News Roundup: Arrests, Assaults, and Assholes
When city politics get dirty
By the News Staff,
10:40AM, Mon. Nov. 9, 2015
In this week's news roundup: A Criminal Court judge is shot at her home by an unknown assailant, and survives in stable but serious condition; APD acknowledges a disturbing video of a violent downtown arrest; Uber literally brings in the cavalry to continue the charge against City Council's proposed regulations; and more...
• Kocurek Shot: Shockwaves in the Austin legal community after Judge Julie Kocurek of the 390th District Criminal Court was shot on Nov. 6. Kocurek was hit four times at around 10pm as she arrived at her Tarrytown home. She was transported to hospital, where her condition has been described by police as stable but extremely serious. No suspect has been named in the attack. Travis County issued an official statement of support for Kocurek and the investigators working the case, adding, "Travis County will do everything in its power to bring this criminal to justice." – Richard Whittaker
• Violent Arrest Recorded: APD acknowledged that it is aware of the "incident that occurred Friday, Nov. 6 at 2:30am" in the 600 block of East Sixth Street, the department noted in a Friday press release, however it's not saying much more at this time. The video, which has shot around Facebook and other regions of the Internet since its posting Friday morning, shows a team of Downtown officers getting aggressively physical with three San Antonio residents who were reportedly caught jaywalking across Sixth Street. Only one of the three – Matthew Wallace – shows up in a TCJ inmate search. He was booked for two city ordinance violations, a traffic offense, and resisting his arrest. A friend of the three told the Chronicle on Friday afternoon that one was released without charges. APD says that, as is standard with officer protocol, the response to resistance will be reviewed by the involved officers' Chain of Command to determine what led to the "events captured in the video and whether the officer's actions were in compliance with APD policy." – Chase Hoffberger
• Red River Rampager Sentenced: Rashad Owens was handed a guilty verdict and sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole on Friday. Owens, 23, was charged with capital murder and four counts of felony murder, in addition to 24 counts of assault with a deadly weapon, after he was arrested for drunk driving a Honda Accord through a crowd of people on Red River Street during South by Southwest 2014. For more, see "Owens Found Guilty." – C.H.
• Sullivan's Woes: Empower Texans president and self-appointed capitol kingmaker Michael Quinn Sullivan lives in Travis County, and so must face ethics charges in Travis County. That's the ruling of the Second District Court of Appeals, overturning rulings from lower courts that let Sullivan move an ethics suit filed against him to Denton, where he claimed to live and where a judge threw the case out. Ruling in favor of the Texas Ethics Commission, which is suing him for acting as an unregistered lobbyist, the court said the suit should never have been moved, and so it can be prosecuted in Travis County once again. It probably didn't help matters that, as reported by Quorum Report, Sullivan got ticketed in Corsicana last weekend, and gave his residence to cops as Austin, not Denton. TEC external counsel Eric Nichols applauded the decision, saying, "The court's decision upholds the basic rule that a person in Texas cannot manufacture venue in a county after he or she has a claim to pursue in court." Empower Texans and its sibling group Texans for Fiscal Responsibility are broadly seen as just front groups for Midland oil tycoon Tim Dunn, and Sullivan his chief political enforcer, so there are not likely to be too many tears shed around the Capitol for this news. – R.W.
• Uber Shitbombs Downtown: Uber got symbolic Thursday, rolling out a series of horse and buggies to protest what the company believes are overly strong regulations being proposed to City Council. The rides, called "Kitchen's Uber" for Ann Kitchen, who chairs Council's Mobility Committee, were seen about downtown holding up traffic and dropping horse shit on the streets. The company's kicked its anti-regulations campaign into high-gear as Kitchen and crew have toiled over new mandates – which will likely include permit fees and background checks, both of which would align almost exactly as they are for taxicab franchises. In late October, the company announced that 53 drivers who failed its background check had been issued a chauffeur's license by the city, thereby implying that the city's checks aren't as safety-conscious as initially thought. In a memo issued to Mayor Steve Adler, the company alleged that 19 of the 53 who failed Uber's background check did so because they were found to have been guilty of a "serious offense," including felony assaults, DWIs, and a hit-and-run. – C.H.
• Gerrymandering Remains: A US District Court in San Antonio has ruled that the redistricted Texas House and Congressional maps passed by Republican lawmakers in 2013 will be used for the 2016 elections. There are still multiple legal challenges to the existing maps, with the US Supreme Court having agreed earlier this year to hear a challenge over the basic numbers the state uses to define a district's population. The lower Federal court declined to intervene while those multiple suits are pending, and stated that it is too close to the 2016 primary elections to act without causing confusion to candidates and voters. – R.W.
• City's TCAD Lawsuit Dismissed: On Friday, state District Judge Tim Sulak dismissed the City of Austin lawsuit against the Travis Central Appraisal District and certain commercial property owners, ruling that the city does not have standing to challenge TCAD appraisals in court. However, Sulak said he expected the city to appeal and that in fact he intended to "tee up" the lawsuit for a potential challenge to the Court of Appeals. Commercial property owners had asked for the dismissal because in part, they said, the city chose to effectively withdraw its appeal to TCAD's Appraisal Review Board and move instead to state district court.
City officials have 30 days to decide whether to appeal Sulak's decision, and Mayor Steve Adler issued a statement suggesting he would support an appeal. "We need a court to rule on the fairness of the property tax system. The court's decision today did not reach this question. That's frustrating. The City of Austin's challenge is brave, creative and in uncharted territory. We're going to keep trying until we find a way to make the tax system more fair. I am proud to be part of a city that takes risks to stand up for fairness." – Michael King
• Flood Response: Both the City of Austin and Travis County have continued to provide services to those affected by the most recent area flooding. City Council held a special-called meeting Sunday afternoon to address policy issues, and the Emergency Operations Center issued additional information for residents. Among the instructions:
• Ongoing information is available at austintexas.gov/help – concerning sheltering, safety, re-entry, recovery, how to help and FAQs. Those seeking assistance should call 3-1-1 or visit the Flood Assistance Center.
• A community information meeting has been scheduled for Monday evening, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Perez Elementary School, 7500 S Pleasant Valley Rd., to help answer questions about buyouts, permitting, and debris removal. Other service providers will also be on-hand.
The Flood Assistance Center, located at the Dove Springs Recreation Center, will remain open and the hours of operation will be 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. through Tuesday, Nov. 10. – M.K.