Naked City

Naked City
Illustration by Doug Potter

Quote of the Week

"Tonight, in record numbers, you voted not just to make history but to remake America." – Hillary Clinton

"Our time has come, our movement is real, and change is coming to America." – Barack Obama

The Democratic presidential candidates speaking in the aftermath of the Super Tuesday primaries in 24 states

Headlines

• It looks like Texas will be in play after all. John McCain appears certain to win the GOP presidential nomination, but both of the Democratic front-runners claimed significant victories Tuesday night, meaning the intense campaigning goes on, and Texans can expect to be seriously wooed heading into the March 4 primary here.

• On a more local scale, Responsible Growth for North­cross spokesman Jason Meeker declared he will run against City Council Place 1 incumbent Lee Leffing­well and engineer Allen Demling. For more, see "Meeker Declares for Council."

Democratic candidates for Travis County district attorney (from left: Rosemary Lehmberg, Gary Cobb, Mindy Montford, and Rick Reed) answered a range of questions – on the death penalty, the incarceration of low-level drug offenders, and the prosecution of police officers, among other topics – during a Monday night candidate forum at Gene's New Orleans Style Poboys & Deli, hosted by the Texas Moratorium Network and the Central Texas Chapter of the ACLU. For more, see <a href=http://www.austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/Issue/story?oid=oid%3A589055><b>Prosecutor Times Four</b></a>.
Democratic candidates for Travis County district attorney (from left: Rosemary Lehmberg, Gary Cobb, Mindy Montford, and Rick Reed) answered a range of questions – on the death penalty, the incarceration of low-level drug offenders, and the prosecution of police officers, among other topics – during a Monday night candidate forum at Gene's New Orleans Style Poboys & Deli, hosted by the Texas Moratorium Network and the Central Texas Chapter of the ACLU. For more, see "Prosecutor Times Four." (Photo by John Anderson)

• U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks heard arguments Tues­day in the punishment hearing of condemned inmate Scott Panetti, who killed two people in 1992 after a long record of serious mental illness. The Supreme Court has ruled a condemned man must comprehend his punishment; Panetti believes he will be executed to prevent him from preaching the Gospel.

Naked City

• Municipal court, usually the site of trials for traffic violations, played unlikely host to a civil rights showdown last Monday as lawyers from the Texas Civil Rights Project faced off against prosecutors over two students arrested during a protest last spring. Lucas Grisham and Wesley Duke, students from Kealing Middle School, were picked up for truancy during a student-led walkout against the district's plan to split the school's magnet program away from the neighborhood school. It was in part due to these protests that administrators scrapped the plan. Grisham and Duke, along with their classmates, marched to the district offices with a police escort, and on the way back, around 18 were arrested. "When we came out of Dr. Forgione's office, we saw two buses in the parking lot. I don't know if we were supposed to get on them or what," Grisham said. "We were like, 'Hey, let's keep protesting.' I don't know at what point it became truancy." Though a trial-by-jury was scheduled for Monday, due to some fumbling by the prosecution, the trial was rescheduled, and the court held a pretrial, during which the case was thrown out because the judge ruled the officer didn't have probable cause to stop the students. TCRP is billing the students' actions a "double victory," saying that in addition to stopping the school from being split, they stood up for their constitutional rights in the process. – Justin Ward

• The California State Personnel Board has ruled in favor of Austin Police Department Chief Art Acevedo, finding that several top officials with the California Highway Patrol retaliated against him after he applied to take over the top spot at CHP in 2004. The board found that former CHP Commissioner Dwight Helmick "orchestrated" retaliation against Acevedo after he applied for Helmick's job in 2004, reports the Los Angeles Times. Acevedo, who worked for CHP for 22 years before being hired on as APD's new top cop in June, had also complained to supervisors that it was improper to allow officers to continue to work after their 60th birthdays as a means of obtaining "enhanced" benefits. After Acevedo threw his name in the ring to replace Helmick, anonymous complaints about his conduct made their way to CHP and to the California governor's office. The head of CHP's Internal Affairs Office refused to investigate the complaints, not only because they were beyond the statute of limitations but because he believed they were meant as retaliation; nonetheless, Acevedo's supervisors penned a written warning regarding the alleged misconduct. The personnel board ruled the letters could not be tied to Helmick but that they did "reek of retribution." In its ruling, the board found that Helmick and other officials acted against Acevedo "to cause maximum stress, embarrassment and damage" to his reputation and awarded Acevedo $40,000 in damages for emotional distress, the daily reported. – Jordan Smith

• During the citizens' comments segment of Tuesday's meeting, immigrant rights activists told the Travis Co. Commissioners Court how the sheriff's new policy of stationing Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers in the Travis Co. Jail 24/7 really goes down. Nicole True, a criminal defense attorney, said the claim that ICE means to detain only undocumented immigrants is false. "Legal residents ... are being detained. It's up to them to ... get ICE to lift the detainers [orders to detain without any criminal charges regarding immigration]," True said. In addition to being immoral, indefinite ICE detention, resulting in in-jail litigation, will lead to costly overcrowding, she warned. Immigration attorney Thomas Esparza blasted the policy as "shoot first; ask questions later." He reported Department of Public Safety and FBI records "do not match," thwarting credible and speedy immigration checks. Activist Luissana Santibanez said the policy is based on the "myth of alien criminality," the statistically unfounded scare tactic that undocumented immigrants commit more crimes than legal immigrants. The result: "A wave of fear is causing residents to watch their backs," afraid relatives stopped by APD might never return home. Immigrants are going underground, Santibanez said, reluctant to come to police on anything. Judge Sam Biscoe assured activists the new policy will be deliberated as an agenda item next week. A meeting on the policy with Sheriff Greg Hamilton is slated for Feb. 12, 6pm, at the Connally Guerrero Senior Center, 808 Nile St. – Patricia J. Ruland

• A 7-year-old boy found hanging from a clothing hook by his shirt inside a bathroom at the North Austin charter school Not Your Ordinary School died Feb. 1 at Dell Children's Medical Center. The boy was found unconscious and hanging from the hook Wednesday afternoon, shortly after he'd been excused from a school assembly. Police have declined to release the name of the boy and have told reporters it appeared the boy's shirt cut off his air supply, causing him to go into cardiac arrest. It is still unclear how he got attached to the hook; school officials reportedly informed parents Friday that the hooks have been removed from all student restrooms. The school has slightly fewer than 300 students, in kindergarten through third grade. Several investigations into the incident are occurring simultaneously, including an inquiry by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. – J.S.

Representatives move out, rattlesnakes move in. The Sweetwater Jaycees
brought a box full of rattlers to the Capitol Extension this week to
give Austinites a rare and controlled hands-on experience with some
Texas wildlife. The snakes, or rather their handlers, were the guests of
Rep. Susan King, R-Abilene; they were publicizing Sweetwater’s 50th
annual Rattlesnake Round-Up, March 4-9. Originally a pest-control
operation, it is now the world’s largest rattlesnake hunt and a major
tourism event, with 30,000 visitors attracted and 13,128 pounds of
Western Diamondbacks collected in 2006. Attractions this year include
the rattlesnake review parade, guided hunts, the Miss Snake Charmer
scholarship competition, and, of course, fried rattlesnake.    – <i>Richard
Whittaker</i>
Representatives move out, rattlesnakes move in. The Sweetwater Jaycees brought a box full of rattlers to the Capitol Extension this week to give Austinites a rare and controlled hands-on experience with some Texas wildlife. The snakes, or rather their handlers, were the guests of Rep. Susan King, R-Abilene; they were publicizing Sweetwater’s 50th annual Rattlesnake Round-Up, March 4-9. Originally a pest-control operation, it is now the world’s largest rattlesnake hunt and a major tourism event, with 30,000 visitors attracted and 13,128 pounds of Western Diamondbacks collected in 2006. Attractions this year include the rattlesnake review parade, guided hunts, the Miss Snake Charmer scholarship competition, and, of course, fried rattlesnake. – Richard Whittaker (Photo by Richard Whittaker)

• The Austin City Council is moving ahead with plans to hold a national conference on plug-in hybrid vehicles, which can be charged from electrical outlets. Mayor Will Wynn has been aggressively promoting the technology, and Austin Energy hopes the cars will provide a way to make use of electricity from wind energy, which is available mostly at night. The council members approved a contract in December with Platia Productions, who will run the conference with AE. Platia runs conferences for the Alternative Car & Transportation Technologies Exposition. The conference will be free and open to the public and is scheduled for Oct. 17-18. – Michael May

• In other environmental news, football-garbed activists from Texas Campaign for the Environment demonstrated last week at the Austin offices of Samsung, the official HDTV sponsor of the NFL and the nation's No. 1 selling brand of digital television, calling on the manufacturer to offer free recycling for old TVs and other Samsung electronics, similar to competitor Sony. Robin Schneider, TCE executive director and national vice chair of the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, said, "Samsung will be setting up a producer takeback system for its obsolete monitors and laptops because of a Texas takeback law passed last year. Samsung should include TVs and other products so that electronic waste is not put in our landfills or shipped overseas to crude scrap yards in developing countries." Sony became the first TV maker to initiate takeback recycling, accepting any used product with Sony's name on it for free. The company plans to double its current 75 nationwide recycling drop-off locations this year. Samsung's website says its eco policy is "to minimize environmental impact ... considering the whole process through production, product usage and end-of-life disposal" and "to expand a ... plan for extended producer responsibility." Samsung doesn't make TVs in Austin, and calls to its U.S. headquarters in New Jersey weren't returned. For more, see www.takebackmytv.com. – Daniel Mottola

• The Austin Independent School District is holding a conference for Latino middle and high school students this weekend. The Hispanic Futures Conference will help prepare middle school students to get the most out of high school and introduce high school students to college admission requirements, financial assistance, and the support programs available to them. AISD is also holding a series of workshops for the parents of special-education students this spring. The workshops will be aimed at the specific disabilities of attendees' children, from autism to Down syndrome, and will cover everything from the Texas Assement of Knowledge and Skills test to dealing with aggressive behavior. AISD's Hispanic Futures Conference is Saturday, Feb. 9, at McCallum High School, 9am-1pm. The Special Education Parent Workshops will be on six evenings throughout the spring. For more info, call 414-2049 or go to www.austinisd.org. – M.M.

Beyond City Limits

Williamson Co. Commissioners Court voted on Jan. 29 to let U.S. Immigra­tion and Customs Enforcement transfer up to 250 additional female immigrant detainees to T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor. After the ACLU sued over living conditions and won and after reports of a guard-on-detainee sexual assault bubbled up, ICE began transporting detainees to other facilities, cutting Hutto's population by three-fourths. After the dust settled, ICE came calling again, according to Evelyn Hernandez, facility administrator. Hutto will now only house immigrants nabbed at the border, not those from faraway places, Hernandez said. Safety remains a concern, however, because the sexual assault was not prosecuted, despite notations of victim injuries on an initial police report, as reported by the Chronicle twice in 2007. "I remember [the Chronicle] asking about the detainee's injuries, but I didn't know what you meant," said Hernandez, admitting she has yet to read the internal report. Most of the guards will be female, she said. – P.J.R.

Former State Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos is making a valiant effort to revive the once-dominant Tejano Democrats, a statewide group that has fallen on rough times in recent years. Barrientos called a recent endorsement convention "a new chapter" for the organization. Key endorsements from the group included Hillary Clinton for president, Rick Noriega for U.S. senator, and former San Antonio Council Member Art Hall for railroad commissioner. The group did not endorse in the Travis Co. district attorney's race, but candidate Mindy Montford was on hand with a table of supporters. – Kimberly Reeves

Fingerprinting school employees is not off to a smooth start in Texas, but a project so massive it involves not one but two state agencies could hardly be expected to be easy. At the recent Texas Association of School Admini­strat­ors' Midwinter Conference, school officials groused about billing options, and rural school leaders scoffed at vendors' ability to make it to more remote school districts to fingerprint employees, but the Department of Public Safety reported that more than 11,500 people had been fingerprinted for the statewide database in January. That database will eventually be available to not only schools but also churches and other organizations that need to access information on potential volunteers. – K.R.

• At a Tuesday news conference, first lady Anita Perry highlighted the state's new teen dating violence awareness campaign, announcing that next week is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Week. Texas has been a leader in awareness of dating violence, and the Austin ISD was the first to develop a policy on the issue. At the Texas Association of School Administrators conference last week, an expert panel called the problem "an epidemic," with about one in five teenage girls reporting acts of abuse from a dating partner. Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, championed the issue to expand dating violence policy to every district in the state in House Bill 121. Statistics show almost half of violence episodes actually occur on school campuses. For more state information on the issue, go to www.healthyteendating.org. – K.R.

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