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Investigations

Statesman Investigates: Social Security

Feds apologize, launch inquiry after judge’s comments to Gulf War vet
Shelby Tauber

Judge’s comments to Gulf War vet spur inquiry

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It’s been more than a year since his hearing for Social Security disability benefits, but Gulf War veteran Shawn McMurray still can’t get the judge’s words out of his mind.

“It’s tormented me since that day,” said the Navy veteran, 44, who served as fueler on board an aircraft carrier during the months-long bombardment of Iraq in 1991 and lives in Bay City with his wife and seven children. “He took my dignity away. I wasn’t proud to be a veteran.”

According to a recording of the April 2014 hearing, administrative law judge Gary Suttles, who hears Social Security disability appeals in the Houston area, questioned how McMurray, who has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, could have been affected by his wartime experience.

Statesman In-Depth

Demographers baffled as percent of region’s low-income students shrinks

The percentage of students from low-income families in Austin and many of its surrounding school districts has been shrinking since 2011 and took a steeper dive last school year, a change that the experts tracking rapid growth in Central Texas can’t quite explain.

The percentage of poor schoolchildren in the Austin district — based on federal standards that determine who qualifies for free or reduced-cost lunch or receives other public assistance — has dropped from 64 percent in the 2010-11 school year to 59.7 percent in 2014-15.

» Interactive: Student poverty rates dropping

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Statesman Investigates: Endangered Species Protection

How Texas fights endangered species protections, critter by critter

How Texas fights endangered species protections, critter by critter

Susan Combs and George P. Bush had a rare bird problem.

Last month, the former state comptroller and the current Texas land commissioner argued that the endangered species designation of a Central Texas songbird jeopardized military readiness. But an official at Fort Hood contradicted them by saying the post no longer operates under training restrictions due to the golden-cheeked warbler.

» Photos: Six Texas species under consideration

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Police Brutality

Sandra Bland case latest to raise questions about police conduct
Texas Department of Public Safety

Sandra Bland case latest to raise questions about police conduct

On the Texas Department of Public Safety’s recruitment website, there is an image of two men wearing dark green fatigues, helmets and goggles. They are carrying assault rifles and hopping out of a helicopter, looking more like they’re invading Afghanistan than issuing a speeding ticket. Across the image are the words, “Become a Texas State Trooper.”

» Hundreds bid farewell to woman who died in jail cell | Photos: Sandra Bland vigil in Austin

MoPac Construction

TxDOT planning for MoPac underpasses at Slaughter, La Crosse
Ricardo B. Brazziell

TxDOT planning for MoPac underpasses at Slaughter, La Crosse

Southwest Austin could have two major highway projects underway less than a year from now.

The Texas Department of Transportation on Thursday evening will host a public hearing at Bowie High School for what it calls its “MoPac intersection improvements” project: construction of MoPac Boulevard lanes underneath what would be newly built overpasses at Slaughter Lane and La Crosse Avenue.

Statesman In-Depth

Police: After 6 months in effect, hands-free law’s impact still unclear
Ricardo B. Brazziell

Police: After 6 months, hands-free law’s impact still unclear

No texting. No phone calls. No cellphone GPS navigation systems. In January, these became the rules of the road when Austin’s hands-free law was enacted.

Six months and 2,624 citations later, Austin police say the full impact of the law is still uncertain.

That’s largely because it’s difficult to tell which crashes are caused by distracted driving, according to Austin police Chief of Staff Brian Manley.


Statesman In-Depth

Friction among investigators in Dean investigation
Shelby Tauber

Friction among investigators in Dean investigation

The friction between law enforcement started almost immediately after deputies in early February discovered Samantha Dean’s body behind a vacant office building.

Law enforcement in Travis County, including Austin police, began a frenzied pursuit to learn who killed the crime victims counselor in Kyle who also volunteered for the Austin Police Department.

Statesman In-Depth

Should Austin offer incentives for landlords accepting vouchers?
Ralph Barrera

Should Austin offer incentives for landlords accepting vouchers?

Single mom Evita Cruz moved out of her East Austin apartment, which she had partially paid for with a federally funded housing voucher, because the city’s economic boom drove the rent too high in 2013.

Unable to “afford affordable housing anymore,” as Cruz put it, she and her two daughters packed up and moved into a hotel where her friend worked while landlord after landlord declined to accept her housing choice voucher, colloquially known as a Section 8 voucher.

Austin Music Scene

Music Census sparks talks of strengthening Austin’s music industry
Jay Janner

Music Census sparks talks of strengthening Austin’s music industry

Austin has plenty of parking garages that stand empty in the evening. And it has plenty of music acts looking for a place to play. As she thought about the difficulties facing Austin’s music scene, Michele Haussmann wondered whether those garages could moonlight as venues.

“Could it work? I don’t know,” said Haussmann, a development consultant whose clients include the music industry.


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