News briefs from Austin, the region, and beyond
In 2007, the Texas Legislature passed the Texas Computer TakeBack Law, requiring computer manufacturers to provide convenient recycling options for old computers. But according to a report by Texas Campaign for the Environment, the organization that pushed the legislation, most computer makers did not significantly increase their recycling of electronic waste in 2009, and among states with similar programs, Texas ranked last in per capita collections. "The Texas TakeBack program is a phenomenal idea poorly executed," said TCE's Robin Schneider. "Only Dell took 'free and convenient recycling' to heart when they designed their recycling program." Almost 85% of Texas' total e-recycling was from Dell, Schneider said, adding that most manufacturers offered mail-back programs, the least desirable option. TCE is now calling for more teeth in the law, including standards governing convenience and collection-volume targets. Computers contain materials such as lead, mercury, and cadmium, which are safe while inside a working computer but can have toxic effects when disposed of in a landfill. The TCE report is available at www.texasenvironment.org. – Lee Nichols
The Travis County Criminal Justice Center was closed for most of the day on Friday, May 14, after a man reported that a "suspicious package" had been left in the building. The court complex was evacuated, and the APD Explosive Ordinance Disposal Unit was called in for a look-see. The package in question, a backpack, contained paperwork but no explosive device. The building reopened at 1:40pm. The man who reported the suspicious package, Douglas Scott Hoopes, was arrested and charged with making a false report and booked into the jail. The charge is a felony punishable by up to two years in jail. – Jordan Smith
Deputy Cleared in Willard Shooting
A Travis County grand jury on May 17 declined to indict Travis County Sheriff's Office Deputy Scott Schroeder in connection with the June 1, 2009, shooting of 34-year-old Douglas Willard. Willard's parents called TCSO on May 31, 2009, to report that they were "alarmed" by their son's behavior, according to a press release issued Monday by the District Attorney's Office. Deputies responding to the call were told that Willard was inside his home and armed; they asked him to come out unarmed, but he refused. The sheriff's SWAT team was called to the scene, and when Willard and his girlfriend finally exited the trailer, Willard was carrying a shotgun. When he moved it "in an upward motion in the direction of the law enforcement personnel," Schroeder shot him once in the chest, according to the release from D.A. Rosemary Lehmberg. Willard lived and made a full recovery from the injury. The grand jury decision closes the criminal inquiry into the incident. – J.S.
No Life Without Parole for Juvies
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled May 17 that the constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment bars the penalty of life in prison without parole for juveniles convicted of committing nonhomicide crimes. The 5-4 ruling, authored by swing Justice Anthony Kennedy, came in response to a Florida case involving Terrance Jamar Graham, sentenced to life in prison for armed burglary. "The Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause prohibits the imposition of inherently barbaric punishments under all circumstances," Kennedy wrote. Florida leads the nation in the number of juveniles serving life in prison for crimes that didn't involve the taking of another's life – 77 of the 129 nationwide; Texas is among six states that specifically forbid such a sentence. This ruling is likely to lead to release for some offenders and almost certainly further appeals, particularly for juveniles sentenced to life for being a party to a crime that ended in a death. – J.S.