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Austin Cops Said They Shot A Man Who Fired On Them–But It Turns Out He Didn’t Fire A Shot

Lawrence Parrish faces charges including aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and remains jailed on $500,000 bond even though the Austin police admitted he never shot at them.

An Austin Police unit parked on a city street while an officer is on traffic duty.

Austin Cops Said They Shot A Man Who Fired On Them–But It Turns Out He Didn’t Fire A Shot

Lawrence Parrish faces charges including aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and remains jailed on $500,000 bond even though the Austin police admitted he never shot at them.

On the night of April 7, 2017, the roommate of Austin, Texas, resident Lawrence Parrish called 911 to report that Parrish was sitting in the street with a gun. She said that Parrish, then 31, had been acting strange all day and speculated that he might be on drugs. By the time police arrived, Parrish  had gone back inside his home. Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said Parrish refused to come out for a “period of time,” which prompted officers to call a SWAT team.

Police say Parrish eventually emerged from the house holding a .40-caliber Hi-Point rifle. They initially claimed that he had fired at the officers, which prompted them to shoot back.

Four officers shot at Parrish. Parrish’s brother, Cluren Williams, says he was shot over nine times, although authorities have not confirmed this. He was rushed to a nearby hospital and, according to friends and family, two fingers had to be amputated. Parrish was booked into the Travis County Correctional Complex by proxy while recovering from his injuries. Williams also claims that Parrish’s family was not allowed to visit him in the hospital after he was shot. “They won’t give us any access, we’re not getting any logical explanation, we’re not getting any good reasoning why the mother can’t even see him. It’s just ridiculous,” he told KXAN-TV.

According to an April 8 arrest affidavit, one of the police officers claimed he saw Parrish “raise the rifle toward his direction,” before firing two rounds at him. The officer then ducked to avoid gunfire, but when he heard additional shots, he believed that they were coming from Parrish. The officers who shot at Parrish were put on administrative leave the week after the shooting, while Internal Affairs and the Austin Police Department’s Special Investigations Unit conducted inquiries on the incident as part of protocol.

But just a few days after Parrish was shot by the police, Manley changed course.  “We now believe, based on where we are at in the investigation, that he did not fire,” he said. “Even though our officers that night at the scene believed that he had, in fact, fired the weapon.”  

Despite the admission from the police that Parrish did not shoot at them, Parrish’s $500,000 bond was not reduced, and then charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, aggravated assault against a public servant, and possession of a controlled substance remained unchanged. Manley has stated that these charges are still appropriate because Parrish brandished a weapon in a threatening manner. Advocates in Austin disagree; on June 6, the grassroots criminal justice reform group Austin Justice Coalition started a fundraiser to bail Parrish out.

Williams told The Appeal that his brother was denied a bond reduction three times. He also said that he has obtained video from the night of the incident that contradicts police claims and that he’s eager to present that evidence when Parrish’s case finally goes before a judge (jury selection in the case begins on July 12).

Parrish has remained behind bars in a year where the Austin Police Department struggles with police shootings. In 2018, five suspects have been shot by its officers. Only one of those who was shot survived.


The Only Winners In California's Fines and Fees System Are Private Debt Collectors

San Francisco just became the first city in the nation to stop charging court fines and fees, but the rest of the state has a long way to go.

A San Francisco Department of Parking and Traffic officer issues a ticket for an illegally parked car.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The Only Winners In California's Fines and Fees System Are Private Debt Collectors

San Francisco just became the first city in the nation to stop charging court fines and fees, but the rest of the state has a long way to go.

Kim Lacey couldn’t understand how unpaid traffic tickets had cost her so much. Over the last decade, Lacey has had her wages garnished, her tax returns seized, her credit score ruined, and her driver’s license suspended because of outstanding court fines and fees. She has paid approximately $5,400 to Alameda County, California, where she lives, since she received her first ticket in 2008, she told The Appeal. And she sees no end in sight from the hounding of a system which has emotionally and financially bled her dry.

Fines and fees create a “lose-lose scenario” both for counties and their residents, according to a report released in May by the California Reinvestment Coalition (CRC). The system places a disproportionate burden on the poor, and then fails to recoup most of the money it seeks. For example, over the course of six years, San Francisco was able to collect only 17 percent of the $15 million it demanded in court debt.

But yesterday, the city officially became the first in the nation to stop charging people discretionary criminal justice fines and fees. Some of the charges it is eliminating are for probation, booking, restitution, and costs for alcohol testing and participation in monitoring and home detention programs. These costs, often hundreds or thousands of dollars, historically created an additional stumbling block for anyone coming out of jail or prison.

“These financial burdens frequently hit individuals at the precise moment they are trying to turn their lives around,” San Francisco’s ordinance reads.

But Californians in other parts of the state, like Lacey, are still subjected to 684 criminal justice financial penalties, according to the CRC report. Most of these are fines intended to be punitive, like a speeding ticket. Fifty-seven are fees, user charges tacked on to help fund the courts. These debts can pile up quickly; a $100 ticket for running a red light in California, for example, comes with an additional $390 in fees.

As time passes, interest compounds and late-payment fees get added to delinquent debt, making it even harder for those who fall behind to pay  what they owe.

But if communities and residents aren’t benefiting from the current arrangement, who is? As it stands, said Joanna Weiss, co-director of the Fines and Fees Justice Center, the system is giving incentives for private firms to profit off poor communities. Many California counties contract with private debt collection agencies.

“In California, [debt collection agencies] are getting commissions of 12 to 18 percent, which is on top of debt we don’t even know if people can afford to pay,” Weiss said.

And that’s just for newly delinquent debt. “Commission fees encourage private debt collectors to collect on debt over five years old, and to allow debt to age so that they can collect on it later and receive higher commission fees,” according to the CRC report. Once the delinquent debt has aged over five years, collectors’ commission fees can go up to nearly 26 percent.  

Many private collection agencies are authorized by the state to pay themselves back for operating costs before they distribute money to state and local governments. According to the report, between 2013 and 2014, such costs amounted to $114 million, or 6 percent of the total fine and fee revenue.  

Because debt collection agencies are a third party separate from the courts, people’s records often fall through the cracks. According to her attorney, Lacey ended up receiving a refund of nearly $800 because, with the help of the East Bay Community Law Center, she was able to show the court that Alliance One—the collection agency used by the Alameda County Court—had been asking for payments on tickets Lacey had already paid.

Furthermore, collection agencies are not bound by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which protects consumers from various forms of threat and harassment, because court debts are considered “involuntary.” As a result of this loophole, said Miguel Soto, an attorney at the East Bay Community Law Center, “We’ve had clients tell us that the [debt collector] they’re dealing with is threatening them with violence, imprisonment, or, in some occasions, deportation.”

Because debt collection agencies are allowed to report unpaid debt to credit bureaus, court debt can also ruin a person’s credit score, grievously impacting his or her ability to rent a home or secure a student loan. This is a voluntary action, and, in its report, the CRC strongly advises that counties prevent agencies from taking it.

“How is it that a traffic ticket affects your credit?” asked Lacey. Because of her court debt, she said, “I can’t buy a house, I can’t go nowhere—I’m stuck in the ’hood. I can’t even leave because all the money I get, they take it.”

Said Weiss: “We’re taking something not meant to be punitive and punishing [people] for their poverty.”

“If there were an effective cost-benefit analysis for counties on these fines and fees, the costs would far outweigh the benefits,” said Nancy Fishman, a project director at the Vera Institute of Justice. Most counties, Fishman said, don’t pay close attention to how much money they actually make off of fines and fees. In California, court-ordered debt collected by private agencies makes up only 0.001 to 0.46 percent of a county’s total revenue. In New Orleans, the cost of incarcerating people who could not pay bail, fines, or fees was nearly $2 million more than the amount that court debt brought in. Counties see money coming in, but do not think about the cost of obtaining it—or how much remains uncollected because residents are unable to pay.

According to Weiss, almost every state in the country has increased its fines and fees over the last five years; especially after the 2008 recession, such charges were seen as an ideal way to generate revenue. In California, a $155 charge for a stop violation in 2005 became a $283 charge in 2015. In both years, the base fine was $35.  

“We have an allergy to taxes, and there are few ways municipalities can raise money: taxes, utilities, and fines and fees,” Weiss said. “Fines and fees is the most regressive way, but often happens without a lot of the public weighing in, understanding, or being concerned. ” She pointed out that fines and fees are most frequently handed out to poor communities that don’t have political or monetary clout, and thus have become an ideal way for a county government to raise money without resistance.

“I feel like it affects, mostly—honestly—Black people and Mexicans,” said Lacey, who is Black. “We struggle like crazy and we don’t know nothing about the system, so they keep us in the system.”

According to the CRC report, 64 percent of people arrested and subsequently subjected to fines and fees in California are people of color. San Francisco made note of this point in its ordinance, which states, “Indeed, the burden of these fines and fees falls heaviest on the African-American community, which accounts for less than 6% of the population of San Francisco, but makes up over half the population in the county jail.”

Fishman thinks it is impractical to demand that those who pass through the criminal justice system should be responsible for paying for it. “If a lot of the folks being charged are poor people and don’t have the money,” she said, “charging them all these fines and fees is 1) not going to get you the money you need and 2) is going to pull these people further into the justice system and make it that much harder for them to become contributing members of that community.”  

Though states control most of the fines and fees levied in their courts, counties still hold considerable power to reduce the burden on their residents: Many fines and fees are discretionary, issued at the local level. Weiss is hopeful that San Francisco’s move is indicative of a new wave of reform. Within the last year, both California and Mississippi have stopped suspending driver’s licenses for those who have not paid fines. In 2017, Philadelphia stopped using cost and care fees for juveniles.

Fishman, however, is less optimistic. “We’re generally not in a world where we can say ‘As goes San Francisco so goes the nation,’” she said. “Some of the places that are struggling the most with this, both in terms of how to pay for bloated justice systems and how to deal with the fact that most of the people in the community are too poor to pay, are not San Francisco.”

Instead, said Fishman, in smaller, especially more rural towns, fines and fees “fit in still with their sense of justice, and there’s a sense that there aren’t other resources. If you don’t have a big tax base to support your justice system, you’re going to look for whatever resources you can find—even if they’re not the best ones to try.” Even so, she said, such counties “are trying to get blood from a turnip.”

“If folks could pay the first small fee, they would,” said Soto, the attorney. “Honestly, the majority of folks [passing through the system] are already hand to mouth. Getting hit with another $40 or $50 right now is not something they can plausibly do. And because they can’t pay that, the penalty is they have to pay more … at some point, you’re just trapped.”

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In Louisiana, Harsh Prosecutors Are Moving From Parish to Parish

When Caddo voters booted their infamous district attorney, some of his toughest prosecutors found a home in Calcasieu.

Caspar Benson/Getty

In Louisiana, Harsh Prosecutors Are Moving From Parish to Parish

When Caddo voters booted their infamous district attorney, some of his toughest prosecutors found a home in Calcasieu.

In 1983, Isadore Rozeman, a jeweler in Shreveport, Louisiana, was shot once in the back of the head in a robbery gone wrong. In 1984, Glenn Ford was convicted of his murder. Ford continually proclaimed his innocence, but luck was not on his side. Two lawyers were appointed to represent Ford in his death penalty trial, both chosen simply because they were next on an alphabetical list of area attorneys. One worked in oil and gas, the other in insurance defense. Neither had ever tried a jury trial before. All the evidence tying Ford to the murder was circumstantial, there was no murder weapon and no eye witness, but it didn’t matter. Ford, who is Black, was convicted by an all-white jury and sentenced to death by electrocution.

Finally, almost 30 years later, Ford was exonerated in 2014. His attorneys discovered that the state had withheld evidence that implicated other people as the killers.  The sheer injustice of Ford’s conviction led the prosecutor who tried the case, Marty Stroud, to write a public apology to Ford, admitting that he had been “arrogant, narcissistic, caught up in the culture of winning.”

But then-District Attorney Dale Cox in Caddo Parish, which includes Shreveport, believed Ford was owed no apology. “I don’t know what it is [Stroud’s] apologizing for. I think he’s wrong. [T]he system did not fail Mr. Ford. … Because he’s not on death row.”

“Getting out of prison after 30 years is justice?” asked the interviewer.

“Well, it’s better than dying there,” Cox said, “and it’s better than being executed.”

After he was exonerated, Cox fought all efforts to compensate Ford for the state’s misconduct. In 2015, one year after he was released from prison, Ford died from lung cancer.

Most people didn’t know it, but Cox was already one of the most influential  prosecutors in America. Between 2010 and 2014, Caddo, home to about a quarter million people, sentenced more people to death per capita than any other county in America. Between 2011 and 2015, Cox himself secured a third of the death sentences in the state. But it still wasn’t enough for him. “I think we need to kill more people,” he said in 2015. “I think the death penalty should be used more often.”

Cox’s comments made national news, and he decided not to run for re-election. Instead, in 2015, James Stewart, a former appellate judge, became the first Black district attorney of Caddo Parish. Stewart wasn’t radical by any means. But he also wasn’t bloodthirsty. Simply by operating somewhere in the middle of the road, Stewart was a vast improvement on his predecessor.

In the initial days of his tenure, Stewart recognized that any chance at reform faced a major obstacle—the remaining staff. Cox was out, but the Assistant DAs from his era and the era of his predecessor remained. For Stewart to effectively implement a new approach to prosecution, he would need a new staff. Within a few weeks of being sworn in, 11 assistant district attorneys left Stewart’s office. It was a major change in an office that currently employs around 35 prosecutors.

These 11 represent the most notable exodus from the Caddo Parish office in recent history. Some of them went into private practice, becoming personal injury lawyers. Others decided to go into criminal defense. And at least two of them ended up in the office of Calcasieu Parish District Attorney John DeRosier. All told, in the past few years DeRosier has employed at least six former Caddo Parish prosecutors. And, while they don’t all have politics like Cox, there has been a disturbing pattern of DeRosier taking in some of the more controversial former Caddo prosecutors.  “Hiring disgraced lawyers from across the state sends a clear message to prosecutors in Louisiana,” says Ben Cohen, counsel at the Promise of Justice Initiative in New Orleans. “Get caught lying or cheating, there will be a job for you in Calcasieu.”

Why Calcasieu? The parish is a four-hour drive from Caddo, all the way in the far south part of the state, so it’s not for convenience’s sake. Perhaps it’s because DeRosier’s office still reflects an antiquated outlook, where being tough on crime and winning to win is the driving ethos. Until this year, Louisiana incarcerated more people than any other state in the nation. But DeRosier rejected the possibility that prosecutors and law enforcement may be responsible for the crisis. “The proponents of change in the current system will tell you that Louisiana is incarcerating too many people so your sentences must be too harsh, your judges must be too harsh, your prosecutors must be too harsh,” he said. “They will not even consider the suggestion that people simply don’t want to follow the rules and will not follow the rules no matter what.”

DeRosier uses many well-worn tropes to prevent reform in Louisiana. An old campaign ad shows him drumming up fear about immigrants and crime. And, while DeRosier has stated publicly that the death penalty is expensive, tedious, and unpleasant—”Taxpayers are paying a tremendous amount of money for death penalty cases,” he lamented in 2012—he still unfailingly supports it. “We cannot allow the pricing of capital punishment cases out of the market as a way to get rid of it,” DeRosier said in 2015.

DeRosier’s influence goes beyond the parish limits. Local advocates say that he has an outsized presence at the legislature, where he regularly testifies against progressive legislation and has been resistant to many of the reforms that have gained traction in Louisiana and across the country more broadly.

It was in the legislature that DeRosier made headlines in April when he opposed a constitutional amendment that would require a unanimous jury to convict someone of a crime. (Every state besides Louisiana and Oregon requires unanimity.) According to Senator J.P. Morrell, a New Orleans Democrat who sponsored the bill, the current laws stem from the late 1800s, when legislators were trying desperately to preserve white supremacy.

The bill got support from legislators on both sides of the aisle, and even from at least one former prosecutor. “In our lifetime, we will never have as good an opportunity to repeal a 138-year-old law that dates back to Jim Crow days,” said former Grant Parish District Attorney Ed Tarpley. But unanimous jury requirements make it harder for prosecutors to get convictions, and DeRosier was determined to prevent that from happening.

“You hear a lot about this being a vestige of slavery,” he said. “No doubt that is true, but it is what it is, and that was 138 years ago. …The issue here is not about the way something started. Should we not have driven Volkswagens in the ‘60s, if we held to concept that they were ordered, designed, and manufactured by Adolf Hitler? I don’t think so.”

His comments were met with immediate outrage. “I am so utterly offended for you to start your comments and say, ‘I know that this was rooted in slavery, but it is what it is,’” said Representative Ted James, a Democrat from Baton Rouge. “You are elected to represent everybody, and I hope the people that elected you are listening because if they aren’t, I’m going to make sure that they know what you said today.”

DeRosier boasts that Lake Charles is one of the safest places in the country, but it hasn’t stopped him from pushing for more police presence as a way to raise money. Just last week, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a complaint against Calcasieu and other Parish prosecutor offices, alleging that their traffic ticketing practices violated the state’s Code of Governmental Ethics. DeRosier brought the program at issue, called LACE, or local agency compensated enforcement, to Calcasieu Parish. In theory, it’s a diversion program for people who receive traffic tickets and are given the option to just pay a fine. But in reality, it’s a money-making scheme for the district attorney’s office. “These fines do not go through the court system, which divides revenue among several agencies,” according to the Lens, a local news nonprofit. “Instead, the money goes straight to the district attorney.”

The program depends on overtime officers. Their time and their salaries, as well as the use of their vehicles, are paid for through the tickets they issue, DeRosier said. He has repeatedly made the program sound like a policy response to a safety concern. “We have some bad traffic areas and we need to send a message to the drivers they will be stopped and will pay the price,” he said. What he doesn’t mention, though, is that the program is netting him millions, and residents are paying.

As officers have begun writing LACE tickets, they have drastically reduced the number of traditional traffic tickets they issue. From 2011 to 2012, the number of tickets dropped by 42 percent, according to Louisiana Supreme Court reports. Meanwhile, in just two years, the number of LACE tickets issued in the parish tripled.

That has a major impact on indigent defense funding, which comes from traffic ticket revenue in Louisiana. According to the Lens, Calcasieu Parish began issuing more LACE tickets soon after public defenders were allotted ten more dollars from each traffic ticket, going from $35 to $45.As a result, “public defenders expected to see a 30 percent increase in local revenue. Instead, the number of tickets filed statewide dropped 30 percent over the next few years.” Meanwhile, in 2017 alone, the district attorney’s office made $4.4 million in revenue.

DeRosier is sharp, cunning, and ambitious, qualities that seem reflected in his staff. Take Jason Brown, the very first person Stewart fired. This wasn’t a surprise—Brown had been a vocal supporter of Stewart’s opponent, Dhu Thompson, and had donated $1500 to his campaign. Brown was known for being the epitome of a tough-on-crime prosecutor, and once made national news when he prosecuted a man who was sentenced to life without parole for buying $20 worth of weed. Brown charged him under Louisiana’s Habitual offender laws, which are a significant contributor to Louisiana’s incarceration rate, currently the second-highest in the nation. He later told The Daily Beast he considered the case a successful example of what he calls “pro-active law enforcement.” “It’s a system, he says, that revolves around using lesser crimes to lock up people he suspects to be guilty of other, more violent ones,” the article stated. A 2015 report concluded that Brown struck black jurors from potential jury service at almost five times the rate as white jurors in Caddo Parish.  According to John Settle, a Shreveport blogger, Brown had been on the “criminal defense bar hit list.” DeRosier, however, hired him. Brown made $75,000 last year in Calcasieu, even though he only had a single case.

DeRosier also hired Hugo Holland, one of the most infamous prosecutors in Louisiana. Holland’s infamy in the state’s criminal justice community comes from his influence and his regressive politics. He had a portrait of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and alleged leader of the Ku Klux Klan, on the wall of his Caddo Parish office. He also named his cat after Lee Harvey Oswald, whom he calls “the most maligned man in U.S. history.”  

Holland is a Cox-style prosecutor especially when it comes to the death penalty. “If it weren’t for Caddo Parish, capital punishment would have been largely phased out in Louisiana by now,” a columnist wrote in the Advocate. “And Caddo largely owes its pre-eminence to just two prosecutors, Dale Cox and Hugo Holland.” In fact, over one five-year period, Holland and Cox were responsible for half of the death sentences in the state .

Like Cox, Holland does not wrestle with the implications of the death penalty. “[I]t would not faze me in the least to watch a man executed, and that would include hanging or firing squad,” he told the Advocate. He has secured 10 death sentences during his career, half of which have been overturned for misconduct. Just last month, Corey Williams was released from prison, after it became clear that Holland had withheld evidence indicating he was innocent. Williams had been sentenced to death in 2000, and then resentenced to life without parole after the Supreme Court ruled that people with intellectual disabilities could not be put to death. Williams has an IQ of 68.

His problems go beyond his fixation on the death penalty. In 2011, he and a close colleague, Lea Hall, were fired from the Caddo Parish District Attorney’s office for lying. (These days, Hall also works in Calcasieu Parish.) Holland and Hall requested eight M-16s from a federal program that bestowed military equipment to local law enforcement. In their application for the weapons, Hall and Holland said the automatic rifles were for the office’s Special Investigations Section, which they claimed “routinely participate[s] in high-risk surveillance and arrests activities with the Shreveport Police and Caddo Sheriff” and “handle[s] predominantly high profile and dangerous drug offenders.” But this was news to Sheriff Steve Prator, who denied that prosecutors were working with them in any capacity that would necessitate automatic weapons. Prator stated publicly that he believed the request had been made unlawfully.

Holland, Hall, and Brown were all part of what they called the “Zombie Response Team.” At first, it was a tongue-in-cheek name for a group of prosecutors who hung out, often at the firing range. But eventually it became what Radley Balko, a Washington Post opinion writer, calls “quasi-official.” The “team” designed a logo used to make special patches and license plates, and the group even started “wearing SWAT-type clothing during work hours.” But then it went even further: The prosecutors, “equipped their vehicles with emergency lights and sirens, pulled motorists over, conducted surveillance work and accompanied police officers when warrants were served.” Other staff found it silly and a bit concerning. “I went to law school,” one former prosecutor said later. “I’m supposed to go stand in court. I’m not supposed to be at crime scenes. … I’m thinking about how stupid it is that they want to go out and play cop.”

Holland and Hall encapsulated the sense of untouchability in Caddo Parish law enforcement. But after a whistleblower made public that they had lied to obtain automatic weapons, both men were forced to resign. Holland didn’t stay away from the DA’s office for long, though. He said he was unemployed “for about two days” after he was asked to leave Caddo Parish. Almost immediately, he was contracting with DA’s offices around the state to bring death penalty cases. Holland has worked with as many as 10 parishes at a time. Last year, he netted over $200,000 in salary, more than the governor and the chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court. He supposedly works full-time in two parishes, including Calcasieu, where DeRosier pays him over $50,000. Part of the reason prosecutors pay him is because of his influence at the legislature, where he has fought against reform bills and pushed back against efforts to increase public defense and capital defense funding. “Do the math,” said Stroud, the regretful prosecutor in the Ford case. “He’s constantly fighting to cut the budgets of the indigent defender’s capital defense and here he is holding down [multiple] positions around the state at taxpayer expense.”

Holland isn’t the only Calcasieu prosecutor who regularly goes to the legislature to testify, and other local advocates confirmed that DeRosier is extremely focused on having influence at the legislative level. According to Cohen, the Promise of Justice Initiative counsel, “DeRosier is trying to drive the Louisiana District Attorney’s Association by having his first assistant Loren Lambert become the lobbyist for the DA’s association.”DeRosier and his staff continue to build a legislative presence, the potential for outsize influence is significant.

Stewart’s election as district attorney in Caddo proved that it was possible to imagine a different kind of district attorney’s office—one concerned less with wins and more with justice. But prosecutors’ moves from Caddo to Calcasieu means that many of the problems that existed in Caddo risk being repeated elsewhere. DeRosier’s decision to hire prosecutors that so explicitly embody an anti-reform ethos demonstrates just how easily justice reform can be thwarted. “It’s not just that DeRosier has given jobs to prosecutors who disgraced themselves elsewhere,” says Cohen. “But he is trying to retain and elevate their brand of politics in an effort to prevent true criminal justice reform.”  Ultimately, this transition from one office to another is emblematic of a major barrier in criminal justice reform. How much can actually change as long as the troublesome prosecutors just move around?

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