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. 


Read More