Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Clients are cautioned not to write WRITE ANYTHING you wouldn't want anybody and everybody to read under all circumstances on mobile text communication devices or in electronic media such as e-mail or through social sites. Once something is written it takes on a life of its own.

Cell phone txt is particularly dangerous for both the sender and the receiver because these devices often fall into the wrong hands. Jealous spouses or boyfriends; nosy friends or parents; and more importantly, the police, prosecutors, and your legal opponent's attorneys can all get their hands on that data. At the scene of accidents or arrest the police are very quick to snoop through a telephone in your possession. While the legailty of such an invasion of privacy can usually be challenged, I've seen many instances where they left the subject alone initially, only to obtain a hard copy from the cell phone provider under subpoena later on. (YES! That data does reside in their servers and can be retrieved for varying periods.) Discussions of a significant social or legal consequence intended ONLY for the recipient should be made in person where no record is made and you KNOW the person you are speaking with. Often people make incriminating statements in these devices with dire consequences later on. The LAST thing the police need to find in your phone after you have been involved in a serious accident is txt messages to your friends sent moments before taking about how you are partying!

Another caution is that cellphones can be used to track your whereabouts whether you are using them or not. These tactics are OFTEN used by police, private investigators, repossession-agents and bounty-hunters. If you don't want your cell phone or PDA telling the world where you are you better pull the battery!

E-mail, Myspace, Facebook and a variety of other sites that have an e-mail or message features are also a hazard. These accounts are inavvertently left open all the time on shared computers or the computer you used may have keystroke-tracking which will provide the owner log-in information. These sites are also subject to subpoenas and/or search warrants where there are more serious inquiries afoot and indeed most have entire department devoted to this process. And don't think using some cutsie-tootsie code in your discussions will protect you eiter as these messages are ALWAYS construed in the worst possible way they can be by anyone who is interested.

In short, do not TYPE anything you would not want on a Mainstreet Billboard complete with your name and photograph.

Voice communications are somewhat safer. Civil wiretaps are virtually unheard of and while the Patriot Act has diluted the protections against eaves-dropping, actually spending hours listening and waiting for a call or setting up recording device on a particular line is so difficult and legally cumbersome the practice in everyday law enforcement is still somewhat extraordinary. However, it does happen! If law enforcement is listening in for one reason or another they consider you a BIG FISH! Eaves-dropping by anyone with access to your home is easily accomplished with basic and inexpensive equipment that can be purchased at your local Radio Shack and pinched into wiring or plugged into an unused phone jack. Currently, most private citizens lack the capability to effectively tap into a cellular call but law enforcement easily can through the service provider. But beware both cell phones and cordless phones can be monitored close by with commercially sold police scanners. In most states it is a felony to tap or listen into someone's telephone conversations absent a court order without at least one party to the conversation knowing the call is being monitored or recirded. (With all wireless signals it is a felony to eavesdrop under Federal Law but that doesn't seem to stop anyone.) Other states require both parties know the call is being recorded. (Which is why you will often get notice a call is being "monitored for quality assurance" from businesses conducting business in a variety of states.) But don't assume this is the law in your state just because you have heard these notices.

In short while these devices offer a great deal of convenience keep in mind they can also heap a great deal of misery if used inappropriately.

David Sloane

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Man in Criminal Corpse Abuse Case Ordered to Apologize Via Billboard

FORT WORTH — Almost four years after authorities found three decomposing bodies inside a repossessed van, the owner of a former cadaver transportation company is apologizing for his actions on a highway billboard.
Donald Richard Short, 44, was required to write the message and pay for the billboard at Texas 121 and Beach Street as part of his probation, prosecutor Hugo Martinez said.
Short was sentenced to two years’ probation in April 2006 after pleading no contest to three charges of corpse abuse for mishandling the bodies of Lonnie Leffall, Odis Hughes and Thomas Shadowens.
Williams Funeral Chapel had hired Short’s company, North Star Transportation, to take the bodies of the three men, who had died in 2000 of natural causes, to a crematorium and deliver their ashes to the appropriate locations. But after Short’s van was towed from his Hurst home, the remains were found March 2, 2005, zipped in dirty body bags, stacked atop each other and hidden under cardboard boxes.
"I should treat the deceased in my care with dignity and respect. I utterly failed them, their families and the community. I am remorseful and I apologize. — Donald Short," reads the billboard message.
Judge Deborah Nekhom Harris ordered Short to make the unusual public apology. She could not be reached for comment Tuesday. "She told him, 'You’re going to have to do this, so you might want to start saving money for it,’ " Martinez said.
Short was also ordered to write letters of apologies to the families, pay a $4,000 fine and restitution, perform community service and never work in the funeral industry again. Case records show Short’s probation was extended a year this past March, evidently to give Short more time to pay the restitution.
Todd Dalton, sales manager for Lamar Advertising, said the billboard’s message was posted on Thursday and will remain up for a month. He said the cost of renting a billboard at that location is $2,500 to $3,000.
Martinez said the judge had recently issued a 30-day deadline.
"The judge gave him a specific timeline of when she wanted the billboard paid for and up and running," Martinez said. "He kind of dragged his feet on that."
On Dec. 8, prosecutors filed a motion to revoke Short’s probation after he missed the judge’s deadline.
"His probation was in the process of being revoked, but he complied with the conditions," he said.
Though Short’s probation was not revoked, the judge did order him to spend an additional 10 days in jail as an added requirement of his probation. He is serving out that time on weekends at the Tarrant County Jail under the work-release program, Tarrant County records show.
Martinez said Short had submitted a few drafts of his apology for approval by the judge and Martinez.
"I got the feeling that he really was remorseful, especially in light of what he wrote," Martinez said. "I think it was a good idea on the part of the judge making this part of his probation."
Bobbie Tarpley, Leffall’s cousin, had not heard about the billboard Tuesday when reached by a reporter but planned to drive by and see it. Tarpley said she is still troubled that the "remains of a person would just be cast aside so casually."
But Tarpley said she believes that Short does feel bad about his actions and that his intentions were not malicious. She said she hopes the billboard will prevent others from making a similar poor choice.
"Maybe this won’t happen again by the judge making that," Tarpley said. "We’ll be a little more careful about the actions we do or don’t take."

Former Trooper Linked to Homicidal Crime Spree

A former Utah state trooper who attempted suicide during a standoff appears to be behind a shooting rampage that left two drivers dead during Monday evening's rush hour in Garland and northeast Dallas, police said Tuesday.
Dallas police said they have preliminarily matched ballistic evidence recovered after Brian Smith, 37, fired a bullet into his head in Garland early Tuesday with evidence in the fatal freeway shooting of truck driver William Scott Miller, 42.
Dallas police said they moved quickly to establish the link, in part because of growing concerns from the public that a killer randomly targeting motorists might be on the loose.
"It is safe to be out and about doing your Christmas shopping," homicide commander Lt. Craig Miller said. "Go about your business as normal."
Mr. Smith, who was also wanted on arrest warrants for robbery and burglary in Southlake, was on life support Tuesday night at Parkland Memorial Hospital.
Garland police stopped short of a similar link in the slaying of Jorge Lopez, 20, of Rowlett, who was shot north of LBJ Freeway minutes before Mr. Miller.
"Do things point in his direction? Yes, they do, but we want to prove that forensically and we just don't feel we've got enough evidence to say forensically, for sure, that's him," said Officer Joe Harn, Garland police spokesman.
Mr. Smith resigned from the Utah Department of Public Safety in May for drinking in his patrol car and theft.
He moved to North Texas and was suspected in several crimes, including a robbery at a Kroger pharmacy at Walnut Street and Garland Avenue shortly before the shootings were reported Monday night.
Police were called to the store about 5:30 p.m. after a man who identified himself as Brian Smith, armed with a handgun, jumped the counter and stole painkillers, Officer Harn said.
At 5:41 p.m., Garland police were called to the intersection of Jupiter Road and Marquis Drive. Mr. Lopez was stopped at a red light when someone pulled alongside his car and fired several shots, killing him, police said.
The next three shootings were reported in quick succession along westbound LBJ between Jupiter Road and Forest Lane. Kenneth Black Jr., 62, was not injured when shots were fired at him, police said.
Miller was shot and killed minutes later, his United Van Lines 18-wheeler coming to rest in a middle lane of westbound LBJ, just west of Miller Road.
Next, Gary Roberts, 46, suffered minor injuries when shots were fired into the cab of his 18-wheeler along westbound LBJ, near Forest Lane.
One witness to the Garland shooting reported seeing a tan extended-cab Ford F-150 pickup at the time. However, one of the surviving Dallas victims said he saw a black sport utility vehicle following closely behind him before shots were fired at him.
Several hours later, about 9:15 p.m., Garland police spotted Mr. Smith stopped at State Highway 66, near Commerce Street, in a black Honda sport utility vehicle. Police knew that he was wanted in Southlake and that he was reportedly suicidal and armed.
SWAT officers called to the scene surrounded him and tried to contact him for nearly three hours, to no avail. Shortly after midnight, Mr. Smith drove the vehicle forward, a SWAT truck blocked him in and he struck it with his car.
As officers rushed toward him, he fired a single shot.
At the scene early Tuesday, Garland police said there was no indication that Mr. Smith was connected to the motorist shootings. But over the next several hours, the investigation began to point in his direction.
A $20,000 reward was posted for information in the case, and hundreds of tips poured in from across the country. Many tipsters referred to a recent episode of the TV series Criminal Minds, in which a man kills blond women driving luxury cars on Southern California freeways, according to the show's Web site.
The families of the victims, meanwhile, grappled with the senseless killings.
When Mr. Miller was shot, he was on his way to park his rig before flying home to Frankfort, Ky., to be with his wife and children.
"He was a good man – honest and hardworking," said Dennis Tolson, president of Vincent Fister Inc., an agent of United Van Lines. "Customers loved him. He had great personal skills."
Mr. Miller, who was in the National Guard and served in Desert Storm, worked in a tool-and-die shop and was a cabinet maker before becoming a trucker.
"He always had a smile on his face and was the first to lend a hand to family and friends in need," said Donna Hammons, Mr. Miller's sister.
Mr. Lopez's friends and family mourned a young man who had planned to propose to his girlfriend of three years on Christmas Day.
"The whole family is just in shock. ... We just can't believe it," said his brother Luis Lopez. "You know, he was so innocent, he never would try to do anything to nobody."
Mr. Lopez, 20, enjoyed fishtailing in his small Nissan. The car he died in was an ongoing project of his. For those who narrowly escaped serious injury or death, the shootings remained a frightening ordeal. Mr. Black was driving west on LBJ Freeway when he heard a "pop" that shattered the window on the passenger side of his truck.
The Euless man ducked to avoid any more bullets, raising his head only long enough to steer his vehicle.
"I was trying to keep my rig on the road," said Mr. Black. "I tried to outrun him but couldn't, so I slammed on the brakes."
"It was scary," said Mr. Black. "I was just trying to get away from him."

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Tarrant County Family Law Attorney Sentenced to State Jail and Probation for Forging Judge's Signatures.

FORT WORTH — Family court attorney Kimberly Ashley-Stevens was sentenced Tuesday night to 180 days in state jail after being convicted of two felony counts relating to forged documents she presented to a judge in a 2006 adoption case.
Ashley-Stevens was sentenced to 10 years’ probation on a third felony connected to the forged documents. State District Judge Elizabeth Berry ordered her to pay a $3,500 fine as a condition of probation.
Ashley-Stevens was taken into custody, but could be released on bail while she appeals her conviction, her attorney said.
On Monday, a Tarrant County jury convicted her of fabricating physical evidence, tampering with government records, and passing a document containing the forged signatures of her client and another attorney in the 2006 adoption case.
During the punishment hearing, the jury heard evidence that Ashley-Stevens also presented documents containing the forged signature of a judge in a 2005 annulment and the forged signature of another attorney in another 2006 adoption.
In seeking probation for Ashley-Stevens, 40, defense attorneys noted her years of free legal work for poor clients and said the loss of her law license was enough punishment.
"All the things she is accused of doing all helped her clients," they said. "That’s not the same thing as someone taking your check and stealing your bank account." Defense lawyers said Ashley-Stevens didn’t harm anyone because Kristy Ward’s overturned adoption was reinstated with the help of other attorneys.
Prosecutors Joe Shannon and David Lobingier said lawyers should be held to higher standards than other people. That doesn’t mean breaking rules to help their clients, Shannon said.
"Fortunately, Kristy Ward didn’t lose her baby," Shannon said. "But rules are important. You can’t just cut corners. It’s not just paperwork."
Shannon said family court judges who reviewed Ashley-Stevens’ cases after the first forged document was found discovered only three cases of wrongdoing.
Although a few people have inquired about cases connected to Ashley-Stevens, Shannon and some family law attorneys say it is unlikely that many, if any, cases will be overturned because of her involvement.

New Trial granted in 1985 Lake Worth Bombing Murders (Prosecutors withheld evidence favorable to the accused.)

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday granted Michael Roy Toney the right to a new trial, agreeing that Tarrant County prosecutors improperly withheld evidence during his capital murder trial in the 1985 bombing deaths of three people.
Toney will likely be transferred from Death Row to Tarrant County, where he will await a decision from prosecutors on whether to retry the 23-year-old case.
Toney’s attorneys say that he is not guilty and that no reliable evidence connects him to the bombing.
"We are very happy that relief was granted today," said Jared Tyler, an attorney with the Texas Innocence Network. "We believe it is a big step toward proving Michael’s innocence."
Chuck Mallin, chief of the appellate division of the district attorney’s office said prosecutors will meet with District Attorney Tim Curry and decide whether to retry the case "probably sometime in the near future."
"I am sure that it is our intention right now [to retry it], but we will discuss the decision," Mallin said.
The district attorney’s office acknowledged this year that at least 14 documents that could have been favorable to Toney’s defense were not given to his lawyers during his 1999 trial.
Prosecutors and Toney’s attorneys jointly requested a new trial.
The court ruling Wednesday affirmed an order signed in October by state District Judge Everett Young that Toney should receive a new trial. Young presided over Toney’s first trial.
Susan Blount, whose daughter Angela, 15, and husband, Joe Blount, died in the bombing, said she wanted Toney to be convicted again but was not looking forward to another trial.
She said she was disappointed that prosecutors "did not complete their jobs" the first time.
"I just want this over and done with," she said. "I’ve been dealing with this for over 23 years now. I tell people that I’ll probably be in my grave before I ever see this thing come to an end."
However, she added "Yes, we’ll be there for another trial," she said.
Mike Parrish, the lead prosecutor at Toney’s trial, whose responsibility it was to turn over the evidence to the defense, left the district attorney’s office this year. He told the Star-Telegram recently that he is "unable to comment on pending criminal cases."
Rebecca Bauer Kahan, another of Toney’s attorneys, said it is unclear when Toney could be transferred to the Tarrant County Jail; he is awaiting a mandate from the appeals court.
The crime On Thanksgiving Day 1985, Angela Blount, 15, found a briefcase outside the door to her family’s trailer in the Hilltop Mobile Home Park in Lake Worth. After she brought it inside and opened it, a bomb exploded, killing her; her father, Joe Blount, 44; and her cousin Michael Columbus, 18.
The investigation The case was unsolved for 12 years until a prisoner in the Parker County Jail told authorities that Toney had boasted about the bombing. The prisoner later recanted.
The trial No physical evidence connected Toney to the bombing. His ex-wife, Kim Toney, and former best friend Chris Meeks testified 14 years later that they saw him the night of the bombing carrying a briefcase in the direction of the Blounts’ trailer. Toney was convicted and sentenced to death in May 1999.
The new evidence Toney’s lawyers say the new evidence suggests that Meeks and Kim Toney were manipulated and intimidated into giving statements that fit investigators’ preconceived notions of how the crime occurred. Prosecutors say they remain convinced that Toney is guilty.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Texas Supreme Court Allows Judge to Bar Taping of Criminal Trial.

The Texas Supreme Court refused on May 11 to review the constitutionality of a Dallas trial judge's decision to deny a television station permission to videotape a court case allegedly because the television station had previously broadcast stories critical of the judge.
The nine-member court denied the petition for review without comment. Justice Nathan Hecht, joined by Justice Priscilla Owen, dissented from the denial of review, noting that the trial court's "order may be a significant intrusion on KTVT's constitutional rights. . . . This court's summary denial of KTVT's petition, given the significance of the press's interest here, is to me inexplicable."
The case concerns trial judge Jim Pruitt's July 1999 refusal to allow Dallas-Fort Worth CBS affiliate KTVT-TV to film court proceedings through the courtroom's back door window. According to the television station, Pruitt's court coordinator explained to the station that its request had been denied because of prior negative stories that had been broadcast about Pruitt. Pruitt's bailiff later allegedly told another station that it could film through the window so long as they were not KTVT.
Pruitt then denied the station's motion for reconsideration from the bench. "I don't think KTVT is a reputable news organization, and as such, I'm not going to allow you to film," he said, according to court records quoted by the Associated Press.
The AP reported that Pruitt's reaction may have been prompted by an Emmy-award winning November 1998 story about lazy judges that accused Pruitt of spending part of a work day in a bar. Another judge mentioned in the 1998 broadcast has sued the television station for libel, according to the AP.
The station had argued to the court that its First Amendment right to cover a criminal trial had been violated by Pruitt's decision. The station's attorney, Roger Diseker, told the AP that Pruitt's action was a "clear violation of the First Amendment" and that it "does not bode well for the press when a judge can retaliate against the media for a negative story."

Supreme Court Turns Down Appeals of 2 Ft.Worth Killers

WASHINGTON (AP) ― A convicted rapist paroled from Ohio and then condemned for the robbery and strangulation of his 64-year-old stepmother in Texas lost an appeal Tuesday before the U.S. Supreme Court, moving him closer to execution.The high court refused to review the case of Reginald Perkins, 53, sent to death row for the slaying of Gertie Mae Perkins in Fort Worth 7 1/2 years ago. The woman's body was found in the trunk of her car in a parking garage.A Tarrant County jury took just 30 minutes in 2002 to decide Reginald Perkins should be put to death. Shortly after the jury's verdict was read in court, Perkins proclaimed his innocence in a written letter read by his lawyer.In November, a federal appeals court rejected claims he was mentally retarded and ineligible for the death penalty, that his legal help earlier had been ineffective, that the Texas sentencing statute was unconstitutional and that he was innocent of the murder. It's that appeal the Supreme Court refused to review Tuesday.Evidence at his trial showed he pawned his stepmother's wedding ring and wrote fraudulent checks from the account of the family trucking business in Fort Worth. When Gertie Perkins showed up missing, police summoned to her home found a carpet removed, a phone cord disconnected and sheets missing from a bed.He became a suspect after detectives learned of his previous convictions in Ohio for rape and attempted rape and that he had been a suspect in two killings in Cleveland in the 1980s. When arrested, he directed his father and police to the body.Perkins also acknowledged the slaying to a fellow inmate while awaiting trial and said his motive was robbery.At the punishment phase of his trial, jurors heard testimony that he pleaded guilty to rape and attempted rape of two 12-year-old girls in 1982 and that he had been implicated in the strangulation of two women. One of them was the mother of the girl he raped. The other was the sister of his ex-wife.In 1986, he had been paroled from Ohio after receiving a life prison term for the rape conviction. He was returned from parole eight years later but released again in February 2000. His stepmother's murder occurred 10 months later.Perkins does not have an execution date.In a second Texas death row case Tuesday, Elkie Taylor, convicted in another Fort Worth case, lost his bid for a rehearing before the justices.In March, the court refused to review Taylor's conviction and sentence for strangling a 65-year-old Fort Worth man with two wire coat hangers and then leading police on a four-hour chase in a stolen 18-wheeler.Like Perkins, Taylor also had been contending in appeals he shouldn't have been condemned because he is mentally retarded. He was sentenced to die for the 1993 robbery and murder of Otis Flake at Flake's Fort Worth home. Authorities said it was the second killing linked to Taylor over an 11-day period. The Milwaukee native had been on parole for about three months at the time of the slayings, freed after serving less than nine months of an eight-year sentence for burglary.In 2003, two days before he was set to be executed, he won a reprieve from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals because state prison records showed he may be mentally retarded and ineligible for execution under Supreme Court guidelines.The Texas appeals court later lifted its reprieve. Lower federal courts also have denied his subsequent appeals.Taylor, who does not yet have an execution date, climbed in the cab of the stolen truck and led police on a chase from Fort Worth to Waco that ended when a state trooper shot out the truck's tires. In the chase, he tried to ram police cars and run over two troopers standing on the side of a road.Authorities contended Taylor and an accomplice took cash and items from Flake's house so they could be sold to buy crack cocaine. His accomplice, Darryl Birdow, was sentenced in 1994 to life in prison. Authorities said Taylor admitted involvement in a similar slaying of an 87-year-old Fort Worth man 11 days earlier but blamed the killing on a partner.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Counterfeiter Detained in Custody Pending Trial by Federal Magistrate

FORT WORTH – A brother and sister accused of making fake money appeared in federal court Wednesday on charges that they tried to pass the counterfeit currency at a Fort Worth store.
But Amy Catherine Taylor, 29, and her brother, Jack Arvil Taylor, 25, could also face federal weapons charges after six explosive devices and six rifles were found inside their southwest Fort Worth home Tuesday.
The siblings made their first appearance before U.S. Magistrate Charles Bleil. The judge released Ms. Taylor on bail but ordered her brother held pending a detention hearing Monday morning.
The two were arrested Tuesday when federal agents and Fort Worth officers descended on their home in the 3000 block of Meadowmoor Street.
According to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. district court, the pair tried to defraud a Wal-Mart store in southwest Fort Worth this summer. On July 3, the two entered the store in the 7400 block of McCart Street and presented $600 in counterfeit money to a cashier. They used fake $100 and $50 bills to purchase a money order, the complaint said.
The cashier looked at the money, suspected it was not authentic and called Fort Worth police. The Taylors fled the store before officers arrived.
Investigators reviewed the store's surveillance video, determined which car the two fled in and traced them to the Meadowmoor Street home. Secret Service agents confiscated counterfeiting equipment, including two computers and a printer, during Tuesday's raid of the home.
The raid also revealed six crudely made – but deadly – explosive devices. Officials also found six rifles including an AR-15 mounted on a tripod, an AK-47 and ammunition.
"It is very telling that a counterfeiting bust ends in finding explosives and assault type weapons in a seemingly quiet neighborhood," Fort Worth police Lt. Paul Henderson said in a press release. "Thankfully, the Taylor siblings were discovered before their intentions became known through the use of those deadly devices."

In the state court system (County Criminal and District Courts) bail in lieu of appearance in virtually assured except in the most serious offenses. where the accused is considered a flight risk or the release of an individual would pose a clear danger to society. Even then a bail bond would be set, but it would typically be too high for the individual to make. However, for those facing Federal charges in the United States District Court, it is very common for the United States Attorney's Office to requests that those that pose any conceivable risk to the public be detained. And they often come up with very creative ways for doing so. For example, a defendant recently charged with receiving child pornography via the Internet was ordered detained pending trial after a US Customs Agent testified at his detention hearing that those who posess Child Pornography have a sexual interest in children, and she had located several elementary schools within miles of the defendant's home. Furthermore, the threat to society need not be physical. Someone accused of embezzelment or fraud is just as likely to be held if the government can establish they pose an economic threat to others if allowed to remain free pending trial.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Tarrant County Attorney Convicted of Forgery

Fort Worth attorney Kimberly Ashley-Stevens was convicted today of three felony charges related to forged documents in an adoption case.
A Tarrant County jury deliberated about three hours before convicting Ashley-Stevens of fabricating physical evidence, tampering with a government document and passing forged documents in the case of a couple who were attempting to adopt an infant.
Ashley-Stevens, 40, showed no physical emotion when the verdict was returned. However afterward, she cried quietly outside the courtroom while waiting for her punishment hearing to begin.
Prosecutors are expected to start presenting evidence of other adoption and annulment cases in which Ashley-Stevens is accused of presenting forged documents.
Ashley-Stevens faces up to 10 years in prison on the charge of fabricating physical evidence, and up to two years in prison on the charge of tampering with government records and forgery in connection with those documents.
Ashley-Stevens is being tried in state District Judge Elizabeth Berry's Criminal District Court No. 3.

Fort Worth closes DWI Loophole

FORT WORTH - Fort Worth police have taken action to halt a loophole that allowed obvious drunk drivers of the hook.
While shocking, there have been reports of drivers in Fort Worth that got so drunk they actually passed out behind the wheel, yet were never charged with a DWI.
Police say policy has now been changed to close the loophole that was big enough to drive through; but prior to the change, there was report after report of people doing just that.
According to police reports, a man was found sitting in traffic on an Interstate 35 service road with a strong "odor of alcohol." The report also said the man couldn't "keep his balance" and "didn't know where he was."
Another driver was found stopped on Interstate 35 and appeared "intoxicated and asleep behind the wheel."
Motorists on Interstate 30 reported a man sitting in his truck that was half on the shoulder and half in the fast lane. Police said he had "a strong odor of alcohol," "slurred speech" and "swayed as he attempted to stand."
Then there is the case of the driver discovered slumped behind the wheel on Meadowbrook Drive, "unresponsive" and with a "strong odor of an alcoholic beverage." An officer reported the man "could barely walk and nearly fell down several times."
All the above incidents appear in Fort Worth police reports from this year. Some reports involve drivers apparently so drunk they passed out after stopping on the roadway.
But there is one more thing the drivers have in common, not one of them got charged with DWI.
"It doesn't matter if they're awake, asleep or passed out; it doesn't matter," said Richard Alpert, the assistant district attorney for Tarrant County
Alpert said he didn't realize that sleeping or unconscious drunk drivers weren't getting DWIs until News 8 brought it to his attention.
"It's a recipe for fatality," he said. "It's a recipe for death."
But as in all recipes, little things can make a big difference.
Fort Worth police said their general orders for a DWI arrest require some proof the suspect is actually operating the vehicle. Fort Worth police traffic supervisor Sgt. Rodney Bangs said the decision on arresting for DWI is not black and white.
"It hinges on the definition of operating," he said. "In the past it was construed to mean if the vehicle was running in gear and the person had a foot on the brake, therefore they were controlling the vehicle, keeping it from moving."
So, instead of a DWI arrest, some of the drunkest drivers in Fort Worth have simply been ticketed for public intoxication and hauled to jail to sleep it off.
Alpert said a DWI is a much more serious charge.
"It's the difference between a fine only offense and an offense that has a mandatory two-year, no-release probation with programs, fines and tools that can prevent them from driving while intoxicated," he said.
With a DWI charge, a judge can order treatment and require an interlock device on the car. With a public intoxication charge, the defendant pays a fine and it's over. The case also can't be used to increase penalties for future drunk driving arrests.
To close the loophole, the DA's office issued a memo stating that DWIs cover a driver "seated in a stationary, yet running vehicle positioned in a traffic lane."
However, there is still the question of what about those cars found running or drivers that manages to pull off into a parking lot or restaurant drive thru?
Alpert said those cases are more difficult, but can be prosecuted.
Sgt. Bangs said the change should lead to more DWI arrests.
"This enhances our ability to make DWI arrests," he said.
Officers will still have to make tough judgment calls in the field. If they choose to charge a DWI, they know it will take them off the streets for hours to process the case. For that reason, Alpert said he will not blame an officer who gives a ticket for public intoxication because he thinks a DWI won't stick.

Boy George goes on Trial for False Imprisonment & Assault

LONDON - A Norwegian escort told a court Monday that Boy George manacled him to a bedroom wall and beat him with a metal chain after accusing him of hacking into his computer.
The former Culture Club singer is on trial for the false imprisonment of 29-year-old Audun Carlsen.
The 47-year-old singer, who is standing trial under his real name, George O'Dowd, denies the charge. Carlsen told London's Snaresbrook Crown Court that he met the singer through a Web site and went to his London home for a naked photo shoot. After the encounter Boy George sent a series e-mails accusing Carlsen of hacking into his computer, but Carlsen nonetheless agreed to return for a second photo session several weeks later in April 2007.
Carlsen told the jury that when he arrived Boy George and another man held him down and beat him before the singer handcuffed him to a hook in the bedroom wall.
"George was slapping me and beating me and punching me and screaming things," Carlsen said. Carlsen said he was able to escape by unscrewing the hook and running for the door.
"I took a bit of time getting the door open and he had a metal chain that he was hitting me with," Carlsen said.
Carlsen said he ran into the street clad only in his underwear. The court was shown photographs of red welts on Carlsen's head and injuries to his arm which he said had been inflicted during the attack.
Boy George's androgynous image and powerful voice made him an `80s icon, and gave Culture Club hits including "Karma Chameleon" and "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?"
But the singer struggled for years with drug problems.
In 2006 he was ordered to do community service with New York City's Department of Sanitation after pleading guilty to false reporting of an incident. He called police with a false report of a burglary at his lower Manhattan apartment, and the responding officers found cocaine inside.

In Texas, the charge "False Imprisonment" is called "Unlawful Restraint:"

(a) A person commits an offense if he intentionally or knowingly restrains another person.
(b) It is an affirmative defense to prosecution under this section that:
(1) the person restrained was a child younger than 14 years of age;
(2) the actor was a relative of the child; and
(3) the actor's sole intent was to assume lawful control of the child.
(c) An offense under this section is a Class A misdemeanor, except that the offense is:
(1) a state jail felony if the person restrained was a child younger than 17 years of age; or
(2) a felony of the third degree if:
(A) the actor recklessly exposes the victim to a substantial risk of serious bodily injury;
(B) the actor restrains an individual the actor knows is a public servant while the public servant is lawfully discharging an official duty or in retaliation or on account of an exercise of official power or performance of an official duty as a public servant; or
(C) the actor while in custody restrains any other person.
(d) It is no offense to detain or move another under this section when it is for the purpose of effecting a lawful arrest or detaining an individual lawfully arrested.
(e) It is an affirmative defense to prosecution under this section that:
(1) the person restrained was a child who is 14 years of age or older and younger than 17 years of age;
(2) the actor does not restrain the child by force, intimidation, or deception; and
(3) the actor is not more than three years older than the child.

Florida Judge being Investigated for Inappropriate Conduct

A Florida judge is being investigated amid complaints that he has behaved inappropriately in the courtroom. Judge Ralph Eriksson is accused of punishing people for exercising their legal rights. According to testimony, Ericksson denied defendants their legal rights and was vindictive. Daniel Bradshaw appeared before the judge in the past took the stand on Monday to tell a special panel how the judge treated him. Bradshaw said Eriksson blew up on the stand during his case two years ago and then sent him to jail for five months. "I mean, he just went boom. I asked, 'Can you repeat yourself?' All of a sudden he said, 'Haven't you heard a word I said yet? How do you wish to plea?' I said, 'Not guilty.' 'Well, I'm going to send you to jail anyway,'" Bradshaw said. The state's Judicial Qualifications Commission is listening to testimony and reviewing video to see how has treated defendants. Video from Bradshaw's April 2006 court appearance shows his attorney asking Eriksson to repeat himself and Ericksson shouting back. Bradshaw asked Ericksson about a motion to suppress evidence in his case and Eriksson responded by giving Bradshaw a $5,000 bond and sending him to jail. An expert witness for the state said this review is about Eriksson's actions. "I thought the conduct was shocking, inappropriate, non judicial, very unprofessional, vindictive, punitive, and we could go on and on. There is simply no basis for what the judge did," expert witness Jeffrey Weiner said. The judge's defense attorney, Chandler Muller, said the expert witness did not look at the actual video until about an hour before his deposition was taken. He also said the judge did not abuse his power. "The record's going to show that we have a fine judge that's served this community for many years in a very fair way and he has a lot of support," Muller said. Eriksson has been a county judge for 13 years. After hearing all the testimony, the Judicial Qualifications Commission will make a recommendation to the Florida Supreme Court. In the meantime, Eriksson has not been suspended from his position.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Texas Court: 1st Amendment Protects Church's Exorcisms

In a 6-3 decision Friday, the court ruled that the Pleasant Glade Assembly of God's efforts to cast out demons from the girl presents a dispute over religious conduct that would unconstitutionally entangle the court in church doctrine.
A 2002 trial of the case never touched on the religious aspects, and a Tarrant County jury found the Colleyville church and its members liable for abusing and falsely imprisoning the girl, then 17. The jury awarded her $300,000 for mental anguish, but the 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth shaved $122,000 from the verdict for loss of future income.
The church then raised the question of whether the Fort Worth appeals court erred when it said Pleasant Glades' First Amendment rights regarding freedom of religion do not prevent the church from being held liable for mental distress triggered by a "hyper-spiritualistic environment."
A majority of the high court agreed with the church. Justice David Medina wrote that while the young woman's secular injury claims might "theoretically be tried without mentioning religion, the imposition of tort liability for engaging in religious activity to which the church members adhere would have an unconstitutional 'chilling effect' by compelling the church to abandon core principles of its religious beliefs."
But Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson, in a dissenting opinion, stated that the "sweeping immunity" is inconsistent with U.S. States Supreme Court precedent and extends far beyond the Constitution's protections for religious conduct, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported in its online edition Friday.
"The First Amendment guards religious liberty; it does not sanction intentional abuse in religion's name," Jefferson wrote.
The young woman testified in 2002 that she was cut and bruised and later experienced hallucinations after the church members' actions in 1996. She also said the incident led her to mutilate herself and attempt suicide. She eventually sought psychiatric help.
But the church's attorneys had told jurors that her psychological problems were caused by traumatic events she witnessed with her missionary parents in Africa. The church contended she had "freaked out" about following her father's life as a missionary and was acting out to gain attention.
After the 2002 verdict, Pleasant Glade merged with another congregation in Colleyville, a Fort Worth suburb.

Fort Worth Woman Fondled by Man Posing as Police Officer

Investigators said a man posing as a police officer sexually assaulted a woman Tuesday night in Fort Worth, Texas The woman told police the man pulled her over near the Interstate 20 and Highway 183 split in the Hulen area and frisked her, alleging she was suspected of Driving While Intoxicated. Fort Worth police said the man "took it over the line and was fondling her breasts."
"He's absolutely an imposter, and we're very interested in getting this person apprehended," he said. Police said it's highly unusual for a police officer to pat down a citizen on a simple traffic stop if an arrest is not forseeable. The victim said the phony cop came at her more than once. The woman knew something wasn't right from the beginning. He was not wearing a traditional police officer's uniform and his badge didn't seem proper.
"Our suspect approached from the driver's side didn't ask her for a driver's license or insurance or anything like that that's normal," police said. "He ordered her out of the vehicle, told her that he thought she had been drinking and that he was going to search her car and that's what he did. He then patted her down, which included fondling her breasts." The victim couldn't give police a good description of the man's car but said it had a flashing blue light.
Police said if people in Tarrant County have doubt during a stop, they should stay in their car and dial 911 to confirm it is a legitimate traffic stop.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Arrest Records Incomplete in Texas

More than a third of criminal records are missing from the online Department of Public Safety database available to the public, a Fort Worth company found in a study.
Even government agencies, which have access to more detailed criminal records to screen teachers, doctors, volunteers and tradespeople, use a DPS system fraught with gaps, officials and experts said.
Problems exist because of human error and because of spotty reporting from law enforcement agencies, courts and district attorneys that provide information.
Even records of Death Row inmates are missing from the public database, according to the study by Imperative Information Group, a Fort Worth background investigation company. The company studied 562 felony and misdemeanor cases.
"We know that the data is not very reliable," said Mike Coffey, president of Imperative. "There’s a false sense of security that this criminal background check is going to be effective."
The public database lists reported convictions, and those are listed only after DPS has received complete records, from arrest to final disposition of the case.
Government agencies and others authorized by the Legislature, such as private schools and nursing homes, can view more detailed information, including arrests and open cases. But agencies often look only for convictions, Coffey said.
"I don’t believe that . . . agencies are chasing down arrests or nonconviction data to see if there is more [information] at the county," he said.
And even if they check the more detailed secure database, there may be gaps in it as well, such as when a conviction is not reported, a DPS official said.
Past problems
Tela Mange, a DPS spokeswoman, said such problems aren’t new. Some counties report as little as 17 percent of convictions to DPS.
"It’s been going on for a number of years," she said. "There’s nothing we can do to force them to fix that problem."
Statewide, local agencies reported 747,216 criminal charges to DPS, according to 2006 statistics, the most recent year available; 69 percent of those were listed as completed.
DPS has no way of knowing how many of the missing dispositions were convictions or might reflect dropped charges or acquittals.
Mike Vaughn, a criminal justice professor at Sam Houston State University, said similar problems, including typos and erroneous information, have been found in the Texas Crime Information Center. The center is a separate database that provides law enforcement agencies with information about stolen property, wanted and missing people, sex offenders and other information.
"Any time you have human beings entering data, you’re going to have mistakes," Vaughn said. "I think there needs to be more people assigned to the tasks if we’re going to rely on these systems. The government has obligation and a duty to make sure the systems are accurately reflecting the criminal histories of people within the database."
The Texas Medical Board, which is aware of limitations of the DPS database, uses several additional screening methods to check the criminal history of applicants for medical licenses.
It also uses FBI criminal history reports, queries of other states’ sex offender lists and various other databases to verify applicants’ professional character, Jaime Garanflo, director of licensure, said in an e-mail.
"Because of the multiple queries that we do, we are able to compare findings and identify discrepancies," Garanflo said. "Limitations such as these are always a concern, but we do the best we can. . ."
Reporting and tracking
At the time of an arrest, a tracking number is supposed to be assigned, and all information, along with fingerprints, is supposed to be reported to DPS within seven days. As the case moves through the criminal justice system, county officials are required to provide updates to DPS.
Prosecutors have 30 days to report action taken on the offense, and court clerks have 30 days to report the final disposition.
Tarrant County system
The Tarrant County district attorney’s office has 43 agencies that routinely submit cases for review and filing, Tarrant County prosecutor Miles Brissette said.
Each has the option of using more reliable electronic filing or the older paper forms to submit cases. The Sheriff’s Department, for example, electronically communicates arrest information, spokesman Terry Grisham said.
The district attorney’s office updates information to DPS every day at midnight. Upon completion of a felony case, information is sent by the district clerk’s office to DPS. For misdemeanors, the county clerk uploads the information to Austin.
"The days of fingerprint ink on a prisoner are really going away by the wayside," Brissette said.
In Tarrant County, 49,029 charges against adults were reported to DPS in 2006, and 80 percent of those were reported completed, according to the agency.
Imperative examined 62 Tarrant County cases in the public database, and found that 43.5 percent had records missing. The study was done in October.
Online: To check the DPS criminal history database, go to: Each record search costs about $3, plus fees.

District Judge Jailed for DWI

A Tarrant County criminal district judge was jailed Saturday on suspicion of driving while intoxicated after an Alvarado police officer stopped her for speeding.
Judge Elizabeth Berry was driving a gray Volvo sport utility vehicle on Interstate 35W around 4 p.m. Saturday when she was stopped for traveling 92 mph in a 65-mph zone, Alvarado Police Chief John Allen said.
An officer spotted empty beer cans in Judge Berry's vehicle during the traffic stop, and she appeared to be intoxicated, Chief Allen said. Officers at the scene reported that Judge Berry refused to let them conduct a field sobriety test.
Judge Berry, 43, who presides over Criminal District Court 3, was taken to the Johnson County Law Enforcement Center in Cleburne, where she refused a breath alcohol test.
Officers obtained a warrant to take a sample of Judge Berry's blood hours after her arrest, but the results won't be available for a few days, Chief Allen said.
On Tuesday, a bailiff in Judge Berry's courtroom referred a call about the arrest to her attorney, Mark Daniel.
Mr. Daniel's office issued a written statement saying, "Judge Berry is a very highly respected judge. We are presently doing our own investigation. It is my belief that this matter will likely be determined to be unfounded."
Judge Berry, a Republican, was elected in 2003.

Man on Trial for video of toddlers smoking Marijuana

FORT WORTH — The amateur video is eye-catching.
Two men are seen laughing as they light what looks like a marijuana cigarette for two toddlers and hold it to their mouths. The little boys are shown coughing and stumbling.
And the two men ask the children whether they "have the munchies" and call them "potheads."
That video seized from a Watauga home by police last year could be one of the key pieces of evidence against Vanswan Polty, 20, who goes to trial Tuesday, accused of being one of the young men who badgered the 2- and 4-year-old boys to smoke the marijuana.
Jury selection is scheduled to begin Tuesday in Criminal District Court No. 2 in Fort Worth.
Prosecutors are trying Polty on a charge of engaging in organized criminal activity, a felony that carries a stiffer penalty than charges of injury to a child.
If convicted on injury charges, Polty would have faced a maximum of 10 years in prison on each count. If he is convicted of engaging in organized criminal activity, Polty will face a maximum sentence of life in prison.
He is accused of committing several burglaries in Tarrant County last year just before the video was made. The incident involving the toddlers will be used in the trial, authorities said.
Tarrant County Assistant District Attorney Darrell Davila declined to comment on the pending trial.
"I intend to defend him to the best of my ability," said Timmie White of Fort Worth, Polty’s attorney.
In July, Demetris McCoy, 18, the other young man seen in the video giving the marijuana to the toddlers, reached an agreement with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to two charges of injury to a child/causing bodily injury. He was sentenced to eight years in prison.
As part of the agreement, McCoy will testify against Polty. The toddlers are McCoy’s nephews.
White said he doesn’t know what McCoy will say in court.
"I will point out to the jury what a sweet deal he got," White said, referring to McCoy’s plea agreement.
McCoy also pleaded guilty to two charges of burglary of a habitation and received eight years on each of those charges. All the sentences will run at the same time.
The investigation
Polty and McCoy were arrested in February 2007 after police found the video while executing a search warrant in the 6000 block of Hickory Hill Road in Watauga, where McCoy’s grandmother lives. Police were investigating burglaries that McCoy and Polty were suspected of committing.
A 16-year-old who authorities say filmed the incident was taken into custody several days after McCoy and Polty were arrested. The teen faced a delinquent conduct charge in the incident, but information was not available on the case.
In the house
The children’s mother, Shatoria Russell, has said that she was asleep in another room in the home, which she shared with her children, McCoy and his grandmother.
Russell and McCoy’s grandmother were not charged.
The video
It shows two men coaxing the little boys to smoke marijuana. Tests showed that the children had traces of marijuana and cocaine in their systems.
The children
Child Protective Services removed the children from the home shortly after McCoy’s arrest. Russell did not participate in any of the services required for her to regain custody of her two sons and continued to test positive for drugs, according to a CPS official. Russell relinquished her parental rights in December, a CPS official has said.
The children are with a family that is attempting to adopt them, a CPS official said.

North Richland Hills Woman Convicted in Elderly Death

FORT WORTH — Lowesta Halliburton’s friends described her as a caring woman who would do anything for other people, including her children’s friends and her daughter’s Girl Scout leader.
But prosecutors said the North Richland Hills woman didn’t do much to help a bedridden 78-year-man who died last year of malnutrition, dehydration and pneumonia.
Halliburton, 44, was sentenced Friday to life in prison for causing the death of Richard Hoye, who died May 20, 2007, in the home he shared with Halliburton. She has been described as either his common-law wife or his adopted daughter.
She was convicted Oct. 30 of injury to the elderly in Hoye’s death. Her sentencing was delayed while court officials conducted a pre-sentencing investigation.
Visiting Judge Phillip Vick sentenced Halliburton after a 90-minute hearing in Criminal District Court No. 4. He considered the pre-sentencing report and evidence from the hearing.
One woman testified that Halliburton cared for her children for seven months while her mother was hospitalized. Other friends testified that Halliburton helped many people, including her daughter’s Girl Scout troop leader and her children’s friends.
Her defense attorney said Halliburton, who was neither a nurse nor a social worker, could not be expected to recognize Hoye’s deteriorating condition when Adult Protection Services employees left him in her care after four home visits in the four months before he died.
But prosecutors Rebecca McIntire and Jeff Hampton cited Halliburton’s 1986 burglary conviction and 1995 forgery and fraud convictions. She served probation on the 1986 case and two years in prison on the 1995 convictions.
McIntire introduced photos of Hoye lying in his own urine- and feces-soaked bed with insects crawling over him. A deputy medical examiner said Hoye was so malnourished that his body had eaten his muscle and was beginning to eat his internal organs for protein.
Halliburton must serve 30 years before being eligible for parole.

Fort Worth Attorney on Trial

FORT WORTH -- Nearly three years ago, Kristy Ward hired family law attorney Kimberly Ashley-Stevens to handle the adoption of her prospective son.
As instructed by Ashley-Stevens, Ward testified today, she obtained notarized statements from the baby's biological parents relinquishing their parental rights to the boy she wanted to adopt.
Ward said she was stunned earlier this year when she learned that her son's 2006 adoption was invalid because someone had forged her signature on a document that a family court judge relied on in terminating the biological parents' rights and granting the adoption.
"I was devastated," Ward testified. "I was scared. I wasn't sure what was going to occur."
Although Ward's adoption was later granted after volunteer attorneys redid the paperwork, Ward blames Ashley-Stevens for the actions she believed might have caused her to lose her son.
"I hired an attorney to help me, and she hurt me," Ward said.
Ward was the first witness in Ashley-Stevens' felony trial in Criminal District Court No. 3. The 40-year-old attorney is accused of fabricating physical evidence, tampering with a government record and passing a forged document to 324th District Judge Jerome Hennigan, who handled the Ward adoption.
If convicted, she could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison on one of the charges and two years on the other two charges.
In opening statements this morning her defense attorney said Ashley-Stevens did not know that Ward's signature had been forged on the document she gave the judge. He said Ashley-Stevens relied on another attorney who presented her with the signed document.
"Somebody took a shortcut," he said. "As the employer, Kim is responsible, but she's not criminally responsible."
The trial adjourned for the afternoon after testimony from Ward and another attorney in the case. Testimony will resume at 8:45 am. Friday before state District Judge Elizabeth Berry.