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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. 

ACLU of FL urges reforms to reduce Escambia County’s high incarceration rate

ACLU of FL urges reforms to reduce Escambia County’s high incarceration rate


The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida is highlighting the need for bail reform in Escambia County, which has one of the highest incarceration rates in the Sunshine State. In a recently released report, the ACLU asserts that Escambia County’s “jail is crowded, expensive, and houses many non-violent, pretrial defendants who could safely reside in the community with their family and continue to work while awaiting court.”

According to the report, as of July 31, 2017, there were 1,795 people locked up in the Escambia County jails awaiting trial. Of that total, 598 were eligible for release while awaiting trial but unable to afford the bail that would get them released. There are also more than 1,000 inmates currently housed in the county’s main jail, which was designed to incarcerate a maximum of 779 people.

Corrections Director Tamyra Jarvis said in July that 155 inmates were sleeping on the floor because of prison overcrowding. The county is also spending about $500,000 a year to keep some people jailed in a nearby county and is planning to build a new $130 million jail.

Escambia County Jail

In a report entitled “Smart Jail for Escambia: Factsheet and Recommended Solutions,” the ACLU recommends multiple ways for the county reduce its jail population. Bail reform, improving pretrial supervision, and streamlining the process from arrest to a resolution in a case are included among the 14 recommendations.

A key recommendation seeks to “tailor any monetary bail to its purpose.” The report explains that “[b]ail prevents many indigent defendants from leaving jail while their cases are pending — even though often these defendants do not pose a threat to the community. Too many people are jailed unnecessarily, with their economic status often defining pretrial outcomes.”

“Many of the people the county is detaining are in jail simply because they cannot afford cash bail, meaning we have one system of justice for those who can afford to pay to get out jail, and one for those who can’t,” said ACLU staff attorney Benjamin Stevenson. “These are people who are presumed innocent and have not actually been convicted of a crime.”

Studies have shown that keeping people locked up because they can’t afford bail doesn’t keep the public any safer, Stevenson said.

Escambia County Commissioners Jeff Bergosh, a Republican, and Lumon May, a Democrat, have come out in favor of the proposal, with both participating in an ACLU video expressing support for bail reform.

Bergosh said in the video that jail cells that are supposed to house one person now often house three. May said the county is now spending $47 million a year to lock people up.

“I look at the overcrowding as a systemic public health problem,” May said, explaining that it’s unfair to lock someone up because they can’t afford bail. May also emphasized that it’s also unfair to taxpayers to keep people locked up when they don’t pose a threat to the public.

Cutting the jail population could also help Escambia County Sheriff’s Office’s funding crisis. Sheriff David Morgan has said he will have to drastically cut services if Escambia County Commissioners don’t raise property taxes to better fund his office. Lowering the jail population could help alleviate the strain his office is currently facing.

Morgan and State Attorney William Eddins have not commented on the ACLU proposal. The ACLU is expected to give a presentation on its recommendations to the Escambia County Commission later this month.

Escambia County is the westernmost county on Florida’s Panhandle, with Alabama bordering it on both the west and the north. Its incarceration rate is 80 percent higher than the state average.

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Trapped — Brave New Films presents The Bail Trap game

Trapped — Brave New Films presents The Bail Trap game


Being trapped results in physical experiences beyond those caused by the immediate environs in which you are stuck. You feel it in your muscles, in your chest, in your throat and in your stomach. It is, to say the least, uncomfortable. While I can’t claim to have ever been thrown behind bars, with no good options and for no good reason, I can safely say that this is likely at least some of what it feels like to be victimized by the unjust money bail system. And we hope — strangely enough — that some of this translates into what you feel playing The Bail Trap game.

Yes, you read that right. We have made a game designed to frustrate, aggravate and agitate you. We want you to play a game you cannot win.

It’s not what we usually do. We are filmmakers and we usually tell stories. But we tell those stories because we are trying to create connections, to make viewers understand — viscerally in some cases — why a wrong needs to be righted, why a system must be overthrown, why individuals must break out of their comfort zones and get involved. Today we are working with a broad coalition of leaders working to end a system that offers one kind of justice for the rich and another kind entirely for the poor. We have told real stories, like that of Tai Sherman, a young woman with no criminal record whose college plans were derailed when she was held on $100,000 bail because an acquaintance was arrested for shoplifting $38 worth of dish soap and such from a Bay Area CVS.

We have exploded myths about the money bail system. And we have combined film and poetry to paint an emotionally resonant picture of how the repercussions of this system ripple outward in lives and communities.

This game is another way in. The reality is, we can’t and do not pretend to be able to make someone feel, through a video game, the depths of despair and hopelessness that must surely accompany having one’s freedom curtailed and the fallout thereafter. But even a little spark of intense frustration may help someone out there understand, just a little better, why a system that locks people up for the crime of being poor must be overthrown, immediately.

Think you can make your way through money bail system without getting trapped? Try it. See if you can figure out how to beat The Bail Trap game.

When you’re done playing, pick up the phone. If you’re in California, call your Assembly member. If you’re not in California, email Senator Kamala Harris to get involved on a national level. Tell them that in real life there is no reset button, no cheat codes. We made this mess, we have to clean it up. It’s time to #EndMoneyBail once and for all. Go to bravenewfilms.org/thebailtrap to find out more about fighting back against money bail.

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