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“How Baylor Happened”

From Deadspin:

There’s not much to recommend spending four years in Waco. Driving into town up Interstate 35 from the south, the endless stretch of Texas nothing fills out slowly. It’s flat in the way you think Texas is flat. Empty fields give way to John Deere dealerships, then fast-food chains.

On your left, you’ll see the strip mall that housed the Twin Peaks biker gang shootout of 2015. Pass through the city’s squat downtown, and you can catch a glimpse of the grain silos that Chip and Joanna Gaines, stars of the HGTV smash Fixer-Upper, converted into the retail base of their reality TV empire.

But then, rising from the banks of the Brazos River, appears Baylor’s towering McLane Stadium. The building serves to announce the home of the Baylor Bears, Robert Griffin III, the Heisman Trophy, and a football legacy stretching back to, well, RG3 and the Heisman Trophy. But that’s the point. Baylor is here. Baylor matters, finally. The other campus buildings are tucked away in the short hills along the highway, but the stadium declares itself forcefully.

For most of its history, football barely registered at Baylor. Instead, the school cultivated its own culture, deeply rooted in the Baptist church. It banned dancing on campus until 1996. Until May 2015, its student conduct code listed “homosexual acts” and “fornication” as expressly forbidden behavior, alongside “sexual abuse, sexual harassment, sexual assault,”and other activities. Sex outside of marriage is still forbidden. The university’s mission statement says it was “founded on the belief that God’s nature is made known through both revealed and discovered truth.” Even a teenager who’s been homeschooled her entire life can walk around Baylor, see the statues of Jesus and the sidewalks emblazoned with Bible passages, and feel safe that the university that speaks her language and shares her values.

Jane’s* parents celebrated when she was offered a soccer scholarship to Baylor. She’d be among other Christians, less than two hours away from their Dallas home. Alicia* was drawn to Baylor because she wanted something to bring her back to her faith. She wanted to attend chapel with her classmates, to feel the closeness of a religious institution. “I want to feel God on campus and in class,” she knew. “I want to come here to be with God in every sense of the matter.”

Melissa* had attended a small private Baptist high school in California. She was scared to attend a party school and was looking for a more conservative university. She liked how nice everyone at Baylor was, and that dorm visiting hours ended at midnight, even on weekends. Suzanne* was the daughter of missionaries. She grew up mostly overseas and spent a lot of time in Christian boarding schools in Papua New Guinea. College wasn’t something her parents expected of her—everyone in her family did church work—but she wanted to be a missionary doctor.

They all chose Baylor because it felt safe.

What they didn’t know when they enrolled was that the combination of Baylor’s culture and a set of newly-established ambitions had created a university that was unusually safe—but not for them. It was a safe place for football coaches who could do no wrong, for players whose transfers from other teams after being accused of violence were billed as the first half of a redemption story, for young men whose potential was prioritized over that of their female classmates, and for university leaders who prized their reputation over the safety of the women who studied there.

As Jane was beginning her senior year of high school, already committed to play soccer at Baylor in 2013, the university was breaking ground on McLane Stadium. Baylor had a vision for itself—to become the Baptist answer to Notre Dame—but accomplishing that would require money, a lot more money, and fast football success was also a fast way to excite major donors. Greed is not a Christian value, but as the world would soon find out, the school’s commitment to the religion of football would serve to undermine everything else that the university was supposed to stand for.

What follows is a long and detailed look into how Baylor, a small Baptist university where football was played, became Baylor, a blossoming national football powerhouse where female students were repeatedly assaulted by football players and no one cared until it finally became a scandal. I’m oversimplifying here, but that’s close enough for these purposes. Authors Jessica Luther and Dan Solomon have been the go-to reporters for documenting how and why it all happened, and you should read what they have to say.

The Southern Baptist Convention’s sexual abuse problems

Some excellent longform reporting from the Chron, with more to come.

Thirty-five years later, Debbie Vasquez’s voice trembled as she described her trauma to a group of Southern Baptist leaders.

She was 14, she said, when she was first molested by her pastor in Sanger, a tiny prairie town an hour north of Dallas. It was the first of many assaults that Vasquez said destroyed her teenage years and, at 18, left her pregnant by the Southern Baptist pastor, a married man more than a dozen years older.

In June 2008, she paid her way to Indianapolis, where she and others asked leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention and its 47,000 churches to track sexual predators and take action against congregations that harbored or concealed abusers. Vasquez, by then in her 40s, implored them to consider prevention policies like those adopted by faiths that include the Catholic Church.

“Listen to what God has to say,” she said, according to audio of the meeting, which she recorded. “… All that evil needs is for good to do nothing. … Please help me and others that will be hurt.”

Days later, Southern Baptist leaders rejected nearly every proposed reform.

The abusers haven’t stopped. They’ve hurt hundreds more.

In the decade since Vasquez’s appeal for help, more than 250 people who worked or volunteered in Southern Baptist churches have been charged with sex crimes, an investigation by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News reveals.

It’s not just a recent problem: In all, since 1998, roughly 380 Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers have faced allegations of sexual misconduct, the newspapers found. That includes those who were convicted, credibly accused and successfully sued, and those who confessed or resigned. More of them worked in Texas than in any other state.

About 220 offenders have been convicted or took plea deals, and dozens of cases are pending. They were pastors. Ministers. Youth pastors. Sunday school teachers. Deacons. Church volunteers.

Nearly 100 are still held in prisons stretching from Sacramento County, Calif., to Hillsborough County, Fla., state and federal records show. Scores of others cut deals and served no time. More than 100 are registered sex offenders. Some still work in Southern Baptist churches today.

Journalists in the two newsrooms spent more than six months reviewing thousands of pages of court, prison and police records and conducting hundreds of interviews. They built a database of former leaders in Southern Baptist churches who have been convicted of sex crimes.

The investigation reveals that:

• At least 35 church pastors, employees and volunteers who exhibited predatory behavior were still able to find jobs at churches during the past two decades. In some cases, church leaders apparently failed to alert law enforcement about complaints or to warn other congregations about allegations of misconduct.

• Several past presidents and prominent leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention are among those criticized by victims for concealing or mishandling abuse complaints within their own churches or seminaries.

• Some registered sex offenders returned to the pulpit. Others remain there, including a Houston preacher who sexually assaulted a teenager and now is the principal officer of a Houston nonprofit that works with student organizations, federal records show. Its name: Touching the Future Today Inc.

There’s a lot more, so go read the whole thing. Along the way, it references the Paul Pressler scandal, which continues on. Here’s the index page for this series – there are two more stories coming – where you can also search their database of offenders. If there’s one lesson we can learn from the Catholic Church’s long-running scandal, it’s that no matter how much we think we know now, there will be more to come. And it can’t be emphasized enough that both the SBC and the Catholic Church have been among the biggest power players behind all of the main “morality” crusades in recent decades, most prominently restrictions on women’s reproductive freedom and LGBT equality (Paul Pressler was a big donor to the anti-HERO campaign). Never, ever forget any of that.

“Credible” abuse claims against clergy

I’m just going to leave this here.

Every Roman Catholic Diocese in Texas released a list Thursday of “credible abuse” claims against clergy going back decades, a move that comes as dioceses across the nation have released or prepared to release similar lists in response to a call from Pope Francis for greater transparency and accountability.

The ongoing sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the church reached a new crescendo in August after a Pennsylvania investigation found more than 1,000 victims and more than 300 perpetrators throughout the state. Two months later, the 15 dioceses across Texas announced that they would be publishing their own lists by Jan. 31.

Gustavo García-Siller, the Archbishop of San Antonio, said at the time that Texas bishops “are working to further healing and restore trust, to take new actions to protect the vulnerable and offer support to survivors of clergy sexual abuse of minors.”

On Thursday, the names of accused clergy appeared on each diocese’s website: 42 in Galveston-Houston, four priests and a deacon in Lubbock, 22 in Austin, 53 in San Antonio. Many of the lists were accompanied by letters from bishops or videos like the one posted by Austin Bishop Joe S. Vásquez, who said, “I apologize and express my deepest sorrow to the victims and their families for the abuse that occurred and for any failures of the Diocese of Austin. I pray daily for these and all victims of sexual abuse.”

Jordan McMorrough, director of communications for the Archdiocese of San Antonio, said each list includes every credible allegation of sexual abuse going back as far as the 1940s and ’50s. The San Antonio archdiocese list, released on its website, stretches back to 1940.

The lists also included the church’s definition of a “credible allegation.” The Catholic Diocese of Dallas website said a credible allegation was “one that, after review of reasonably available, relevant information in consultation with the Diocesan Review Board or other professionals, there is reason to believe is true.”

“Although I have also provided this list of names to law enforcement, inclusion on this list does not indicate that a priest is guilty of, been convicted of, or has admitted to the alleged abuse,” Dallas Bishop Edward J. Burns said in a letter that accompanied his diocese’s list of 31 people — 17 of them deceased.

The Archdiocese of San Antonio also plans to release a document with an audit of all of its cases and how they were handled, written by an independent Lay Commission on Clergy Sexual Abuse of Minors.

Emphasis mine. I’m glad this is all coming to light, but boy has it taken a lot longer than it should have. Now we need an equally comprehensive report on who covered up for all these crimes. There’s still a lot more the Church needs to do before it can meet its own standards for absolution. The Chron has more.

SJL accused of retaliation against staffer

Not good.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee

Houston Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee, under fire from a former aide’s lawsuit alleging she was fired in connection with a sexual assault complaint, said Wednesday that she will step down temporarily as chairwoman of a key House Judiciary subcommittee on criminal justice.

Jackson Lee, in her 13th term, also resigned as chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, a post that helped raise her national profile.

The lawsuit, filed by a woman who worked in Jackson Lee’s office from November 2017 to March 2018, claims that she was dismissed after notifying the congresswoman’s chief of staff that she planned to take legal action against the foundation over an alleged sexual assault involving one of the group’s supervisors.

She is identified in court records only as “Jane Doe,” a special assistant and director of public engagement. Her suit says she sometimes served as Jackson Lee’s personal driver.

Jackson Lee issued a statement Wednesday “adamantly” denying the woman’s allegation and recounting her record of advancing civil rights and non-discrimination legislation, including a law that applies to Congress.

[…]

The lawsuit stems from events October 2015, when the woman, then a 19-year-old Howard University intern for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, alleges that a 30-year-old male supervisor she was drinking and socializing with took her to his home and forced her to have sex.

According to her complaint filed in a federal court in Washington, the woman reported the incident to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and was told the supervisor would be placed on leave. She decided not to bring legal action against the foundation at the time.

She also reported the assault to Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department, which investigated but did not bring charges.

The woman was hired by Jackson Lee’s office two years later after she graduated from Howard. The earlier incident involving the foundation supervisor, identified as Damien Jones, did not come to light until Jones also was being considered for a job in Jackson Lee’s office.

The woman then reportedly told Jackson Lee’s chief of staff, Glenn Rushing, about the “prior situation.” Jones was not hired.

[…]

In the lawsuit, the woman said that soon after going to work for Jackson Lee, she learned about a text message sent to Jackson Lee by A. Shuanise Washington, the foundation’s chief executive, offering “background” on the woman.

The woman said she connected the text to her assault and told Rushing that she would take legal action against the foundation. She also said she wanted to speak to Jackson Lee personally. Instead, she said, she was fired. The reason given was “budgetary issues.”

Her lawsuit names both Jackson Lee’s office and the foundation, which released a statement promising to cooperate with an investigation of the woman’s claims.

Jones, the alleged rapist, also denies the accusation. The Trib had a brief story about the lawsuit, which includes a link to it. Stepping down as committee chair is the right thing for Rep. Lee to do for now, as we don’t have much information to go on. If there’s merit to the accusation – I hope there isn’t, but there very well could be – it won’t be enough. In that case, she will need to resign. Either we hold ourselves accountable, or our words mean nothing.

The Karolyis and Larry Nasser

Ouch.

A report commissioned by the U.S. Olympic Committee into the USA Gymnastics sexual abuse scandal was strongly critical of the culture created by longtime coaches Bela and Martha Karolyi, saying that the atmosphere at the couple’s Walker County ranch gave disgraced sports doctor Larry Nassar “broad latitude” to abuse young gymnasts.

The 237-page report compiled by the Boston law firm Ropes & Gray, which was made public Monday, also said that two top USOC officials, former CEO Scott Blackmun and chief of sport performance Alan Ashley, failed to take prompt action to protect gymnasts and others after receiving initial reports of allegations against Nassar in 2015.

[…]

The report is critical of what it described as USA Gymnastics’ lack of oversight regarding Nassar’s activities at the Karolyi Ranch between Huntsville and New Waverly, the longtime site of the USA Gymnastics women’s training center.

It also said the Karolyis created “an expectation of absolute perfection and a single-minded and exacting focus on an athlete’s training and performance-readiness to the exclusion of everything else.” This, combined with the ranch’s isolation, “gave rise to a perfect storm of circumstances that facilitated and enabled Nassar’s abuse of elite gymnasts” at the ranch.

Nassar, the report said, took advantage of a culture that was “intense, severe and unrelenting … (and) demanded obedience and deference to authority.”

Even one of the signature moments in the history of the sport — Kerri Strug’s vault at the 1996 Olympics, after suffering an injured ankle, to help the U.S. women win a gold medal — is cited as an example of an approach that emphasized results over athletes’ safety.

Strug’s vault, the report said, “has since become a source of national pride. And yet it also serves as a warning about the casual disregard for athlete safety by those entrusted with their welfare and the overwhelming pressure on athletes to persevere at any cost.”

[…]

Regarding the Karolyi Ranch, as well as the Karolyis’ roles as national team coordinators for most of the past two decades, “no institution or individual took any meaningful steps to ensure that appropriate safety measures were in place to protect the young gymnasts. And within the isolated and secluded environment of the Karolyi Ranch … Nassar had broad latitude to commit his crimes,” the report said.

The culture faced by gymnasts during the era when the Karolyis were influential, the report said, “normalized intense physical discomfort as an integral part of the path to success.” It also led to social isolation and encouraged gymnasts “not to rock the boat.”

“When those pressures were coupled with the harsh and isolated conditions at the Karolyi Ranch, they together gave rise to a perfect storm of circumstances that facilitated and enabled Nassar’s abuse of elite gymnasts,” the report added.

See here, here, and here for some background. The irony, of course, is that for the longest time that “expectation of absolute perfection and a single-minded and exacting focus on an athlete’s training and performance-readiness to the exclusion of everything else” was considered the Karolyis’ main virtue as gymnastics coaches and the fulcrum for all of the adoring press they’d received over the years. Turns out that kind of system has its flaws. The 237-page report is embedded in the story, but if you don’t want to read it you can instead read this ThinkProgress summary of it, which makes that case that the USOC should join USA Gymnastics on the junk pile of history. Deadspin has more.

USOC moves to decertify USA Gymnastics

About time.

On Monday night, the U.S. Olympic Committee made a long-overdue announcement: It is taking steps towards decertifying USA Gymnastics by revoking its recognition as one of the USOC’s National Governing Bodies (NGBs).

Now, what’s to come is not going to be an overnight fix. Decertification is a complicated process — one that involves a review panel, a formal hearing, and a finding-of-fact before it becomes official. But the USOC has stressed its commitment to making sure that athletes are well-served during this time and that all training and competitions proceed as planned in the run-up to the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo. Additionally, the USOC plans to play a part in building and fostering a revitalized, athlete-centric governing body for the sport. It’s a significant step toward true accountability and change.

However, hold the applause. It’s crucial to remember that the USOC is not the hero of this story. That honor is reserved for the brave sexual abuse survivors who have been calling for drastic measures of this kind for years.

The USOC had numerous opportunities where they could have — and, indeed, should have — stepped up to protect the athletes over whom they has responsibility. Time and time again, however, the USOC decided to do absolutely nothing.

Just go read the rest. The entire story of USA Gymnastics and its utter failure to do anything to protect its athletes from the predation of Larry Nasser is more than enough reason to blow it up and start over. This time, maybe put some actual gymnasts in leadership positions. The Chron and Deadspin have more.

Another Lopez brother gets banned from taekwondo

Steven Lopez this time.

Two-time Olympic taekwondo gold medalist Steven Lopez has been banned permanently from competition by the U.S. Center for SafeSport, based on the results of the agency’s investigation into Lopez’s sexual relationship with an underage female in 2000.

The relationship, according to a report compiled by SafeSport, involved a 14-year-old neighbor whose family was a friend of the Lopez family, and occurred at a time when the complainant was a taekwondo athlete and Lopez was establishing himself as one of the sport’s dominant figures, eventually winning five world titles along with the two Olympic gold medals.

Investigators said the relationship progressed over a four-year period, beginning when the complainant was 10, from what was described as grooming to sexual contact to oral sex, the latter occurring at a time when the complainant was 14 and Lopez 22.

The sexual relationship, SafeSport concluded, took place “in violation of the SafeSport Code, the criminal laws of the State of Texas and the standards expected of USA Taekwondo members.”

Lopez, who with his older brother and coach, Jean Lopez, has been named as a defendant in a federal court lawsuit filed in Colorado, declined to be interviewed by SafeSport regarding the allegations.

See here and here for some background on Jean Lopez. Steven Lopez had been suspended in May by SafeSport, and both he and his brother, along with SafeSport and USA Taekwondo and the US Olympic Committee, are defendants in a lawsuit over this whole sorry and deeply disturbing mess. All that matters at this point is finding some justice for the victims, and doing everything we can to make sure that this shit never, ever happens again. Deadspin has more.

Taekwondo coach Jean Lopez un-banned

Hard to understand this.

The U.S. Center for SafeSport has lifted a permanent ban imposed earlier this year on Sugar Land taekwondo coach Jean Lopez, clearing the way for Lopez to resume coaching while he and his brother, two-time Olympic gold medalist Steven Lopez, still face a federal court lawsuit accusing them of being sexual predators.

Jean Lopez’s status is now listed by SafeSport as “interim measure — restriction,” the details of which are not spelled out on the agency’s website.

However, Lopez’s attorney, Howard Jacobs, told USA Today the restriction is that Lopez is not allowed to contact his accusers.

“The main thing is that (Lopez) had been banned from coaching, and he’s no longer banned from coaching,” Jacobs told the newspaper. “We hope this is the end of it.”

The Lopez brothers, however, still face a lawsuit filed in Colorado by four women, including former national team members Mandy Meloon, a former Sugar Land resident who now lives in Austin, and Heidi Gilbert and former collegiate competitor Gabriella Joslin of Houston.

Jon Little, the Indianapolis attorney who represents the four women, said Saturday the decision to rescind the permanent ban reflects what he described as the “toothless” nature of Safe-Sport, which was established by the U.S. Olympic Committee to sanction athletes, coaches and others accused of sexual misconduct and other violations.

“I have other avenues to deal with Jean Lopez,” Little said. “Sadly, though, the USOC is putting medals and money ahead of the safety of children for the umpteenth time. This is what I expected of them.”

See here for some background. There’s some dispute over how the SafeSport appeals process is supposed to go, and I’ll refer you to these two USA Today articles for the details. I feel like any process that allows for a lifetime ban for multiple credible allegations of abuse to be lifted that easily is a process that should be reviewed. Deadspin has more.

Rape kit backlog lawsuit dismissed

Interesting.

A federal judge has dismissed a 2017 lawsuit two rape victims filed against Houston’s current mayor and police chief and five sets of predecessors, among others, for allowing a backlog of rape kits to accumulate over decades without being tested, arguing that failure ensured the plaintiffs’ attackers were on the street when they otherwise could have been behind bars.

Both women were raped by serial offenders whose DNA had long been in police databases, but who went unidentified until Houston paid two private laboratories to erase its backlog of more than 6,000 untested kits in 2013 and 2014.

The plaintiffs sought damages, saying city officials violated their rights to due process and equal protection, and that officials illegally took her property and violated her personal privacy and dignity under the Fourth Amendment.

U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore dismissed the case, saying the suit had not been filed quickly enough and that the plaintiffs’ claims did not cover rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

See here for the background, and here for the Mayor’s press release. Not clear at this time if the plaintiffs intend to appeal the ruling, but that’s always a possibility. The city is working to eliminate another backlog, and I very much hope that includes a more long-range plan to prevent backlogs from occurring in the future. The city – and the county, and the state, and Congress – should not need to be coerced into doing this properly.

Larry Nasser indicted in Walker County

It’s something, but it’s not enough.

A Walker County grand jury Friday indicted two former USA Gymnastics officials, disgraced physician Larry Nassar and athletic trainer Debra Van Horn, in conjunction with Nassar’s sexual abuse of gymnasts at the Karolyi Ranch in the Sam Houston National Forest.

Investigators, however, said they had no evidence on which to base charges against famed coaches Bela and Martha Karoyli, whose secluded ranch served for two decades as the women’s national team training center and where Nassar is accused of abusing world class gymnasts, including Olympic gold medalists, for two decades under the guise of medical care.

Nassar, who is serving the equivalent of a life sentence after pleading guilty in Michigan to state charges of sexual abuse and federal charges of possessing child pornography, was indicted on six charges of sexual abuse of a child, a second-degree felony punishable by two to 20 prison years, a maximum $10,000 fine or both.

Van Horn, who worked for USA Gymnastics for almost 30 years through last January, most recently as director of sports medicine services, was indicted on one charge of sexual abuse of a child. She is not in custody, but her attorney, Philip Hilder of Houston, who also is representing USA Gymnastics in two Walker County lawsuits, has been informed of the indictment, officials said.

[…]

The decision to indict Nassar and Van Horn but to spare the Karolyis was greeted with greeted with thanks by the Karolyis’ attorney, David Berg, and with disdain by John Manly, who represents several dozen of Nassar’s victims and has filed lawsuits against USA Gymnastics and the Karolyis for failure to protect athletes from Nassar’s abuse.

“The Karolyis are grateful to the Texas Rangers and the Walker County DA’s office for reaching the only conclusion they could have reached, that this exonerates them and removes a terrible cloud,” Berg said.

“They will continue to cooperate, but this investigation could go on until the end of time and there will never be charges against Bela and Martha Karolyi because they have done nothing wrong.”

Manly, in contrast, said the decision to indict Nassar, in light of the lengthy prison sentences already handed down, made as much sense as “digging up Lee Harvey Oswald and indicting him for the murder of President Kennedy.”

“Walker County made it clear to the survivors that they the Karolyis were never going to be a target of the investigation. This is a classic example of insiders protecting insiders,” he said.

“Their universal response of the survivors and their families is they feel nauseous about the way this was handled. I am convinced if this were a high school football team in Walker County, they would have gotten better treatment than these women did. … I’ve seen police departments take speeding violations more seriously.”

See here, here, and here for the background. I mean, maybe there wasn’t sufficient evidence to charge the Karolyis with a crime, despite all of the criminal activity happening at their ranch that they apparently failed to notice or take action on, but it sure seems like there ought to have been. It’s hardly out of the question that the Walker County DA might have given them more courtesy than they deserved. Perhaps we’ll find out more as the various lawsuits work their way through the courts. But for now, this is what we have. Deadspin and ThinkProgress have more.

In which we try again to eliminate a rape kit backlog

How exactly did we get here?

The city’s independent crime lab on Tuesday announced an ambitious plan to clear a backlog of hundreds of rape kits and other DNA evidence, the latest effort to rein in a recurring problem that has bedeviled criminal prosecutions for more than a decade.

Over a 10-month period, the Houston Forensic Science Center plans to spend $2 million to outsource testing of nearly 1,000 cases and cross-train staff in data analysis with the hope of preventing similar backlogs in the future.

“HFSC, like many labs across the country, has long struggled with backlogs in its DNA section,” said Dr. Peter Stout, HFSC’s CEO and president. “Our plan is to simultaneously eliminate a longstanding backlog while building a sustainable, efficient process that allows for an average 30-day turnaround time on DNA work.”

Officials said cross-training staff would help alleviate future delays, particularly during the data analysis of the testing, a time-intensive process that fewer than 10 analysts are authorized to perform.

[…]

Evidence backlogs have plagued Houston law enforcement for decades. A 2002 scandal at the Houston Police Department’s crime lab led the department to temporarily shutter its lab and led to calls for a regional testing lab.

The department reopened its lab, but then weathered additional scandals in 2009, after its rape kit backlog swelled to more than 4,000 cases and its fingerprint backlog surpassed 6,000 cases.

That same year, the National Academy of Sciences found serious deficiencies in the nation’s forensic science system, and called for forensic labs to be operated independently of law enforcement departments.

Four years later, after spending millions of dollars, the department announced that it had cleared its rape kit backlog.

Questions, I have questions.

1. As the story notes, the previous backlog, which predates the creation of the HFSC, was cleared in 2013. Like I said up front, how did we get here five years later?

2. To be more specific, is this a matter of priorities, or of resources? If it’s priorities, what tasks for the lab are being prioritized over “rape kits and other DNA evidence”?

3. If it’s resources – the story does note that “fewer than 10 analysts are authorized to perform” the backlogged tasks – then what will it cost to avoid this in the future? Where does that funding come from?

4. Not a question, but since someone (such as a former candidate for Mayor whose name I no longer feel obligated to mention) will surely call for the HFSC to be merged with the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences, I will simply note that the HCIFS has had its own backlog issues in recent years.

I can understand why these questions might not have been addressed in the initial reporting. I do hope they will come up in subsequent stories.

Add taekwondo to the list of problematic sports

Also a sport with local ties.

Last week, four female USA Taekwondo (USAT) athletes filed a joint lawsuit against the USOC and USAT, alleging that the two organizations engaged in sex trafficking by forcing its athletes — including minor females — to travel and train with sexual predators.

According to the lawsuit, officials in both organizations knew about allegations of rape and sexual assault against brothers Jean and Steven Lopez, who are commonly referred to as the “First Family of Taekwondo,” as far back as 1996. And yet, the organizations allegedly failed to either investigate or punish the Lopez brothers, or protect the minor female athletes who were forced to train and go on international trips with these men if they wanted to follow their Olympic dreams.

“The USOC knowingly trafficked these girls to obtain medals and money, time and again,” Jon Little, one of the attorneys representing the women, said in a statement obtained by the Indy Star.

The USOC’s role in the systemic sexual abuse of athletes has been under the microscope lately, owing to the fallout from the sexual abuse of more than 250 girls and women at the hands former Michigan State University, USA Gymnastics, and USOC doctor Larry Nassar. Many of Nassar’s victims have filed lawsuits against the USOC for enabling Nassar’s abuse, and failing to prioritize the protection of its athletes.

This suit will hardly help the USOC rebuild its tarnished reputation. It specifically alleges that current interim CEO of the USOC, Susanne Lyons, as well as four other current top USOC officials “had knowledge of the numerous complaints of rape and sexual assault made by female taekwondo athletes against both Lopez brothers” but all declined to take pro-active steps to ensure that the athletes would be free from harm.

[…]

Essentially, the allegations center around two brothers, Jean and Steven Lopez. Jean was Team USA’s taekwondo coach at the 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016 Olympic Summer Games, while Steven was a five-time Olympian and three-time Olympic medalist. Together, they have been the face of USA Taekwondo for the better part of the past two decades.

The lead plaintiff is Mandy Meloon, who the Lopez brothers allegedly began to abuse in 1994, when she moved to the U.S. Olympic Training Center at the age of 13.

There’s a lot more, so go read it. I know I’ve seen a bunch of laudatory stories about the Lopez family in the past, much as there had been many such stories about the Karolyis before the media started cluing into the problems that had existed. Taekwando has a lower profile than gymnastics, so maybe that’s helped keep the Lopezes’ alleged sins out of the public eye. But as with gymnastics and swimming and so many other things, the story is one of victims not being listened to and victimizers not being held accountable. I sure hope we’re learning a lesson from all this, because the price many women have paid for it is really steep. USA Today, CNN, and Deadspin have more.

Will the AG get involved in the Karolyi case?

The gymnasts who were victimized by Larry Nasser at the Karolyi Ranch would like to see a higher level of action.

The Texas Attorney General’s Office should take the steps of the Michigan attorney general in aggressively pursuing charges against the men and women who enabled Larry Nassar — the former doctor for the U.S. women’s Olympic gymnastics team — to sexually assault more than 200 young female athletes, a group of survivors and their lawyers said at a press conference Thursday morning.

Standing in the sunshine and wind outside the office of Texas’ top attorney, five women who say they suffered abuse at the hands of Nassar asked Attorney General Ken Paxton to take action against the couple they say allowed that abuse to continue — action Paxton’s office has said it does not have the power to take.

The women and their lawyers claim that Martha and Bela Karolyi, owners of the famed Texas Karolyi Ranch north of Houston, knew about the abuse at the longtime official training site of the team but took no steps to prevent it from continuing. They point to a May 2017 deposition in which Martha Karolyi answers “yes” after being asked whether she was aware of molestation accusations against Nassar.

The Karolyis have said through their lawyer that “Martha misunderstood the question and misspoke.”

[…]

The Texas Rangers, in consort with the Walker County Sheriff’s Office, have been investigating Karolyi Ranch since January at the request of Gov. Greg Abbott. That investigation is ongoing, the Texas Department of Public Safety said Thursday.

Lawyers for the women called that investigation insufficient, saying there have been no search warrants or charges yet issued. And there’s no indication that that probe is “seriously looking into the Karolyis,” said California attorney John Manly, who’s representing more than 100 survivors in the Nassar case.

Michelle Tuegel, a Waco attorney representing many of the Texas survivors, said a case of this scope requires action from the state’s top attorney — and, perhaps more importantly, the resources his office brings with it.

But in a statement shortly after the press conference, a spokesman for the Texas Attorney General’s Office said the investigation is “outside of our jurisdiction” but that the office would “gladly and immediately assist with this investigation and prosecution” if asked by local law enforcement.

See here and here for some background. The Texas Rangers have been working on this and I’d say it’s probably a little early to say that it’s taken too long for anything to happen. That said, Martha Karolyi’s “misstatement” deserves closer scrutiny, as does the entire history of the Karolyi Ranch, to be honest. It’s certainly fair to say that if either Karolyi didn’t know what was going on with Larry Nasser, they should have, and any professed ignorance on their part doesn’t excuse their culpability. Whether that translates into legal liability or not I don’t know, but the moral case is clear. The Chron has more.

More accusers against Paul Pressler

So often the case when there is one accusation of abuse against a powerful person, more victims come forward with their own stories.

The list of men accusing a former Texas state judge and leading figure of the Southern Baptist Convention of sexual misconduct continues to grow.

In separate court affidavits filed this month, two men say Paul Pressler molested or solicited them for sex in a pair of incidents that span nearly 40 years. Those accusations were filed as part of a lawsuit filed last year by another man who says he was regularly raped by Pressler.

Pressler’s newest accusers are another former member of a church youth group and a lawyer who worked for Pressler’s former law firm until 2017.

Toby Twining, 59, now a New York musician, was a teenager in 1977 when he says Pressler grabbed his penis in a sauna at River Oaks Country Club, according to an affidavit filed in federal court. At that time, Pressler was a youth pastor at Bethel Church in Houston; he was ousted from that position in 1978 after church officials received information about “an alleged incident,” according to a letter introduced into the court file.

Brooks Schott, 27, now a lawyer in Washington state, says in an affidavit that he resigned his position at Pressler’s former law firm after Pressler in 2016 invited Schott to get into a hot tub with him naked. He also accuses Jared Woodfill, Pressler’s longtime law partner and the head of the Harris County Republican Party until 2014, of failing to prevent Pressler’s sexual advances toward him and others, which Schott says were well-known among the firm, the documents state.

Documents recently made public show that in 2004, Pressler agreed to pay $450,000 to another former youth group member for physical assault. That man, Duane Rollins, filed a new suit last year in which he demands more than $1 million for decades of alleged rapes that a psychiatrist recently confirmed had been suppressed from Rollins’ memory. Rollins also claims the trauma pushed him to the drugs and alcohol that resulted in multiple prison sentences.

[…]

Brooks Schott states in the documents that he met Pressler in 2016, after Schott was hired as a lawyer at the firm Pressler co-founded with Woodfill.

Schott says he was invited to lunch by Pressler in December 2016. He arrived at Pressler’s home, he says, where he was greeted by Pressler, who was not wearing pants. After dressing, Pressler gave Schott a tour of his office and mentioned a 10-person hot tub at his ranch.

“Pressler then told me that ‘when the ladies are not around, us boys all go in the hot tub completely naked,’ ” Schott’s affidavit states. “He then invited me to go hot tubbing with him at his ranch. This invitation was clearly made in anticipation that I would engage in sexual activity.”

Upon returning to the firm, Schott said an office manager told him that Pressler had previously solicited young men at the firm. Schott then complained to Woodfill, according to emails that were filed with his affidavit.

“If (the office manager) knew of Pressler’s past inappropriate sexual behavior, I find it hard to believe that you did not know about it,” he wrote in a Dec. 9, 2016 email to Woodfill, court records show.

Woodfill responded that Pressler was no longer his law partner and that “this 85-year-old man has never made any inappropriate comments or actions toward me or any one I know of,” court records show. In a subsequent email, Woodfill said that the conduct Schott described “is unacceptable” and said he would address it with Pressler.

In an email on Thursday, Woodfill responded to Schott’s assertion, writing that “the person described in Mr. Schott’s affidavit doesn’t match up with the Judge Pressler I know” and that Pressler “has not been associated with my law firm for over a decade.”

See here and here for the background. Copies of the affidavits are embedded in the story. And remember, when he’s not defending the character of Paul Pressler, Jared Woodfill is busy fighting to take away spousal benefits from LGBT city employees because he thinks gay people are icky and perverted. Stay tuned, I’m sure there will be more to this story.

More on the Pressler lawsuit

The Chron adds some details to the lawsuit against former State Representative and Judge Paul Pressler, who has been accused by Duane Rollins of long-term sexual abuse.

Rollins worked in 2003 and 2004 as a personal assistant to Pressler and attended the same church as Pressler beginning as a teenager, according to court documents. Those documents include two letters ostensibly written by Pressler in 2000 and 2002 trying to gain Rollins’ release from prison.

The suit, a revised version of which was filed Dec. 14, seeks more than $1 million in damages.

Also named as defendants are Jared Woodfill, Pressler’s former law partner and former head of the Republican Party in Harris County; the First Baptist Church of Houston; the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth and its president, Paige Patterson; and Pressler’s wife, Nancy.

The suit claims the other defendants knew or should have known about the alleged assaults and could have stopped them.

Pressler has categorically denied all of the allegations in court filings, as did the other defendants, and his lawyer filed a motion Thursday afternoon asking that the case be thrown out of court.

[…]

It’s not the first time Rollins has sued Pressler – he filed suit in July 2004 with his mother, Margaret Duryea, but the suit was dismissed two months later after an apparent settlement was reached, according to records with the Dallas County District Clerk’s Office and Harris County courts.

The case file containing the 2004 lawsuit has since been destroyed by Dallas County, as allowed under state law. But Rollins’ attorney, Daniel Shea, who also represented him in Dallas, provided a copy of the 2004 lawsuit, which accuses Pressler of physically assaulting Rollins during a trip to Dallas in November 2003.

In August 2016, Rollins filed a notice of intent to file a lawsuit against Pressler in Harris County to force him to set aside funds to pay out the remaining balance of the 2004 settlement agreement through 2029. That’s when the payments are set to end, according to court documents.

Neither Woodfill, who represented Pressler in 2004, nor Shea would provide the Chronicle a copy of the settlement agreement. But the court documents filed in 2016 link the settlement directly to the 2004 lawsuit.

The notice seeks to question Pressler under oath about the settlement agreement.

[…]

Shea is perhaps best known for suing a Harris County judge who posted the Ten Commandments in a courtroom, and for attempting to sue the Pope in federal court in 2005 over sexual abuse of minors by priests.

Shea also represented some plaintiffs in Massachusetts when sexual abuse scandals plagued the Boston and Worcester Archdioceses in the early 2000s.

Shea has had a rocky history in Texas. His law license was suspended in 2013 for 18 months for professional misconduct and was reinstated in October 2014, though he remained on probation until March 2017, according to the State Bar of Texas website. A state bar disciplinary report published in the Texas Bar Journal said he entered into a contract with a client that was unfair and unreasonable, without the client’s written consent to the terms. He was ordered to pay more than $38,000 in restitution to the client.

See here for the background. The defense is arguing that the statute of limitations renders this action moot. There will be a hearing on January 17, and there is also a motion to transfer the case to Tarrant County. Assuming this doesn’t get kicked, it’s going to be quite fascinating to watch.

(On a side note, Paul Pressler gave $5000 to the anti-HERO campaign. Gotta beware of those predators, you know.)

The Paul Pressler lawsuit

Here‘s a thing to keep an eye on.

A former Texas state judge and lawmaker has been accused of sexually abusing a young man for several decades starting when the boy was just 14, according to a lawsuit filed in October in Harris County.

The lawsuit alleges that Paul Pressler, a former justice on the 14th Court of Appeals who served in the Texas state house from 1957–59, sexually assaulted Duane Rollins, his former bible study student, several times per month over a period of years. According to the filing, the abuse started in the late 1970s and continued less frequently after Rollins left Houston for college in 1983.

In a November court filing, Pressler “generally and categorically [denied] each and every allegation” in Rollins’ petition.

The abuse, which consisted of anal penetration, took place in Pressler’s master bedroom study, the suit alleges. According to the lawsuit, Pressler told Rollins he was “special” and that the sexual contact was their God-sanctioned secret.

Pressler is a leading figure on the religious right in Texas and was a key player in the “conservative resurgence” of Southern Baptism, a movement in the 1970s and 1980s that aimed to oust liberals and moderates from the church’s organizational structure. Pressler’s wife Nancy, his former law partner Jared Woodfill, Woodfill Law Firm, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and First Baptist Church of Houston are also named as defendants in the suit.

Rollins seeks damages of over $1 million.

It’s ugly stuff. The original reporting was in the Quorum Report, which has a few more details:

Rollins regularly saw Patterson and Pressler. At one point, the three travelled abroad together, the suit says.

Following the trip, Rollins was arrested for driving while intoxicated in Houston, leading to a string of felonies and ultimately back to prison. He was finally released in November of 2015 after telling a psychologist about being molested.

Rollins sought professional help and a lawyer, Daniel Shea of Houston.

A psychiatric evaluation of Rollins provided in the filing revealed he suffered from undiagnosed Posttraumatic Stress Disorder as a result of being molested.

The petition also questions the dogmas and beliefs of Pressler, Rev. Patterson and others with the goal of discrediting the theology of the resurgence, which advocates a literal interpretation of Scripture within the SBC, as a smokescreen for “one of the most pernicious philosophical and theological dogmas afoot in this country. It is known as ‘Calvinism’,” the case reads.

The lawsuit is here.

Letters from Judge Pressler vouching for the plaintiff are here and here.

The psychiatric evaluation of the plaintiff can be downloaded here.

Keep an eye on this one, I have a feeling it’s going to be big.

Lawsuit filed over untested rape kits

This could be a big deal.

A former Houston woman is suing the City of Houston and a long list of current and former mayors and police chiefs for failing to investigate a backlog of more than 6,000 untested rape kits, and not identifying her attacker as a man who had been in a national police database for decades.

In one of several cases brought by victims against officials around the country in recent years, the victim of a 2011 sexual assault in Houston claims in a federal civil rights lawsuit this week that her perpetrator could have been apprehended and prosecuted for earlier crimes if officials had kept on top of the massive backlog of DNA samples in the city’s possession.

DeJenay Beckwith, 35, who now lives in Milam County, contends city officials failed to pursue a serial offender in her case, or investigate rape kits for other victims, because they don’t take women or child victims seriously. She is seeking damages, saying city officials violated her rights to due process and equal protection, and officials illegally took her property and violated her personal privacy and dignity under the Fourth Amendment.

[…]

Houston tackled the backlog of rape kits in early 2013 under former Mayor Annise Parker and ex-Chief Charles McClelland, drawing on $4 million in federal grants to outsource DNA testing with private forensic labs. Parker led the initiative to remove the crime lab from HPD management in April 2014 – although it remains in the HPD headquarters building – after the creation of an independent city-funded lab now overseen by civilian forensic experts.

According to court documents, Beckwith met her assailant on April 2, 2011, when he pretended to be a mechanic and offered to fix her broken down car. He asked to come inside her Southwest Houston home for a glass of water.

According to the lawsuit, he proceeded to throw her to the floor, strike her repeatedly and rape her. She chased him on foot, and a neighbor joined the chase, but he escaped in his car.

A rape kit taken at Memorial Hermann Southwest as a result of her police report was taken to the city’s crime lab.

Beckwith’s lawyers say the kit went untested for five years. During that time, she got one phone call from a detective who wanted to know what she was doing wandering on Bissonnet when she met her assailant, implying she was a prostitute and saying, “These things happen.”

The detective discouraged her from filing a report, telling her it was unlikely the suspect would be caught, according to the lawsuit.

She next heard from Houston police in 2016, when they contacted her to say they tested the DNA and they had a suspect. She later learned the man’s name was David Lee Cooper. Cooper had prior sexual assault convictions, including one from 2002 involving minor child. His DNA had been in the Combined DNA Index System, known as CODIS and managed by the FBI, since 1991.

The details of what happened to Ms. Beckwith are awful and troubling, and if the account of what the detective told her is accurate, I hope he’s no longer in that job. It’s too late to do anything to help Ms. Beckwith in any meaningful way, but we sure can get to the bottom of why this all happened and take steps to make sure it never happens again. The Press and ThinkProgress have more.

Dan Patrick doesn’t care about sexual assault

Such a moral exemplar you are, Danno.

Amid a wave of reports of women alleging Donald Trump kissed or groped them without their consent, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrickmaintained Thursday that the Republican presidential nominee has effectively pushed the issue behind him.

Patrick, who is Texas Chairman for Trump’s presidential campaign, initially addressed the scandal currently dominating the presidential campaign Wednesday to Time Warner Cable News’ Capital Tonight.

“This story is kind of in the rear-view mirror now,” Patrick said, referring to an 11-year-old tape published by the Washington Post that showed Trump bragging about kissing and groping women without their consent.

As Capital Tonight aired the segment Wednesday evening, several news outlets published reports featuring women accusing Trump of activities similar to what he talked about doing in the 2005 video. First, The New York Times published a story in which two women accused Trump of touching them inappropriately.

“He was like an octopus,”  Jessica Leeds, one of the women, told the Times. “His hands were everywhere.”

The Palm Beach Post also published a story about a local woman who said she was groped by Trump 13 years ago. People Magazine published a story in which a reporter accused Trump of “forcing his tongue” down her throat.

Trump denied the allegations and is reportedly considering filing a lawsuit. On Twitter, he said: “The phony story in the failing @nytimes is a TOTAL FABRICATION. Written by same people as last discredited story on women. WATCH!”

In a statement to The Texas Tribune, spokesman Allen Blakemore said Patrick continues to believe voters see the Trump tape story “through the rear view mirror.”

“As far as new allegations published in the New York Times, the Lieutenant Governor thinks the voters will decide that they are far more concerned about the direction of the Supreme Court, the economy and national security than a decades old tawdry tabloid story published in a newspaper that has already endorsed Mrs. Clinton,” Blakemore said.

Patrick is such a coward, he can’t even bring himself to address the assault allegations. We have moved on from the “grab her by the pussy” tape, Dan. There’s much worse out there now, and I’ll bet there’s still more to come. Try to keep up. Of course, none of Trump’s racism or anti-Semitism or palling around with Vladimir Putin have bothered Dan Patrick so far, so I suppose this should be no mystery. In the meantime, Nick Anderson’s cartoon says it all. This needs to be pointed out repeatedly when Patrick’s potty bill is being debated in the Senate.

“Grab her by the p—-“

Donald Trump, ladies and gentlemen:

Donald Trump bragged in vulgar terms about kissing, groping and trying to have sex with women during a 2005 conversation caught on a hot microphone, saying that “when you’re a star, they let you do it,” according to a video obtained by The Washington Post.

The video captures Trump talking with Billy Bush, then of “Access Hollywood,” on a bus with the show’s name written across the side. They were arriving on the set of “Days of Our Lives” to tape a segment about Trump’s cameo on the soap opera.

The tape includes audio of Bush and Trump talking inside the bus, as well as audio and video once they emerge from it to begin shooting the segment.

In that audio, Trump discusses a failed attempt to seduce a woman, whose full name is not given in the video.

“I moved on her, and I failed. I’ll admit it,” Trump is heard saying. It was unclear when the events he was describing took place. The tape was recorded several months after he married his third wife, Melania.

“Whoa,” another voice said.

“I did try and f— her. She was married,” Trump says.

Trump continues: “And I moved on her very heavily. In fact, I took her out furniture shopping. She wanted to get some furniture. I said, ‘I’ll show you where they have some nice furniture.’”

“I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there. And she was married,” Trump says. “Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look.”

At that point in the audio, Trump and Bush appear to notice Arianne Zucker, the actress who is waiting to escort them into the soap-opera set.

“Your girl’s hot as s—, in the purple,” says Bush, who’s now a co-host of NBC’s “Today” show.

“Whoa!” Trump says. “Whoa!”

“I’ve got to use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her,” Trump says. “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.”

“And when you’re a star, they let you do it,” Trump says. “You can do anything.”

“Whatever you want,” says another voice, apparently Bush’s.

“Grab them by the p—y,” Trump says. “You can do anything.”

I don’t have any snark to bring for this. It’s hardly a surprise, given all we know about Donald Trump, though it’s still shocking in a way that I didn’t think I could still be shocked. The coordinated national Republican response has been rolled out, and I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot of it over the next thirty-something days.

And sure enough, Dan Patrick was quick to “condemn” Trump for what he said. Of course, there’s literally nothing Trump could say or do that would persuade Dan Patrick that Donald Trump is manifestly unqualified and incapable of being President, so take it for what it’s worth. That leaves Ted Cruz, John Cornyn, Greg Abbott, Ken Paxton, George P. Bush, Sid Miller, and every other Texas Republican that has endorsed and worked to help elect Donald Trump to let us know what they have to say for themselves. Because as with Patrick, what they have to say about it will say a lot about themselves as well.

UPDATE: What Josh Marshall says.

Legislation to ban the jailing of rape victims proposed

Hard to argue with, I must say.

DA Devon Anderson

The controversial jailing of a rape victim to ensure her testimony could lead to a new state law protecting victims’ rights to an appointed attorney.

State Sen. Joan Huffman is joining with Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson and Sheriff Ron Hickman to push for new legislation to protect witnesses facing jail time through a legal mechanism known as an attachment order, or witness attachment.

The announcement Friday came on the heels of a firestorm after a mentally ill rape victim filed a lawsuit last month over being detained in the Harris County jail for almost a month while waiting to testify against her attacker.

[…]

“The process of attachment is a rarely used but extremely vital tool for attorneys to ensure the testimony of a witness,” said Huffman, R-Houston. “It should only be used when there is no other way to hear testimony that is critical to public safety or in the best interest of the public.”

Huffman said what happened to the rape victim was “distressing” and she is looking at a wide swath of possible changes, mostly for large jurisdictions in Texas.

In addition to requiring judges to appoint counsel, Huffman said she is looking at requirements that office holders, or their designees, sign off on the order. There could also be a requirement to renew the order every 72 hours.

“I envision it almost like the special protections we have in the juvenile system, like making sure they have counsel and someone is keeping tabs on them,” she said. “And that way everybody knows what’s going on and everybody is on the same page.”

She said smaller jurisdictions would probably be exempt, since it would be unlikely that a witness in jail in a small rural county would “fall through the cracks.”

See here, here, here, and here for the background. It’s hard to argue with the intent of such a bill, but one could easily argue that this should never have happened here without DA Anderson and Sheriff Hickman’s knowledge and consent, and that it happened is more a failure of common sense and office management than anything else. That said, if it takes a law to ensure that every office has that kind of procedure in place, then so be it. I would argue that small counties should not be exempted from it, as informing the DA and Sheriff is hardly an imposition, and ensuring they are informed would also ensure they are accountable. So kudos to Sen. Huffman for proposing this, but forgive me my exasperation that she had to propose it.

Jailed rape victim’s lawyer calls for special prosecutor

To investigate the actions of the DA’s office that led to her incarceration.

DA Devon Anderson

Prosecutors broke the law when they jailed a rape victim in order to secure her testimony against her attacker, the woman’s attorney claimed Monday in a letter to Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson.

Attorney Sean Buckley said he believes prosecutors illegally obtained a court order to confine his client in the Harris County Jail last December, committing the crime of official oppression.

He called on Anderson to appoint a “special prosecutor” to investigate the matter.

“Reasonable minds cannot disagree that I have made more than a colorable claim that your employees engaged in the Class A misdemeanor offense of Official Oppression in their callous and deliberate mistreatment of my client,” Buckley stated in the letter. “This is an exceedingly serious matter on multiple levels that clearly deserves a full, fair and independent investigation by a neutral and detached prosecutor with no ties to your office.”

Anderson countered Monday that her office didn’t break any laws.

“There is no reason to believe that anyone in this situation – the prosecutor or the judge – believed that what they were doing was unauthorized by the law,” Anderson said at a Monday press conference. “No crime was committed. I will not recuse off this case.”

She apologized to the victim, reiterating that prosecutors believed it was the only option at the time.

“I would say something to (the victim), that I’m very sorry about how all of this played out,” she said. “And the last thing that we ever want to do is cause further distress, further trauma to a victim.”

[…]

The woman, 25, had agreed to testify against her attacker, Keith Hendricks, but had a mental collapse on the witness stand in December. She was found walking in traffic outside the criminal courthouse and was committed to a psychiatric ward at St. Joseph Medical Center, according to the lawsuit. The judge then delayed the trial until January.

Buckley believes his client was held at St. Joseph through a valid mental health warrant.

“I have no complaint about that,” he said. “We agree she needed to be hospitalized for her mental health condition.”

But prosecutors, he said, also used an improper court order – issued and signed by the judge on the day of the woman’s December testimony – to take the woman into custody following her discharge from St. Joseph.

That order was obtained illegally, Buckley said. According to Texas law, an attachment order can be obtained only if the witness resides in the county or has been served with a subpoena and failed to appear – none of which applied to his client, he said.

“My request for an outside investigation is directed specifically at the allegation that prosecutors broke the law when they did this,” he said.

Court records show that a subpoena was issued for the woman in October, but Buckley said it was never served and was not in effect at the time of trial two months later. Furthermore, he asserted that the original subpoena was defective because it had an incorrect address for his client.

“My position is that no prosecutor could ever conclude that the attachment order used against my client was lawful,” he said. “It’s obvious that this order violates the law.”

See here, here, and here for the background. Normally with this kind of dispute over the facts of a case, you’d let the jury sort it out. Here it means that there won’t be a special prosecutor appointed, unless DA Anderson comes under enough pressure that she relents and appoints one. “Pressure” in this case means political pressure, and so far I haven’t seen much involvement from other officeholders, including Commissioners Court. If and when that happens, it will be a lot harder for Anderson to hold out. The Press has more.

More on the jailed rape victim

The Chron pens a harsh editorial.

DA Devon Anderson

Although a spokesman for the district attorney’s office has admitted this miscarriage of justice should never have happened, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson defends the prosecutor involved in the case. She says the prosecutor tried to find a suitable place for the sexual assault survivor to stay after her breakdown and even paid for a night in a hotel out of his own pocket. Calling it “an extraordinarily difficult and unusual situation,” the DA said there were “no apparent alternatives” that would ensure the victim’s safety and that she also would appear to testify. Coming from a district attorney who presents herself as a champion of crime victims, that’s mighty hard to swallow. Throwing a mentally ill rape victim into jail because there’s supposedly no other place for her to go should shock the conscience of every citizen of Harris County.

[…]

Voters will pass final judgment on Anderson’s handling of this matter. With the district attorney up for re-election in November, the incident already has become a political issue.

Meanwhile, we call upon our elected leadership to ask the U.S. Justice Department for a federal investigation of this case. The DA and the sheriff have offered their own explanations, but an independent inquiry is absolutely essential.

We also urge Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and county commissioners Jack Cagle, Gene Locke, Jack Morman and Steve Radack to take the time to read the lawsuit the victim’s lawyer filed. It’s a frightening document outlining an unimaginable perversion of justice. We hope they lose sleep thinking over what they need to do about it.

See here and here for the background. We absolutely should be hearing more from Judge Emmett and Commissioners Court – including Sen. Ellis – on this. Do they support a federal investigation into what happened? We need to know.

and yes, this is a campaign issue.

District attorney candidate Kim Ogg on Tuesday again pushed for reform in the treatment of crime victims, criticizing the controversial jailing of a rape victim by Harris County prosecutors to ensure the woman would testify in court.

Ogg said the district attorney’s office could improve how victims are detained if prosecutors are worried witnesses might fail to show up in court. She also suggested the creation of a new division in the district attorney’s office that would be responsible for prosecuting people who commit sex crimes.

“I will never put a crime victim in jail to secure a conviction,” she said at a Tuesday press conference. “There are so many other things we can do … There is no excuse for putting this woman in jail.”

[…]

Ogg called last week for an independent investigation of the case and has now made crime victim treatment a campaign priority, saying her proposed reforms would be implemented if she is elected in November.

Sheriff candidate Ed Gonzalez has also been speaking out about this. You may say, we shouldn’t politicize this. I say District Attorney and Sheriff are political offices for a reason, and it is ultimately on the voters to decide how and when to hold the people who serve in those offices accountable when stuff like this happens. DA Anderson and Sheriff Hickman have given their responses to what happened. We get to decide how we feel about that. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

Falkenberg talks to DA Anderson about jailed rape victim

Worth reading, as you would expect. I’m going to quote from the conclusion:

DA Devon Anderson

[Assistant DA Nick] Socias appeared to have diligently tried to help, but he seemed to be trying alone. Anderson’s office said she wasn’t informed about the situation until near the end of trial.

She should have been involved from the start. The sheriff as well. When I asked, Anderson couldn’t think of a single thing the prosecutor could have done better. One is glaringly obvious: ask for help.

In the end, the victim testified, and her bravery helped get a serial rapist off the street.

But the cost to the victim was too high, something Anderson said “we regret very much.”

“We’ve just been crushed by this,” she told me.

I believe her. But a young rape victim has been destroyed by this. It’s not acceptable to say that was unavoidable.

See here for the background, and do read the whole thing. I don’t think Devon Anderson has been a terrible DA. She has done, or at least tried to do, some good things, from better handling of marijuana cases to not being bulldozed by politics in the Planned Parenthood investigation. She’s a clear step up from Chuck Rosenthal. But this case demonstrates an appalling lack of oversight within her office. There’s just no way that an ADA should have been able to make the decision to hold a crime victim, let along a rape victim, in jail without the full knowledge and consent of the DA and the Sheriff. Maybe they would have signed off on it and maybe they would have insisted on finding another answer. Maybe if they had signed off on it there would have been better management of the process that could have avoided the terrible things that happened to the victim while she was inside. Whatever the case, the fact that it did happen without them knowing about it is a problem. That Anderson didn’t see that on her own is an even bigger problem.

Why would you even think to put a rape victim in jail?

I am outraged.

The 25-year-old rape victim, frightened and long-suffering from mental illness, agreed in December to testify against the Houston man who brutally assaulted her in 2013.

She hoped to put him behind bars for life.

But that decision landed her in the Harris County jail for more than a month over the Christmas holiday – terrified, helpless and hopeless, according to a federal lawsuit filed this week in Houston.

The woman, diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, had a mental breakdown on the witness stand and then was jailed by Harris County prosecutors who feared she wouldn’t come back to court.

“They didn’t care. They got what they wanted,” the woman’s mother said Wednesday about the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. “She was collateral damage and they didn’t care what happened to her.”

News about the case shocked Houston’s defense attorneys and advocates for rape victims.

“That is beyond ludicrous,” said Lavinia Masters, a sexual assault victims advocate. “I’m amazed that a judge would allow that. You’re further victimizing a victim.”

District Attorney Devon Anderson said the woman, who was homeless when she was raped, was going through a “life-threatening mental health crisis” and told prosecutors she was not going to return to testify.

“If nothing was done to prevent the victim from leaving Harris County in the middle of trial, a serial rapist would have gone free – and her life would have been at risk while homeless on the street,” Anderson said in a video statement. “This was an extraordinarily difficult and unusual situation. There were no apparent alternatives that would ensure both the victim’s safety and her appearance in trial.”

She defended the prosecutor named in the lawsuit, Nicholas Socias, and said any claim that her office does not support crime victims is “outrageous.”

[…]

Jailing a witness to ensure they testify is an unusual move in Harris County, especially when the witness is not also facing criminal charges. Over the past two decades, there have been a smattering of published accounts of rape victims being jailed across the country.

Officials with the Houston Area Women’s Center said respecting the dignity of survivors and providing full support are paramount.

“We have no direct knowledge of this particular case, but are concerned that sexual assault is already under-reported and that this may further deter survivors from coming forward,” said Rebecca White, the center’s chief executive officer.

I can’t even begin to imagine the thought process that led to the conclusion that jailing this poor women was a good idea. I mean, I know that the Harris County Jail is called the largest mental health facility in the country, but that doesn’t make it a hospital, and it doesn’t make it an acceptable place to try and treat someone who doesn’t belong in jail. This was just monumentally bad judgment, and Kim Ogg is right to call for an independent investigation of what happened. For shame.

Baylor fires Art Briles

About time.

Baylor University, in response to allegations of sexual assaults made against students — including by several football players — announced Thursday that football coach Art Briles has been suspended with intent to terminate, and Kenneth Starr will no longer serve as the president but will stay at the school.

Baylor’s actions come after the university’s board of regents received an independent report from a law firm that investigated the school’s response to sexual assault allegations.

“We were horrified by the extent of these acts of sexual violence on our campus. This investigation revealed the University’s mishandling of reports in what should have been a supportive, responsive and caring environment for students,” Richard Willis, chairman of the Baylor board of regents, said in a statement.

“The depth to which these acts occurred shocked and outraged us. Our students and their families deserve more, and we have committed our full attention to improving our processes, establishing accountability and ensuring appropriate actions are taken to support former, current and future students.”

Starr will transition into a role as chancellor and remain as a law school professor. Starr’s duties as chancellor will include external fundraising and religious liberty; he will have no operational duties at the university.

Athletic director Ian McCaw was sanctioned and placed on probation. He is working to find an interim football coach, according to Richard Willis, who is a member of Baylor’s Board of Regents.

Dr. David Garland, a former dean and professor at Baylor’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary, will serve as interim president. The school said in the release that additional members of the administration and athletics program have also been dismissed but declined to identify them.

Baylor officials said in a news release that the school had hired a New York law firm to contact the NCAA about potential rules violations.

A copy of the report is here, and Baylor’s press release announcing their actions is here. I have no sympathy for Art Briles, and I hope he never coaches again anywhere. Let him spend the rest of his life regretting his actions, or lack of same. And as you read the zillions of stories on the Internet about this, please spare a thought for the victims of those uninvestigated assaults, and give the stories that spend any time contemplating what this means to the Bears’ football fortunes the contempt they deserve. If you need a little extra focus for that, or just a reminder of how we got here, go read this Texas Monthly story from last August, and this Outside the Lines report from last week. Think Progress, Texas Monthly, Martin Longman, and Deadspin’s Diana Moscovitz, who is not impressed, have more.

Another unintended consequence of tort “reform”

From Lisa Falkenberg:

At every turn in her ordeal, Laura has felt irrelevant.

The Houston mother of two says she was raped in her hospital bed by a doctor who she claims checked his phone afterward while she cried. She reported the rape to nurses who responded with cold skepticism. She had to wait nearly two years for police to collect the alleged attacker’s DNA and make an arrest.

And now, there’s this: the physician charged with assaulting her at Ben Taub hospital in November 2013, Dr. Shafeeq Sheikh, may get off scot-free in civil court.

And Texas law may entitle her to only modest compensation from Sheikh’s employer at the time of the rape, the prestigious Baylor College of Medicine.

Sheikh continued at Baylor for seven months following the incident and was then hired by Houston Methodist. A Baylor spokeswoman, citing pending litigation, has refused to allow interviews with Baylor officials or to answer questions.

The Texas Medical Board suspended Sheikh’s license following his arrest, and he has been fired from Methodist. His attorney says Sheikh looks forward to proving his innocence in court.

On Oct. 19, Laura’s attorney sued Sheikh, Baylor, Ben Taub and Harris Health, alleging, among other things, negligence.

Baylor’s lawyers have submitted to the court a proposed order to dismiss Sheikh from the case, as “mandated” by law. Baylor’s attorney, Jeff McClure, declined comment.

The law he cited, in the “tort claims” chapter of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code, says that if a governmental unit and its employee are sued, the employee shall “immediately” be dismissed.

How is a doctor at a private medical college considered a government employee?

Baylor doctors staff Ben Taub, which is a public hospital owned by Harris County.

The doctor isn’t the only one who can deploy the “government unit” shield. Baylor lawyers have successfully argued that the college itself can be construed as a government entity and is entitled to the same protections a county institution would enjoy.

In Texas, a limited government liability state, those protections are great. Baylor can argue it is immune to the claim altogether. Even if Laura’s lawyers are successful in challenging that immunity, and she is granted an award, the most a municipality can be forced to pay is $100,000.

“You can get about $300,000 if you spill coffee in your lap at McDonald’s,” says her lawyer, Mark Weycer. “But this poor lady gets raped at Ben Taub Hospital and on her best day at the courthouse, she gets $100,000.”

[…]

How can this be? The 2003 tort reforms were flawed in many ways, but did lawmakers really intend to go so far as to protect doctors who rape patients?

Absolutely not, said former state Rep. Joe Nixon, a Houston Republican who sponsored the legislation in the House. He said he was “flabbergasted” and “stunned” to hear that the Texas Supreme Court would interpret his bill to mean assault is medical malpractice.

“Any criminal activity by any medical personnel is not covered by this bill, under any circumstances,” he said.

Nixon, an attorney, cautioned in an interview Friday that he doesn’t handle medical malpractice cases, he wasn’t familiar with Laura’s case and he doesn’t comment on pending litigation. But he pushed back on the notion that his bill is responsible for the hurdles Laura faces in her civil action.

That includes the provision that allows Sheikh and Baylor to claim government protections. Perdue, the personal injury lawyer not connected to her case, said a slight change in Nixon’s 2003 bill allowed medical providers to be considered public servants.

Nixon denied that change, but when presented with the language, he argued that a doctor who rapes a patient isn’t a public servant because he’s acting outside the “course and scope” of duty.

See here and here for Falkenberg’s prior columns on this topic. It’s far more likely to me that the legislators who crafted our awful tort “reform” law didn’t give the matter much thought. I’m sure whichever lobbyists that discussed the medical-providers-as-public-servants exception with then-Rep. Nixon had perfectly reasonable-sounding justifications for it that a dedicated lackey to corporate interests like Nixon was only too happy to sign off on. And let’s be clear, it would be 100% consistent for the Supreme Court to read the law in this fashion, given how in the pocket of corporate interests they are as well. But look, there’s an easy way to fix this, and that’s for the 2017 Lege to pass a bill (*) clarifying the intent of the 2003 tort “reform” law to explicitly state that doctors like these are not “public servants” and thus are not covered by tort “reform”. Bitter partisan that I am, I think the odds of that happening are slim to none, but I’ll be happy to be proven wrong. And as long as I’m in partisan mode, running on a promise to pass a law to remove this protection from rapists would be an excellent thing for Democratic candidates up and down the ballot to run on. Let’s get Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick on the record on this, shall we?In the meantime, I hope Laura and her attorney can find a way to get justice from this awful situation, whatever the Lege and the Supreme Court do.

(*) Given that the tort “reform” law was enshrined in the Constitution, we may need another amendment to achieve this. I’m unclear on this point, so if any of the legislative experts in my audience care to weigh in, I’d appreciate it. My point about the partisan politics of this remain regardless.

R Kelly still on the bill at FPSF 2015

Progress report from the Cancel R Kelly At FPSF 2015 Facebook page: No progress to report.

Thanks for all the support! On Monday March 9th, we met again with Free Press Summer Fest. They had nothing to report about any decision. So, it’s time to move into all the strategies of a campaign that we intend to win. If you are interested in being part of the next phases of our campaign, say so in the comments!

See here and here for the background. I look forward to seeing what that campaign looks like. As Texas Monthly noted last week, the FPSF Facebook page was still promoting R Kelly’s appearance; that latter link is from a few days after the TM story. The same is true for the banner ad atop the Free Press Houston webpage, which has not mentioned the controversy at all as far as I can tell.

Anyway. There is now a petition that calls on FPSF to cancel R Kelly, and there’s no shortage of better alternatives out there if FPSF wants to look. By now it seems clear that their strategy is to lay low and hope it all blows over. Which, one must admit, is an often successful gambit. It’s on those of us who don’t like this choice or the response to the negative feedback to it to keep up the pressure. So sign the petition, like the Cancel R Kelly at FPSF 2015 Facebook page, and make a little noise. People may or may not listen, but you can be heard.

Chron covers R Kelly controversy

Here’s the story.

Free Press Houston and concert promoter Pegstar are deciding what to do about the inclusion of R&B performer R. Kelly at the 2015 Free Press Summer Festival after a local protest began to draw national attention. Kelly was announced last week as one of the event’s headliners.

Both the popular independent music reporting website Stereogum and veteran music writer Jim DeRogatis — who wrote about accusations about Kelly for the Chicago Sun-Times — have reported on the protest.

The campaign to have Kelly (born Robert Kelly) removed started with the organization Girls Rock Camp Houston, a self-described “DIY, punk, feminist empowerment camp,” which addressed organizers of the event in a letter that read, in part:

“This past week you released the lineup for the Free Press Summer Fest 2015, which includes R. Kelly as a headlining act. A pedophile. Indicted on 21 counts of child pornography. Has filmed video footage of himself engaging in sexual acts with underage girls. Teenage girls he would prey on outside of their gospel choir class at Kenwood Academy in Chicago. Leaving long lasting emotional and psychological trauma, for some resulting in attempted suicide. After dozens of lawsuits, the girls feeling like they could get no justice, settled. The girls of Chicago are the girls of Houston and they MATTER. They deserve the right to live without fear, violence, intimidation and predatory sexual behavior. R. Kelly should not be able to continue to profit from performances that glorify his persona of sexual predator.”

See here for the background. There’s nothing new in the Chron story, and as far as I can tell there’s no news yet on how that Monday meeting with Girls Rock Camp Houston and Pegstar went. In the meantime, the Cancel R Kelly At FPSF 2015 Facebook page, which posted a FAQ about what they’re doing, continues to be the best source of information on this. At some point, the lack of news on the dialog with Pegstar will point to their answer being “no”. We’ll see how long this plays out. Nonsequiteuse and the Washington Post have more.

Why is R Kelly in the Free Press Summerfest lineup?

Maybe this wasn’t such a hot idea.

Music fan David Hayes has attended the Free Press Summer Fest every summer since 2010, and was planning to go this year as well—that is, until he saw that one of the headliners was R. Kelly, the popular R&B singer who has been accused of having sex with teenage girls and possessing child pornography. “Disgusted would be the right word,” Hayes said. “I just can’t believe he’s gigging anywhere after what he’s done. I don’t understand how any person in their right mind could put up the fee to pay him to perform, or go see him.”

Kelly was acquitted in a child pornography trial in 2008 even though a video had surfaced of him having sex with an allegedly underage girl. (Kelly’s lawyers convinced the jury that the identity of the girl in the tape hadn’t been conclusively established.) Still, accusations continue to surface. Dozens of women have sued Kelly for sexual abuse, many of them claiming they were underage at the time. And although the allegations were first made public by Chicago Sun-Times reporter Jim DeRogatis in 2000, R. Kelly remains a marquee performer, releasing bestselling albums, selling out concerts, and headlining events like the 2013 Pitchfork Music Festival.

The tide of public opinion may be turning against the singer, however. Last July, the Fashion Meets Music Festival in Columbus, Ohio dropped R. Kelly from the lineup after protests from other bands, festival vendors, and angry Ohioans. After the Free Press Summer Fest lineup was announced last week, outrage spread across social media. (Sample comments on Facebook: “I just found out that he was on the line up, and was completely at a loss for words”; “He should be in jail.”)

[Monday] night, a group of Houstonians [met] with Free Press publisher Omar Afra to discuss their opposition to Kelly’s appearance. Asked about the meeting by phone, Afra declined to respond until he meets with them. “We’re pretty much in the listening stage right now,” he said. “We never preclude dialogue. If somebody’s got a concern, we’re here to hear that.” But why did Free Press invite Kelly in the first place? Afra’s response: “He’s a musician.”

You should read this 2013 Village Voice story about the allegations against Kelly and the campaign by journalist DeRogatis to get people to pay attention to them. There’s a Cancel R Kelly At FPSF 2015 Facebook page out there in case you want to register your disapproval. I haven’t seen any reports from that Monday meeting itself, but I’m very interested to know how it went, and what if anything Pegstar (whose press releases I get) and Omar Afra will do about this. What do you think? Rocks Off has more.

UPDATE: Another update from Rocks Off.

All backlogged rape kits have been tested

Great news.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Houston officials have completed the lab testing and review of a three-decade backlog of rape kits, yielding 850 matches in the national DNA database.

On Monday, Mayor Annise Parker, District Attorney Devon Anderson and police department and crime lab officials trumpeted the newly complete testing of the 6,600 kits as a major milestone. Now, however, those 850 hits fall to HPD and prosecutors to determine whether charges can be pressed.

So far, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office has prosecuted 29 suspects, disposing of seven cases. One was dismissed because the complainant did not want to go forward with the case, and the others resulted in sentences ranging from two years to 45 years, said Jane Waters, head of the District Attorney’s Office’s special victims bureau.

“I know this milestone is of special importance to the rape survivors and their families and friends because pit means their cases are receiving the attention they should have years ago,” Parker said. “If there is a chance of prosecution in a case that has languished or new cases that are uncovered, that prosecution will happen.”

Anderson also acknowledged for the first time that in some cases alleged assailants committed other crimes, including rape, while their DNA sat untested. She said she did not know off-hand how many suspects fit that description, but there may not have been enough DNA at the time to generate a profile in some cases. Waters added after the press conference that some may have involved victims who chose not to move forward with their cases at the time.

“Yes, it did happen unfortunately,” Anderson said. “We are eagerly looking forward to prosecuting those rapists, those repeat rapists.”

See here, here, and here for the background. The last of the kits was sent off to the lab in August of 2013, so at this point all the work has been done. One pleasant surprise to come out of this was that there were no exonerations. I would have bet a modest sum of money at the beginning of this story that at least one wrongly convicted person would be freed as a result of this. I’m glad that none of the men who will be put into prison because of these rape kits will be replacing someone who shouldn’t have been. KUHF and Hair Balls have more.

Working for progress on LGBT issues

I’m always a little wary when I see a phrase like “chipping away” in a story about LGBT issues, but in this case it refers to obstacles, not hard-won victories, so it’s OK.

RedEquality

The rights and interests of homosexual Texans will be in the spotlight like never before next year, as the state’s same-sex marriage ban gets a long-awaited hearing in federal court and lawmakers take up a slate of bills that address everything from employment and insurance discrimination to local equal rights ordinances.

“In Texas, it’s very difficult with the makeup of the Legislature to pass anything,” said Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston. “But it’s called chipping away – keep bringing the issue – until one day it passes.”

[…]

Daniel Williams, of Equality Texas, said he believes there is a “realistic opportunity” to pass legislation allowing both same-sex partners to be listed on birth certificates, and to remove a provision in state law that criminalizes sexual relationships between some same-sex teenagers.

Other bills have been filed to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in public school sex education classes, and for insurance companies and state contractors. Two bills, by [Sen. Jose] Rodriguez and his El Paso colleague Joe Moody, are seeking to remove from state law books an unconstitutional, unenforceable statute that criminalizes sodomy.

Williams also is interested to see whether Gov.-elect Greg Abbott will break with his predecessor by pushing state compliance with federal mandates to reduce the prison rape rate – which disproportionately impacts gay and transgender inmates – and whether more municipalities follow San Antonio, Houston and Plano’s lead in passing non-discrimination ordinances.

Don’t forget about Plano, too. There’s a reason all those hateful pastors are freaking out about this – they know they’re losing. Bills have been filed by Rep. Coleman and others to repeal Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage and to fix the birth certificate problem as noted, and there’s a broader organization being formed to help press the case in Austin. That’s all good and necessary and I have some hope as well, but I suspect that once all is said and done simply not losing ground will be seen as a win with this Legislature.

As for Sen. Donna Campbell’s effort to supersede local efforts by filing a resolution that would block any local rule or state law that infringes on “an individual’s or religious organization’s … sincerely held religious belief,” advocates think the business community will come out against it as they did against similar legislation in Arizona.

“Yes, you can talk about taking power away from those local leaders, but there’s going to be a lot of pushback from the local elected officials and their constituents,” said Jeff Davis, chairman of the Texas chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans, a national group made up of gay members of the GOP and their allies. He said Campbell’s resolution likely would generate “a lot of talk,” but he believes the effort “isn’t going to move completely forward.”

Meanwhile, religious leaders waging a legal battle against Houston’s non-discrimination ordinance are banking on the increasingly-conservative Legislature to support their efforts. While they await a 2015 court date to determine whether enough signatures were gathered to force a local referendum on the Houston ordinance, they have turned their eyes to Plano, which passed a similar ordinance earlier this month.

“These ordinances are solutions looking for a problem,” said David Welch, director of the Houston-based Texas Pastors Council, which filed a petition against the Plano ordinance this week. “It is a special interest group representing a tiny fraction of the population using the power of law to impose their lifestyle and punish those that disagree with them.”

He said the council will continue to work with lawmakers on legislation that could undo these ordinances at the state level, as well as reaffirm current law that enshrines marriage as between one man and one woman.

It would be nice if the business lobby puts some pressure on to kill not just Campbell’s bill but all of the pro-discrimination bills that Campbell and others are filing, but don’t expect me to have any faith in their efforts. At least as far as constitutional amendments go, there are enough Democrats to keep them off the ballot, barring any shenanigans or betrayals. It would be nice to think that Republicans can play a key role in preserving existing protections, if not expanding them, but there’s no evidence to support that idea at this time with this Legislature. We need to win more elections, that’s all there is to it. Let’s make it through this session unscathed and get started working on that part of it ASAP. BOR has more.

More suspects arrested from the rape kit backlog

More good news.

Houston’s effort to test a nearly three-decade backlog of sexual assault kits has resulted in new charges filed against 19 people, city officials said Monday, including 10 suspects identified and arrested for the first time.

One of the new suspects has been charged in connection with two assaults; another remains at large, Houston Police Department spokesman John Cannon said. The other eight suspects, he said, already are in jail on other charges and now face sexual assault charges.

City Council in 2013 paid $4.4 million to two private labs to test DNA samples from 9,750 cases, including a backlog of 6,600 rape kits dating to 1987. The labs’ work is nearly done, and staff from HPD and the city’s forensics lab now are entering all eligible genetic information into the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, a national law enforcement database.

So far, DNA from 1,031 of those cases has produced “hits,” meaning a suspect’s DNA already was in the database in connection with an earlier crime. In the vast majority of cases reviewed to date, officials said the suspects are known to police, having been arrested, convicted or detained at some point.

HPD Assistant Chief Matt Slinkard said the reviews have confirmed police arrested the right person in 58 sexual assault cases, but officials did not release details Monday about these cases or the 19 suspects hit with new charges. The Houston Chronicle reported in April the testing had identified at least one serial rapist already in jail on other charges.

The police officials gathered Monday at City Hall with Mayor Annise Parker and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, to celebrate the renewal of a federal law that frees up millions of dollars to help cities test sexual assault kits. Parker and Cornyn also lauded the city task force – headed by three lieutenants, eight sergeants and 33 investigators – charged with clearing the backlog by updating criminal cases and making arrests as suspects are identified.

See here, here, and here for the background. Let me also recommend that you read Emily DePrang’s in depth story in the Observer about how we got here, and how HPD is now leading the way nationally when it comes to dealing with untested rape kits. A few bits to whet your interest:

The trouble is, demand for DNA testing in many places continued to outstrip growth in crime-lab capacity. Backlogs, once cleared, would quickly form again. In 2009, a CBS News investigation found that rape kits in Alabama and Illinois took, on average, six months to process. In Missouri, the wait was almost a year.

These kits—the ones submitted by law enforcement to crime labs for analysis but not returned for more than 30 days—are what the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the Department of Justice, considers “backlogged.”

But that’s not what happened in Texas.

Rather, most of the 19,000 kits reported (so far) never saw the inside of a lab because a sexual assault investigator made the decision not to have them tested. Victims who endure DNA collection may understandably assume it will be analyzed as part of the investigative process, but until recently, law enforcement officers could choose whether to test a kit. Often, they chose not to.

This was by no means limited to Texas. A 2011 survey by the National Institute of Justice found that, on average, nearly one in five recent unsolved rape cases nationally contain forensic evidence for which police never requested analysis.

The language used to talk about untested kits can obscure this deliberateness. If only for brevity, law enforcement and victims’ rights advocates alike have embraced the term “backlog” to describe all untested kits, but this can wrongly suggest that testing was attempted or intended. The term “backlog” implies the problem was simply a lack of resources instead of a conscious decision by police not to test. Similarly, untested kits are usually described as having been “discovered,” often “discovered in a warehouse,” as if evidence for thousands of sexual assault cases had been misplaced. That’s misleading, too.

“I think on some level jurisdictions love to use the word ‘discovered,’” says Sarah Tofte, vice president of policy and advocacy for the national Joyful Heart Foundation, “because that makes them feel, in a way, a little bit better, and maybe look a little less culpable.” The Joyful Heart Foundation runs the website EndtheBacklog.org, a clearinghouse for information on the quest to test all kits. Tofte says, “I think when people hear, ‘Oh, they discovered a backlog,’ they imagine there was some abandoned meat locker somewhere in a field, and they opened it and said, ‘Oh my gosh! There are all these untested rape kits! We had no idea.’ But yes, jurisdictions know. They know because it’s their policy. If their policy is, ‘Don’t send everything to the lab,’ there shouldn’t be a surprise when there’s a backlog.”

[…]

In 2010—before [Sen. Wendy] Davis’ bill—HPD, on its own initiative, had already implemented a test-all-kits policy. Then it successfully applied for a competitive grant from the National Institute of Justice. The grant, awarded just to Houston and Detroit, provided funds for the city not only to inventory its kits, but to study why so many went untested for so long, and to institute reforms. This wasn’t a secretive internal probe, either. Since early 2011, guided by the grant, HPD has hosted regular meetings of a diverse team of researchers, victims’ advocates, health care workers, forensic scientists, prosecutors and police brass, all dedicated to improving their response to sexual-assault survivors in Houston. When the grant ends in October, the group plans to continue its work independently.

Before sitting down together as part of the straightforwardly named Sexual Assault Kit Action-Research Task Force, many of these parties hadn’t previously communicated, let alone collaborated. Others, like victims’ rights advocates and some HPD investigators, were downright adversarial. As part of the group’s research, social scientists surveyed the attitudes of people in the justice system toward victims’ rights advocates and found that investigators in HPD’s Adult Sex Crimes Unit were particularly averse to outside meddling. One investigator told the group’s researchers, “…[Advocates] lead the woman to believe things that aren’t true.” Another complained, “[Advocates] have an agenda and take the woman’s side immediately.”

Undeterred, HPD moved forward with a plan to add a “justice advocate” to the Adult Sex Crimes Unit: a master’s-level social worker charged with improving investigators’ interactions with victims. The advocate, Emily Burton-Blank, was installed within earshot of investigators—a major breach of traditional police insularity—and investigators were required to involve her when contacting victims prone to dropping out of the process, such as people who are homeless or suffering from mental illness.

“Where we saw a large issue was the fact that a lot of people were dropping out of the system shortly after reporting [their rapes],” says HPD Assistant Chief Lentschke. “So we looked at that. How can we keep them in longer? Emily [the advocate] is a living, breathing idea. She’s done magnificent. And the investigators who were so anti-advocate … now they absolutely love her. That’s a huge turnaround.”

Sonia Corrales, chief program officer for the Houston Area Women’s Center, agrees. “Whenever we send a survivor [to HPD],” she says, “we know that when they talk to Emily, they’re getting really great service.”

The justice advocate position was originally slated to last less than a year and be funded only through the grant, but HPD officials quickly found the results so impressive that they made the position permanent and committed to hiring more advocates in the future.

It’s one of several steps HPD has taken to improve its treatment of sexual-assault survivors. New policies now require investigators to go into the field to investigate assaults rather than closing cases if victims fail to return phone calls or respond to a letter. The adult unit recently set aside a private room in which to take victims’ statements rather than interviewing them in the open, surrounded by other staff and ringing phones. And investigators have gotten new training, including education on the neurobiology of trauma so they can better recognize and respond to it.

But most important, HPD leadership has committed to ending the culture of victim blaming.

It’s a great story, so go read the whole thing. And did you notice the reference in there to Wendy Davis? A bill she authored in 2011 provided funding for rape kit testing, requiring every law enforcement agency to tally and report its untested sexual assault kits, and mandating that law enforcement agencies submit kits to a crime lab within 30 days. HPD as noted had gotten started before then, but the rest of the state wouldn’t be where it is now without that bill. Every one of these arrests is a reason to celebrate, as is the revelation – which I admit comes as a bit of a surprise – that no wrongly convicted offenders have been identified. With the winding down of this important project, the city’s new Forensic Science Center should be in good position going forward to ensure that there is never again this kind of backlog. Kudos to all for getting this done, and to Mayor Parker for making it a priority of her administration. Grits has more.

Almost nobody is following Rick Perry’s lead in defying the Prison Rape Elimination Act

Emily dePrang has the story.

Back in March, Gov. Rick Perry sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder declaring his intent to defy a federal law designed to reduce sexual assault in prison. It was a very Perry letter, slinging around terms like “ridiculous” and “unacceptable” and “costly regulatory mess.” But perhaps the most Perry part was his vow to “encourage my fellow governors to follow suit.”

Now, saying a law is wrong for Texas is one thing. Saying governors of other states—you know, just anywhere—should defy the Prison Rape Elimination Act suggests Perry believes the law is wrong in general principle, not specific application. Or else he’s just grandstanding. (A Google search for “Rick Perry” and “grandstanding” returns 173,000 results.) Either way, Perry appears to have had limited success. May 15 was the deadline for governors either to certify their state prisons were compliant or promise to become so, and the Associated Press reported last week that just four other states joined Perry in saying they planned not to try: Idaho, Indiana, Utah and Arizona.

“Perry is sort of out on his own on this one, which is fantastic news,” says Jesse Lerner-Kinglake, who works for an advocacy group that fights prison sexual assault, Just Detention International.

Lerner-Kinglake is one of many observers who can’t work out why Perry picked this particular battle in the first place. The problems with the law that Perry lists are relatively minor, though he describes them as insurmountable—and some don’t actually exist. Lerner-Kinglake says Perry’s letter contains “so many basic errors. It’s really kind of simple stuff that anyone who took a minute to look at the standards would know.”

For example, Perry writes that governors must certify their state’s compliance “under threat of criminal penalties,” but that’s not true. The only enforcement mechanism is that a state can lose 5 percent of its federal corrections grant money. Perry also says the act’s compliance dates are “impossible to meet,” but governors can—and at least 10 did—give assurance letters by the May 15 deadline promising that they were actively working toward compliance.

Perry also seems to think the new requirements apply to “local jails” and would be too expensive for small counties to implement, but they wouldn’t have to, since the act covers only facilities under Perry’s operational control.

The further you get into the letter’s nitty-gritty, the stranger Perry’s defiance seems.

[…]

Perhaps the most understandable of Perry’s objections is that while the Prison Rape Elimination Act requires the state to keep prisoners under 18 separate from adults, Texas considers 17-year-olds to be adults, so the two standards conflict. But none of the other nine states that incarcerate 17-year-olds as adults appear to have defied the law, and the separation requirement doesn’t kick in for three years. Just in March, the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee held a hearing on raising Texas’ adult prosecution age from 17 to 18. Yet this issue and the alleged gender discrimination problem were the sticking points Perry reiterated in a May 16 letter that was much milder in tone.

Present in the first letter but missing from the second was Perry’s claim that Texas already effectively prevented sexual assault in its prisons. Actually, Texas reports almost four times as many prisoner sexual assaults as the national average, according to a federally-funded study from the JFA Institute. Elizabeth Henneke, an attorney with the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, warned at a House hearing that noncompliance could leave the state open to litigation and pointed out that one ex-inmate, who says he was raped at the Travis County Jail, is already suing for $2 million, alleging officials “displayed deliberate indifference to his safety by failing to comply with PREA.”

See here and here for the background. I’m as shocked as you are that Rick Perry could be ill-informed and off base on a political issue. What is annoying about this is that Perry himself is completely shielded from any accountability for his unilateral action. Texas stands to lose some grant money as a result of this, but Perry will be out of office by the time that happens, and I think it’s fair to say that few if any GOP Presidential primary voters will be swayed against him by this. Our next Governor can undo Perry’s action, but it still seems to me that there ought to be a way to make him feel some responsibility for defying a federal law. For once, Rick Perry should not be able to get away with doing whatever the hell he feels like doing regardless of the consequences for others.

We really should comply with the Prison Rape Elimination Act

It’s the right thing to do, and it’s the law.

During a House County Affairs Committee hearing Monday, local sheriffs said the most problematic provision of the 2003 law is a requirement that minors be housed separately from adult prison and jail populations. Since Texas is one of only 10 states that classifies 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system, sheriffs would be required to build separate facilities or seek new housing options for these offenders.

“Most county jails just aren’t in the position to do that,” said Brazos County Sheriff Chris Kirk, who also represents the Texas Sheriffs Association. He said the mandate makes the law nearly impossible to implement for many counties with small staffs and tight budgets.

The law also prohibits what is known as “cross-gender viewing,” a provision that would bar female guards from supervising male inmates during strip searches, showers and other instances. Since 40 percent of Texas’ guards are women, Perry said that enforcing that provision would mean laying off female staff and hiring more men, a violation of labor laws.

Not coming into compliance brings its own costs and dangers, however. The most immediate is the possible loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal grants. Since 2003, Texas has received more than $3.5 million from the federal government to become PREA-compliant, far more than any other state. If Perry insists on not certifying the state as compliant with the prison rape law, Texas could lose some federal grants, according to a preliminary analysis from the Austin-based think tank Texas Criminal Justice Coalition’s Elizabeth Hennecke.

See here for the background. Seems to me that if we’ve been taking grant money meant to aid compliance with the law, the least we can do is comply with the law. If that means the Lege needs to revisit the issue of classifying 17-year-olds as minors, then so be it. Grits has more.