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Settlement reached in K-Mart Roundup lawsuits

The great K-Mart Kiddie Roundup saga may finally be drawing to a close.

Dozens of people arrested by Houston police during the 2002 street racing raid that turned into a scandal for the Houston Police Department have reached a tentative settlement with the city.

The agreement — which still needs approval by U.S. District Judge Nancy Atlas and the City Council — will resolve at least nine of the 10 federal cases that include more than 100 plaintiffs. Lawyers on both sides confirmed the deal, but declined to reveal the settlement amount late Sunday. They will appear in court today, when jury selection was slated to begin, but it is unclear how Atlas will proceed in light of the agreement.

City Attorney Arturo Michel said the agreement makes good sense given the mounting legal costs and the distraction the litigation brought to HPD. The department is a different agency today than before the raid and lawsuits, he added.

“They’ve looked at how they operate, made some changes and they’re moving on,” he said of police officials. “It just closes the chapter on HPD’s attempt to regulate a serious problem, but raises a lot of issues on how it was done.”

The settlement also means that former HPD Chief C.O. Bradford, the Democratic candidate for Harris County district attorney, could avoid recounting the details of his department’s missteps during a trial. Bradford stepped down as police chief in 2003, shortly after the incident.

[…]

In the early stages of the cases, Atlas ruled that HPD’s plan to curb street racing was unconstitutional. In 2005, the judge wrote a scathing opinion calling HPD tactics to detain and arrest people not observed violating the law “an unjustified, almost totalitarian, regime of suspicionless stops.”

Last year, an appeals court rebuffed Bradford’s attempt to be removed as a defendant after Atlas ruled he would remain.

The judge allowed the case to proceed in February because of unresolved disputes about whether HPD had a custom of mass detention without individual suspicion and because what Bradford knew about the plan remained unclear.

Other plaintiffs settled their lawsuits, but these final cases took five years to resolve.

Looks like I was right after all to predict that these suits would not make it to a jury but would be settled instead. There may be one last case to go forward, and we still need Judge Atlas to sign off on all this, but this appears to be the end of the line. Which is surely a relief for Chief Bradford, as all this business will now not get a week-long rehashing in the news. I’m sure this incident will come up as a campaign issue, but at least from his perspective it will only be a campaign story, and not a lawsuit-against-the-city story. All things considered, given that there was enough merit to the suits for them to have come to trial, that’s the best outcome for him.

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2 Comments

  1. Patrick says:

    I’ll be interested to see what the pricetag on the settlement is. And despite the wishful thinking, I would expect Lykos to try to make some hay out of this a little later in the election.

  2. Oh, I agree it will be an issue in the campaign. It’s a perfectly valid thing to press him on, and Lykos would be a fool not to. I’m just saying that a quick and quiet settlement is a much better outcome for Bradford than a trial in which everything was dredged up again, and in which people like Mark Aguirre and perhaps Bradford himself would be testifying. No news is good news here.