#BlackWomensLivesMatter Symposium at University of Houston!

Tomorrow afteroon, the University of Houston Friends of Women's Studies Department will be hosting its very own "BlackWomenLivesMatter panel discussion featuring Houston Justice Coalition co-founder, Shekira Dennis, alongside a group of other dynamic and distinguished women. 


This event takes place tomorrow, Wednesday, September 9, 2015, 11:30am - 1pm at the UH Main Campus, MD Anderson Library, Rockwell Pavilion (2nd Floor)


We would love to see your presence! Recent events like the #SandraBland case is enough evidence that we must keep the momentum going in this movement.  


For those that are available and are interested, general admission is open to the public and is $10! This event is FREE to UH students and members of the friends. To RSVP for the event and find out more information, including parking, please click here

Onward Toward Justice!

On December 4th, Houston Justice Coalition hosted our first townhall allowing a space for  300+ community members to express their feelings around the recent no-bill of Officer Darren Wilson who fatally shot unarmed Mike Brown in Ferguson.  We would later learn the story of Jordan Baker who lost his life at the hands of HPD. He was unarmed.  

CLICK HERE TO SIGN THE JORDAN BAKER PETITION

Since our first meeting, we've met every month driving our campaign forward.  At that meeting, we laid out our initial platform, which had three goals:

  1. Grand Jury Reform
  2. Body Camera Policy for HPD and HCSO
  3. Community Policing

Yesterday, the grand jury bill we lobbied for went into effect making our grand jury system random instead of allowing hand-picked juries to decide the fate of citizens.  Congratulations to those who signed our petition for grand jury reform, participated in one of our grand jury trainings, went door-to-door getting petition signatures or signed up new grand jury applicants at community events. 

The past 289 instances a police officer shot/killed a citizen, the grand jury decided not to have a trial.  I'm confident this new law will hold our law enforcement officials accountable now that grand juries will be random and not hand-picked.  

As for community policing and body camera policy, we've met with members of city council, the police chief and county sheriff.  Until recent backlash, we were confident our efforts were making progress locally with both law enforcement agencies.  We will continue our stride toward  a fair, transparent body camera policy that allows citizens to access footage when making complaints against law enforcement and vice versa.

Through meetings with city council members, the mayor's office and police chief, we're moving forward with our campaign to have a community voice at the policy making table.


In addition to driving our local platform, we extended a hand to those working in Waller on the effort to bring #JusticeForSandy who was a victim of police brutality.   We've sat vigil with Rev. Hannah Bonner and others in front of the jail on some days, met with local officials, and committed toward #JusticeForSandy.

We understand that often it's systemic problems that lead to injustice, so we teamed up with local elected officials and student leaders at Prairie View A&M in developing a strategic plan anchored by voter registration and civic engagement at the city council level. 

petition.jpg

Moving forward, we will continue our quest for justice.   We invite you to join us by signing, then sharing this petition demanding justice for Sandra Bland.  We will print  them out, then deliver to DPS  Director Steve McCraw later this month.

Keep moving forward.  We will win this thing together.


VICTORY: Grand Jury Law Takes Effect Today!

After months of registering new grand jury applicants at church services and community events, testifying at State Senate hearings and lobbying legislators, Houston Justice Coalition members join the rest of Texans in celebrating VICTORY!

CLICK HERE FOR NEWS LINK

H.B. 2150, authored by Rep. Alvarado and sponsored by Sen. John Whitmire, will replace the often criticized grand jury commissioner or "pick-a-pal" method of hand picking grand jurors with the random selection method that is sure to increase diversity.

The new law will also update the process for challenging grand jurors for good cause, and gives the presiding judge the ability to remove grand jurors who neglect their duty and provides judges the flexibility to appoint up to 4 alternate grand jurors if needed. 

State Reps. Ron Reynolds, Sylvester Turner, Harold Dutton and many others played a huge role in making this a reality.

HJC Condemns Officer Slaying, Continues March Toward Justice

HOUSTON- The Houston Justice Coalition sends our heartfelt thoughts and prayers to the family of Harris County Sheriff's Deputy Darren Goforth who tragically lost his life at the hands of senseless murder. Sadly, his family will now join the ranks of those who've lost their lives at the hands of a broken system. There is no excuse for the cold-blooded murder of any human being. Hopefully, justice will prevail and his murderer will face a sentence given by a jury of his peers, unlike the injustice that's been passed to the families of Jordan Baker, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice and countless others whose martyred lives spawned a movement toward liberty and justice for all.

"With regard to those condemning the #BlackLivesMatter movement that's building momentum toward justice reform across the nation, we will continue to move the meter toward justice reform, and, against police brutality," said Shekira Dennis, Co-Founder of Houston Justice Coalition.

"It's a shame that police brutality has led people to target law enforcement. My heart goes out to the Goforth family as it does to all those who have been affected by the violence of the last few months, said Ruben Moreno, a Houston Justice member.

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Houston Justice Coalition is a grassroots, activist-led organization addressing criminal justice reform at the local level.

Contact:   Durrel Douglas, Co-founder Houston Justice Coalition, 832.857.5737

PRESS RELEASE: Illegal Body Cavity Search

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Jason Miller

713-462-5282 JasonM@houstonnorml.org

 

Criminal Justice Organizations Call on Harris County Sheriff, District Attorney to Act on Illegal Body Cavity Search

HOUSTON - Representatives from two organizations advocating for criminal justice reform in Houston will hold a press conference on Friday calling for Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman to immediately take administrative action against three sheriff’s deputies who forcibly conducted an illegal body cavity search publicly on a woman in Harris County. The organization will also demand that Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson investigate the allegation and file any necessary criminal charges against the deputies involved.

The organizations involved are the Houston Justice Coalition and Houston NORML.

The Harris County Sheriff’s deputies have been identified as William Strong, Ronaldine Pierre and R. Rojas. Deputies stopped Charnesia Corley, 21, in North Harris County on June 21, 2015. They claimed she smelled of marijuana, and demanded that she pull down her pants and spread her legs in a public parking lot, according to reports. One of the deputies then began to insert her fingers into Corley’s vagina.

When Corley stood and protested, she was thrown to the ground and a second female deputy was called to the scene. According to Corley’s attorney, Pierre held one leg and sat on her back, while Rojas held her other leg. Both deputies then forced her legs apart and conducted an intrusive search.

The deputies did not have a warrant, and Corley says she did not consent to the search. The search was a clear violation of her Fourth Amendment rights and a violation of a recently passed Texas law requiring a warrant for such a search. Additionally, the president of the Harris County Sheriff Deputies Association told the Houston Chronicle that a public cavity search violates HCSO protocol and such a search should only be conducted at an HCSO substation after a suspect is arrested noting that a microwave scanner can perform the task without intrusion.

She was charged with possession of marijuana and resisting arrest.

The organizations demand that Sheriff Hickman take any necessary action to ensure these deputies do not interact with the public, including administrative suspension.

“Anyone else accused of such an act would be considered an alleged sexual predator. Law enforcement officers should be no different,” says Durrel Douglas, former correctional officer and co-founder of Houston Justice Coalition. “What we’re seeking here is Justice. This case sounds like police brutality at its absolute worse. These officers may be a danger to public safety and should not be patrolling our streets at this time.”

The organizations also request that District Attorney Devon Anderson investigate the incident and file any necessary criminal charges against the deputies. In a similar incident in Dallas County, a Texas State Trooper was fired and indicted on two charges of official oppression and sexual assault. “Atrocities like this should not be happening in our community,” says Jason Miller, executive director of Houston NORML. “This is a blatant violation of our Constitution. When our government has its way, marijuana-smokers have no Fourth Amendment rights whatsoever. They are discriminated against and violently abused over nothing more than mere suspicion of possessing a plant. It has to stop.”

Anderson should also evaluate the criminal charges against Corley and determine whether to drop them.

The press conference will take place at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center located at 1201 Franklin St downtown on Wednesday August 12, at 12pm. Houston NORML is the local chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, which advocates for the rights of marijuana consumers. The Houston Justice Coalition seeks to improve the justice system at the city and state level through community-led, organic, grassroots advocacy.

Strategy #BlackLivesMatter Houston

 

As we continue our march toward justice, we understand the necessity to have clear, concrete goals to address police brutality at the root.  In the case of Sandra Bland who lost her life at the hands of an over-zealous police officer who drug her out of her car, threatened to taze her, and eventually arrested her over not signalling before switching lanes, we have a petition demanding Texas Department of Public Safety fire Officer Encinia.     SIGN THE PETITION

Here are the concrete goals we've made moving forward so far:

  • Have both officers who responded with unnecessary force removed from duty.  We're currently collecting petitions in-person and online to eventually deliver to Steve McCraw, Director of the Texas Department of Public Safety in September.

 

  • Create a third-party website/app where complaints against law enforcement could be tracked.  When a complaint is made against an officer today, the public has no knowledge of how many other citizens complained against the same officer.  We're already working with developers to create this platform.  We believe with the creation of an app/website similar to the Yelp of Law Enforcement Agencies, we'll be able to:
  1. Guide citizens in the right direction to make their complaint.
  2. Track data on the best/worst agencies, officers and precincts to show trends and highlight repeat offenders before more lives are lost or people in jail unnecessarily.
  3. Connect citizens needing to take civil/criminal action with organizations that can assist.
  • Continue our quest to include the community in the decision-making process behind body cameras for HPD/HCSO officers.  We've met with the HPD Police Chief and Harris County Sheriff one-on-one with our asks.  At our last HJC workshop, members reviewed the body camera policy and made recommendations to the Sheriff around: who should have access to body camera footage, how long the footage should be kept, etc.

 

  • Develop a team of leaders/organizers to build capacity and continue the movement. 

Again, we're making progress, but we need your help.  Join us Saturday, August 15th from 2-4 PM as we continue to strategize and organize our next steps.  All of US need to be part of the planning of OUR movement.

 

There's a New Sheriff In Town

Over the past six months, members of Houston Justice Coalition (HJC) have worked with the Harris County Sheriff's Department bringing community inclusion into the decision-making process around body camera policy and community policing.  With the recent resignation of former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, Ron Hickman was appointed to fill out the remainder of his term, and we wanted to make sure a smooth transition would ensue with the new Sheriff.  

We presented feedback from our most recent HJC workshop held at Montrose Center where concerns around privacy, data retention timelines and access to data were brought forth by community members.  Sheriff Hickman whose background spans decades in law enforcement and has a sweet spot for technology addressed each of those concerns and pointed out a few more that'd come up before.  According to Sheriff Hickman, he introduced body cameras for his precinct years before national attention put the option on the front page of the Houston Chronicle.  

Here are the major takeaways from the meeting:

Our asks were:

1.  Move forward with community inclusion in the decision-making process around the impending body camera policy that we started with the last administration.  

ANSWER:  YES

2.  Allow a third-party study on the pilot program (potential exists with University of Houston's Hobby Institute for Public Policy).

ANSWER: YES

3.  Be open to a future discussion around regional policing with other agencies that could lead to more efficiency, savings for Harris County and the City of Houston.

ANSWER: YES

Over all, this was a very productive meeting.  We're looking forward to following through with the commitments made by Sheriff Hickman.

 

 

Graham Maio Joins the Movement

Houston Justice Coalition in the Age of the Millennial

By Graham Maio

There is a giant burning ball of hot passionate energy I am sensing in the millennial generation in Houston, TX. This enormous, glowing, ball of energy is enveloping Houston and demanding better human rights, and changes in government policies on a progressive level. I believe I first noticed this bright round ball seeking change after Mike Brown was killed by Officer Darryl Wilson in Ferguson, MO and the subsequent refusal of a Grand Jury to indict Officer Wilson on charges of murder. In Houston, the flames from that ball burst open and streaked into every street and alley of H-Town screaming, “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace”. But after the sign waving, and bravely facing and staring down a dismissive and impolite Houston Police Department, the question was: Where do we go from here? Like so many protestors who participated in the initial Houston “Black Lives Matter” movement, I wondered if the movement would lose steam or keep on charging albeit in a more structured manner.

Fortunately my attention was called to an upcoming Town Hall discussion about police brutality here in Houston, which promised to bring forth several proposals for plans of action to change the HPD system. This was my introduction to the Houston Justice Coalition, a grassroots organization which put together the Town Hall event. This coalition was created and is currently spearheaded by three remarkable African Americans of the millennial age; Durrel K. Douglas, Shekira C. Dennis, and Damien T. Jones. These three leaders took the “Black Lives Matter” movement, nurtured it, and let it blossom into their coalition’s rallying cry of “Less Talk, More Action”. “Less Talk, More Action” says let’s get more people of color to register to vote and sign up to be on Houston Grand Juries. “Less Talk, More Action” says, “let’s introduce a proposal to Houston City Council demanding that every HPD officer wear a body camera. For each step of the way, for every challenge and success, the Houston Justice Coalition has invited the everyday person to join in the discussion and be a part of this very important fight.

Harris County Sheriff's Department

Over the past several months, Houston Justice Coalition members have been working with Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia and his command staff to make sure community members have a voice in the decision-making process with regard to body mounted cameras for deputies and community policing.

Here's a general summary of what they have so far:

Body Worn Digital Recording Systems (BWDRS) Pilot Program

Summary

The purpose of this policy is to establish guidelines for the Body Worn Digital Recording Systems (BWDRS) Pilot Program and the equipment assigned for capturing audio/video evidence with BWDRS of law enforcement/detention operation interactions.

POLICY:

 All participating employees shall make a recording of all events as outlined in the procedures established, and maintain recorded evidence.

 All audio/video recordings are considered the property of the HCSO.

 Only approved devices issued by the HCSO or approved by bureau commanders can be used.

 Copying of any audio/video files generated by the HCSO is prohibited.

 Distribution of video files must comply with the procedures established in the policy.

 Any action intentionally made to hamper any recording or to erase any existing recording shall be subject to discipline including possible termination.

PROCEDURES:

 Deputies/Detention Officers shall begin recording the following events and continue recording until it is concluded. Any deviations will require a supervisor’s approval and must be documented in the Deputy’s report of CFS (field notes). o Observations of suspicious behavior, arrests, field contacts, traffic stops, prisoner or witness transports, cell extraction, planned inmate movement, uncooperative inmates, canine searches, other significant events as determined by the watch commander, contact with complainant regarding crimes against persons, and in instances where the deputy of staff member reasonably believes that the recording may provide evidence in a criminal or internal investigation.

 Subsequent arrest, handcuffing and searches should take place in view of the camera.

 Deputy may stop record an event where its use may compromise law enforcement operations. All stoppage must be documented.

o Examples include but are not limited to: conversations with informants, private conversations between deputies and command personnel, traffic control, crime scene investigations.

 Personnel shall not:

o Create recordings of other employees in areas where reasonable expectation of privacy exists (ie locker rooms), clandestinely record the voice or image of another member of the department unless authorized, knowingly record undercover officers of confidential informants, use devices for personal activities, allow non-sworn personnel to view video without the permission of a supervisor,

create recordings of patient care areas in medical facilities, intentionally record juveniles.

 Unless otherwise permitted, once the recording device is activated, it shall remain on until the incident has concluded.

 Deputies will upload video in accordance with the specific device’s operational instructions.

 All requests for copies or records of BWDRS recordings shall be referred to the Sheriff’s Office Video Evidence Custodian, who will be responsible for compliance with all Sheriff’s Office procedures.

COMPLAINTS:

 When a complaint is received alleging misconduct involving a deputy who is assigned a BWDRS, the following shall be followed: o The video of the public contact in question shall be reviewed and a determination made as to whether there is cause for the allegation. o If no cause is found, the investigator will contact the complainant and advise that the BWDRS was reviewed and no misconduct occurred. o The investigator shall advise the complaining party that they may make a public records request for a copy of the recording.

o If the investigating authority finds the recording supports or indicates a possible violations of Sheriff’s Office policy or state law, established procedures to ensure a proper investigation of all allegations of misconduct shall be adhered to.

This summary is provided for information purposes only, and does not constitute official Harris County Sheriff’s Office policy. All final policies are subject to TPIA and CALEA compliance.

Houston Chronicle Editorial Board Supports Rep. Reynolds Bill

HOUSTON CHRONICLE:

Click Here for Full Article

There's no "i" in "team," as the saying goes, but there is in "indictment." Each week at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center, prosecutors and police officers work hand in hand as part of the prosecution team to enforce the law and see that justice is done. But when police officers face charges before a grand jury, Texas essentially asks state attorneys to turn on their fellow teammates. This inevitably leads to uncomfortable situations and the perception, if not reality, of preferential treatment.

As the Legislature looks to rewrite some of the laws about grand juries, elected officials should require that the state rely upon special prosecutors whenever police officers face a potential indictment.

Originally established as a civilian barrier between government prosecutors and the accused, grand juries today often are derided as a marionette gallery for a prosecutor puppeteer. The accused have no defense team, and prosecutors have leeway to present evidence as they see fit. However, grand juries recently have fallen under the eye of public scrutiny after a pattern of unarmed Houstonians fatally shot by police officers resulted in no charges.

Police officers have a tough job and deserve public praise for doing it well. But whether heroic cops or career criminals, justice is supposed to be blind. Everyone should be distressed if grand juries raise the bar for a select few - even if they're Houston's finest.

These hypothetical worries of a soft hand for police officers were turned concrete after Chronicle columnistLisa Falkenberg revealed that police officers served on grand juries. Accused police officers should face a jury of their peers, not their co-workers, and potential conflicts of interest undermine the ideal of an equitable justice system.

Several political leaders already have called for changes to our grand juries. Last month, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson announced her support for ending the current commissioner system, which allows grand jury members to be appointed rather than randomly selected. Texas is the only state that still relies on this so-called "pick-a-pal" system, and state Sen. John Whitmire has filed Senate Bill 135 to fix this outdated methodology. This change will better ensure that people before grand juries face a true cross-section of society, rather than a pool of people that judges happen to know.

A similar shakeup needs to happen on the other side of the courtroom, as well. State Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, has filed a bill to do just that. Reynolds' bill, HB 1840, would require that the state appoint a special prosecutor to investigate officer-involved injuries or death.

"Texas needs an independent, impartial, specially appointed prosecutor to handle these most sensitive incidents," Reynolds said in a press release announcing the bill. "Fostering trust in the criminal justice system is a worthy reason to change procedure."

This sense of trust helps police officers and citizens alike. So when it comes to independent prosecutors, everyone should be on the same team.