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Texas district attorney to police: Do better.

Texas district attorney to police: Do better.


Last Wednesday, County District Attorney Kristen Barnebey of Aransas County, Texas announced that her office will not accept cases presented by a local police department until its officers are better educated and trained. A press release issued by her office on Tuesday states that the Rockport Police Department has withheld evidence in violation of the law — “a disservice to defendants, victims, the criminal justice system” and the “entire community.”

In late July, the Barnebey’s office first decided to decline cases in which one Rockport Police officer, Chad Brooks, acted as a responding or arresting officer or was named as an incident witness. Brooks was discovered to have profiled defendants and misrepresented facts in his case reports. Then, when prosecutors eventually held a meeting to confront Brooks about his behavior, the officer secretly recorded the conversation. Once he was discovered to have done this, Brooks refused to turn over the recording — a move that Barnebey’s office considered a “deliberate decision to withhold evidence.”

Barnebey decided not to accept any cases from the Rockport police when the police chief also refused to hand over the recording.

“Each prosecutor swears an oath under Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Art. 2.01, ‘not to convict but to see that justice is done.’ What you rarely hear quoted is the next sentence: ‘They shall not suppress evidence or secrete witnesses capable of establishing the innocent of the accused,’” Barnebey’s office wrote. “When law enforcement will not uphold the law, prosecutors must step forward and ensure the law is being followed and unethical officers are not being put before the judge and jury as credible witnesses.”

As reported by KRISTV in Corpus ChristiBarnebey’s office has dismissed at least 17 cases, including nine involving felonies, from the Rockport Police Department.

According to prosecutors, the Rockport officers needs to demonstrate a commitment to truthful reporting and to correcting problematic officer behavior.

“The Rockport Police Department needs to make significant changes in the education and training of its officers and our office cannot stand by status quo, prosecuting cases that may or may not be good cases,” Barnebey’s office added. “We believe in the law and we are sworn to uphold it.”

This is an extraordinary move by a prosecutor’s office. It is common for officers to go undisciplined by their superiors, and it is rare for prosecutors to hold law enforcement accountable for unethical or illegal behavior. One reason for the lack of accountability is that offices like Barnebey’s rely on law enforcement to conduct investigations and make arrests, and the two entities work together to build cases and seek convictions. Rockport is the county seat, and the largest city in Aransas County. Barnebey’s assertion that the Rockport police department isn’t trustworthy or qualified to participate in this key partnership would appear to have significant implications for the local justice system.

A district attorney’s office’s decision to not accept cases from a law enforcement agency wholesale is almost unheard of, although a similar action was taken in North Carolina in 2009. The late Ed Grannis, who served as the district attorney in Cumberland County for more than three decades, refused to let the Spring Lake Police Department conduct criminal investigations. At the time, Grannis argued that officers were falsifying reports and that the “presumed integrity of the work product” was questionable. He empowered the county sheriff’s department to take over the cases instead, and requested that the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation probe the Spring Lake department.

Despite the underlying principle that prosecutors must prioritize justice over convictions, there is much evidence to suggest that does not regularly occur. Reports abound of prosecutors who hide exculpatory evidencecover up misconduct within their own offices, and bend the law to fit a narrative they want to put forth in court. Meanwhile, as noted criminal justice expert John Pfaff has remarked, prosecutors “remain the only actor [in the justice system] who is subject to almost no regulation at all.” The New York Times editorial board put it more bluntly: prosecutors “are almost never held accountable for misconduct, even when it results in wrongful convictions.”

Barnebey’s staff hasn’t shown any signs of budging. “Sadly, this flagrant disregard for the law and lack of of willingness to correct the actions of Patrolman Chad Brooks and the Rockport Police Department leaves the Aransas County District Attorney’s Office with no other choice,” the office said.

“The Rockport Police Department needs to make significant changes in the education and training of its officers and our office cannot stand by status quo, prosecuting cases that may or may not be good cases,” Barnebey’s office added. “We believe in the law and we are sworn to uphold it.”

This is an extraordinary move by a prosecutor’s office. It is common for officers to go undisciplined by their superiors, and it is rare for prosecutors to hold law enforcement accountable for unethical or illegal behavior. One reason for the lack of accountability is that offices like Barnebey’s rely on law enforcement to conduct investigations and make arrests, and the two entities work together to build cases and seek convictions. Rockport is the county seat, and the largest city in Aransas County. Barnebey’s assertion that the Rockport police department isn’t trustworthy or qualified to participate in this key partnership would appear to have significant implications for the local justice system.

A district attorney’s office’s decision to not accept cases from a law enforcement agency wholesale is almost unheard of, although a similar action was taken in North Carolina in 2009. The late Ed Grannis, who served as the district attorney in Cumberland County for more than three decades, refused to let the Spring Lake Police Department conduct criminal investigations. At the time, Grannis argued that officers were falsifying reports and that the “presumed integrity of the work product” was questionable. He empowered the county sheriff’s department to take over the cases instead, and requested that the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation probe the Spring Lake department.

Despite the underlying principle that prosecutors must prioritize justice over convictions, there is much evidence to suggest that does not regularly occur. Reports abound of prosecutors who hide exculpatory evidencecover up misconduct within their own offices, and bend the law to fit a narrative they want to put forth in court. Meanwhile, as noted criminal justice expert John Pfaff has remarked, prosecutors “remain the only actor [in the justice system] who is subject to almost no regulation at all.” The New York Times editorial board put it more bluntly: prosecutors “are almost never held accountable for misconduct, even when it results in wrongful convictions.”

Barnebey’s staff hasn’t shown any signs of budging. “Sadly, this flagrant disregard for the law and lack of of willingness to correct the actions of Patrolman Chad Brooks and the Rockport Police Department leaves the Aransas County District Attorney’s Office with no other choice,” the office said.

Correction: This story has been corrected to refer to the Rockport Police Department rather than the Rockville Police Department.