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How two ICE programs let sheriffs cash in on immigration crackdown

How two ICE programs let sheriffs cash in on immigration crackdown

After an embarrassing jail escape that was blamed in part on inadequate facilities, Walker County in 2012 issued $20 million in bonds to build a new jail. It was a hefty price tag for the county of fewer than 70,000 people north of Houston, and officials pledged to search for new revenue streams to help pay for the jail. This year, they found one: The Walker County sheriff’s office is getting...
Despite renewed effort, Texas game wardens struggle to diversify ranks

Despite renewed effort, Texas game wardens struggle to diversify ranks

Five years after Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials pledged to diversify the agency’s law enforcement ranks following federal complaints over how the Texas game wardens operated, the agency has failed to fold more women or African-Americans into its ranks, according to an analysis by the American-Statesman. As a further lawsuit looms over hiring and firing practices in the game warden...
DA seeks FBI review of police role in Texas teen’s death

DA seeks FBI review of police role in Texas teen’s death

In a last-ditch effort to pursue criminal charges against the Mesquite police officers who avoided accountability for the death of a teenager in their custody only because too much time had passed, representatives from the Dallas County district attorney’s office this week met with FBI agents to determine if federal laws might yet provide an avenue to justice. Last week, the office of Dallas...
VA’s foray into Internet of Things faced ‘catastrophic failure’

VA’s foray into Internet of Things faced ‘catastrophic failure’

Four years after the Department of Veterans Affairs awarded a half-billion-dollar IT contract — so big that one executive predicted it would jumpstart an entire industry — Austin-based VA officials warned that the fledgling effort to digitally track medical equipment was in danger of “catastrophic failure.” Internal documents obtained by the American-Statesman show that last...
GREG KELLEY CASE: Rangers’ report finds ‘previously undetected’ crimes

GREG KELLEY CASE: Rangers’ report finds ‘previously undetected’ crimes

A Texas Rangers report looking into new allegations in the case involving Greg Kelley, who was convicted in the sexual assault of a 4-year-old boy in 2014, is soon to be finalized and hints at a finding of newly discovered criminal activity, Williamson County court documents show. However, the document will not be immediately released to the public after prosecutors received a judge’s order...
In Greg Kelley case, prosecutors wielded harsh weapon with new charge

In Greg Kelley case, prosecutors wielded harsh weapon with new charge

When prosecutors began building a case against Greg Kelley on child sexual assault charges, they relied upon what many experts say was shaky evidence that hinged on the word of two young boys, one of whom recanted during the trial. Despite that, the Williamson County district attorney charged him with the most aggressive, punitive crime possible — “super aggravated sexual assault&rdquo...
DA: Officers who shocked teenager committed crime — but can't be charged

DA: Officers who shocked teenager committed crime — but can't be charged

The office of Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson said Thursday it had concluded some Mesquite police officers, who in August 2013 shocked 18-year-old Graham Dyer with a Taser on his testicles while he was handcuffed and allowed him to fatally injure himself in the back of their cruiser, had committed a crime. But due to the expiration of the statute of limitations, the officers involved...
On eve of Greg Kelley trial, lawyer heard rumors of another suspect

On eve of Greg Kelley trial, lawyer heard rumors of another suspect

On the weekend before Greg Kelley’s trial on child sexual assault charges, his attorney heard a rumor that Kelley’s best friend and roommate, who is now considered a suspect in the crime, had what appeared to be child pornography on his phone. But the attorney, Patricia Cummings, did not pursue those allegations. She proceeded with the trial, her client was convicted and now the case has...
On eve of Greg Kelley trial, lawyer heard rumors of another suspect

On eve of Greg Kelley trial, lawyer heard rumors of another suspect

On the weekend before Greg Kelley’s trial on child sexual assault charges, his attorney heard a rumor that Kelley’s best friend and roommate, who is now considered a suspect in the crime, had what appeared to be child pornography on his phone. But the attorney, Patricia Cummings, didn’t pursue those allegations. She proceeded with the trial, her client was convicted, and now the...
STATESMAN INVESTIGATES: Texas police rarely faulted as 289 suspects died in their custody

STATESMAN INVESTIGATES: Texas police rarely faulted as 289 suspects died in their custody

The end of their lives were violent, sometimes hauntingly so. An 18-year-old, his hands and feet bound in the back of a Mesquite police car, thrashing from a Taser used on his genitals. A 52-year-old Rockdale man with the scars of 48 Taser marks on his back. A 42-year-old man hogtied by deputies in Houston, in apparent violation of sheriff’s policy. Then he stops breathing and...
Is TxDOT paying too much for new office site?

Is TxDOT paying too much for new office site?

The Texas Department of Transportation is moving rapidly toward paying $8.9 million for a large plot of raw Southeast Austin land for a new office complex, even though the agency had talked with Austin Community College about buying a similarly sized parcel a few miles away for about $2.5 million less. The Texas Transportation Commission’s vote May 25 to proceed with the more expensive...
Greg Kelley faces uphill battle for freedom

Greg Kelley faces uphill battle for freedom

Things are looking better for Greg Kelley than they have in a long time. Authorities have zeroed in on a suspect they believe might have committed the crimes for which Kelley is imprisoned. He soon will have his first court hearing on the merits of his case in three years. His supporters are holding rallies demanding his release. But winning exoneration three years after being convicted in the sexual...
Held down and breathless: When police restraint turns fatal

Held down and breathless: When police restraint turns fatal

More than 50 people over the past decade have died at least in part due to the way police forcibly restrained them or the physical stress associated with being taken into custody, according to an American-Statesman investigation of nearly 300 Texas fatalities from 2005 to 2016. Medical examiners determined four-fifths of the cases were homicides. In some instances, pathologists identified a specific...
Legislature approves more money for farmworker housing inspections

Legislature approves more money for farmworker housing inspections

Texas lawmakers approved a funding boost for the state’s farmworker housing inspection program that will more than quadruple the amount of money regulators spend to ensure housing meets minimum health and safety standards. The budget rider, passed as part of the Legislature’s adoption of a two-year, $216.8 billion budget Saturday, represents a small victory for lawmakers and farmworker...
Feds go quiet on push to protect rights of citizen-soldiers

Feds go quiet on push to protect rights of citizen-soldiers

Six months ago, members of Congress asked the Department of Labor to change rules that were shielding the identity of employers who routinely run afoul of a landmark law meant to protect the jobs of U.S. service members and reservists when they are called to duty. The House Veterans Affairs Committee opened an inquiry into the matter last year after an American-Statesman investigation into violations...
In fatal struggles with police, a controversial killer is often blamed

In fatal struggles with police, a controversial killer is often blamed

Juan Lozano’s death in South Texas during the summer of 2006 was a mystery. Dimmit County Sheriff’s deputies came upon the 26-year-old Crystal City man around midnight after a call about a man behaving bizarrely: screaming, running in the street and hiding in the bushes. A struggle broke out — officers say they pushed him to the ground after he tried to flee — and Lozano was...
‘48 marks on his back’ — How Tasers figure into deaths in police custody

‘48 marks on his back’ — How Tasers figure into deaths in police custody

The Rockdale police summary of how Rosendo Gaytan died on Halloween night 2006 during his arrest for public intoxication is clinical and brief: “While in the booking area of the Milam County Jail the subject continued to be uncompliant and assaultive. Taser was utilized in an attempt to gain subject’s compliance. While subject was being restrained he became unresponsive.” Gaytan...
A 3-minute Taser jolt, a quick settlement: Was justice served in Burnet man’s death?

A 3-minute Taser jolt, a quick settlement: Was justice served in Burnet man’s death?

When a Granite Shoals resident called 911 to report his Churchill Drive neighbor was acting crazy, police had an idea what to expect. Burnet County authorities had arrested Willie Ray Banks several times for drugs and resisting or evading arrest. In the early morning of Dec. 29, 2011, Banks was speaking nonsense, but was calm and polite, reports and video of the incident show. After several minutes...
'48 marks on his back' — How Tasers figure into deaths in police custody

'48 marks on his back' — How Tasers figure into deaths in police custody

The Rockdale police summary of how Rosendo Gaytan died on Halloween night 2006 during his arrest for public intoxication is clinical and brief: “While in the booking area of the Milam County Jail the subject continued to be uncompliant and assaultive. Taser was utilized in an attempt to gain subject’s compliance. While subject was being restrained he became unresponsive.” Gaytan...
Bills to strengthen farmworker housing inspections die in Legislature

Bills to strengthen farmworker housing inspections die in Legislature

A bill that would have given teeth to the state’s anemic inspection system for farmworker housing died in the Texas House on Thursday, never reaching the floor for a vote before a midnight deadline. House Bill 2365, authored by Rep. Ramon Romero, Jr., D-Fort Worth, unanimously passed the House Urban Affairs Committee in April, but could not clear the House Calendars Committee. A Senate version...
Police reform bills stuck in limbo as Texas Legislature winds down

Police reform bills stuck in limbo as Texas Legislature winds down

A bill that would have let a North Texas family more easily obtain police records detailing their son’s final hours is facing an uphill battle in the frantic waning weeks of the legislative session. Thanks to a 1997 statute, law enforcement agencies currently don’t have to share their investigative records if a suspect isn’t convicted. House Bill 3234 would compel police to release...
A midnight stroll, a grab and a push: When policing the mentally ill turns deadly

A midnight stroll, a grab and a push: When policing the mentally ill turns deadly

Sometime around midnight on Sept. 23, 2014, Tom Klessig left his stately home in the heart of the affluent Dallas suburb of University Park to go on one of his late-night walks around the neighborhood. Klessig, a 23-year-old former wrestling champion, was back in his childhood home, living with his parents after years of struggle with schizoaffective disorder, which left him hearing voices and...
Dallas district attorney to undertake ‘full review’ of Dyer case

Dallas district attorney to undertake ‘full review’ of Dyer case

The Dallas County district attorney’s office announced Wednesday that it would undertake a full review of the events surrounding the death of Graham Dyer, an 18-year-old who died nearly four years ago in the custody of Mesquite police officers. The development comes less than a week after an American-Statesman article described how his parents fought for more than two years to get police...
Lawmaker on farmworker housing bill: Inaction is ‘inexcusable’

Lawmaker on farmworker housing bill: Inaction is ‘inexcusable’

In emotional testimony Tuesday, Texas farmworkers and advocates urged a House committee to pass a bill that would strengthen inspections of housing for agricultural workers, increase penalties on violators and require state regulators to look for unlicensed facilities. Justino De Leon, a longtime farmworker from Pharr, told members of the House Committee on Urban Affairs that he often was forced to...
Parents of teen who died in police custody testify for change in law

Parents of teen who died in police custody testify for change in law

The parents of a teen who died while in custody of the Mesquite Police Department stayed up late Monday night to share their son’s story with legislators in an effort to persuade them that a law allowing police departments to withhold investigative records from the public needs to be changed. Kathy and Robert Dyers’ appearance before the Texas House Committee on Government Transparency...
Even before Trump threat, mothers and children separated at the border

Even before Trump threat, mothers and children separated at the border

Ana Mendoza, a 29-year-old Honduran immigrant, can’t erase the image from her mind: With her 10-year-old son and 12-year-old cousin in tow, she had arrived at the International Bridge in Hidalgo on Jan. 19, the day before President Donald Trump was to be inaugurated. Mendoza, fleeing gang violence in her homeland, believed the family would be released by immigration authorities with a notice...
Texas police withheld records of their son’s death. Now they know why.

Texas police withheld records of their son’s death. Now they know why.

Kathy and Robert Dyer received the phone call out of every parent’s nightmares at 3 a.m. on Aug. 14, 2013. A Mesquite police officer was telling them their 18-year-old son, Graham, was in the hospital with a serious head injury. They should come as quickly as possible. They sped in the dark south to Dallas from their home on a dirt road outside of Paris, in Northeast Texas, arriving at Baylor...
Extra pay for Texas county judges could take big jump

Extra pay for Texas county judges could take big jump

Two bills being considered by state lawmakers have the potential to boost by 60 percent a controversial salary supplement offered to constitutional county judges — the biggest pay rate jump being proposed for any of the state’s judges. An American-Statesman investigation in 2016 found that some county judges exploited a little-known law that allows them to enhance their salaries by more...
‘Easiest’ parts of Texas border wall already built, emails show

‘Easiest’ parts of Texas border wall already built, emails show

Internal Border Patrol communications, obtained by University of Texas law school professor Denise Gilman after a lengthy Freedom of Information battle and shared with the American-Statesman, reveal some of the political realities that drove construction of the $2.4 billion wall/fence authorized by the 2006 Secure Fence Act. In a March 2007 email, a Border Patrol commander complained when he learned...
How the Texas border wall is creating an expanding no man’s land

How the Texas border wall is creating an expanding no man’s land

Most mornings, 19-year-old Greg Garcia passes through an opening in the rusting, 18-foot-high steel fence on his way to classes at Texas Southmost College in Brownsville, where he studies the air conditioning sciences. On his way home, he drives south past the border wall. More often than not he is waved through by Border Patrol agents who have come to recognize his truck. If there’s a new agent...
Bill seeks to strengthen Texas farmworker housing inspections

Bill seeks to strengthen Texas farmworker housing inspections

A bill filed Wednesday by state Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, would overhaul the oversight of farmworker housing in Texas, calling for stricter housing inspections, tougher penalties for violators and enhanced community outreach. The bill, co-authored by Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, comes after a 2016 American-Statesman investigation found numerous deficiencies in Texas&rsquo...
FAA missed chance to ground balloon pilot before deadly Lockhart crash

FAA missed chance to ground balloon pilot before deadly Lockhart crash

Alfred “Skip” Nichols, the chief pilot and owner of the Heart of Texas Balloon Rides, shouldn’t have been flying on the morning of July 30, 2016, when he crashed and died along with 15 passengers. Two years earlier, the Federal Aviation Administration had learned of his lengthy criminal record of alcohol-related driving offenses. Nichols had violated FAA rules by not voluntarily...
Why so many Texas teachers accused of improprieties are never charged

Why so many Texas teachers accused of improprieties are never charged

Hundreds of Texas primary and secondary teachers lost or surrendered their teaching licenses since 2010 after being investigated for improper relationships with a student. More than half were never criminally charged. In all of those cases, information about the alleged misconduct isn’t easily accessible from the Texas Education Agency and in many instances is kept secret by school districts...
Texas A-F grades make low-income schools look worse, analysis shows

Texas A-F grades make low-income schools look worse, analysis shows

Arguably the biggest complaint about the new A-F school accountability system in Texas is that it unfairly penalizes campuses with high numbers of low-income students. An American-Statesman analysis of preliminary A-F grades issued last month shows that the schools with the poorest student populations in Texas were up to 30 percent more likely than their wealthier peers to earn a failing letter grade...
Austin crime lab bucked DNA standard for years, yet got passing grades

Austin crime lab bucked DNA standard for years, yet got passing grades

In 2010, an influential national organization of scientists devoted to ensuring that forensic labs employ only the latest and best methods of analyzing DNA evidence published a new set of guidelines. In essence, the Scientific Working Group on DNA Analysis Methods concluded that analysts should use the quality of genetic samples, rather than the quantity of evidence gathered at a crime scene, to decide...
Federal ruling points to low levels of Latino representation in Texas

Federal ruling points to low levels of Latino representation in Texas

A federal judge’s ruling last week that the city of Pasadena tried to dilute the voting power of its fast-growing Latino population through the use of at-large council districts could change how Texas officials enforce voting rights laws in the state, though the case is likely to be appealed. What’s more certain is that the decision serves as another reminder of the barriers to political...

State spent three months trying to find CPS memo leak to Statesman

Child Protective Services is under siege. The agency is failing to see thousands of endangered children. Underappreciated and underpaid caseworkers are fleeing in droves. State lawmakers are demanding immediate action. Amid such urgent problems, state investigators recently spent three months trying to ferret out an employee who complained to the media about a plan to give top-level bosses $268,000...

Interactive: Travis County gun deaths

The Austin American-Statesman analyzed more than 250 gun deaths investigated by the Travis County Medical Examiner's Office from 2010 to 2012, examining type of death, weapon used and age of the victim.
Congress pushes for disclosure of employers who violate veterans law

Congress pushes for disclosure of employers who violate veterans law

The U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee has begun an investigation after revelations that the Labor Department is shielding the identity of employers who violate a landmark service members’ employment law, a committee official said this week. This month, an American-Statesman investigation revealed that the Labor Department is refusing to disclose the identities of thousands of employers who...
Federal agency shields employers that violate the rights of veterans

Federal agency shields employers that violate the rights of veterans

As waves of National Guard reservists answered the call to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade, they were protected by a 1994 law that required their employers to hold their jobs until they returned. But records show that hundreds of employers have been found to have violated the rights of veterans by firing them because of their military responsibilities, failing to hire them back...
State leaders to CPS: Get your act together

State leaders to CPS: Get your act together

One week after news reports that Child Protective Services isn’t promptly seeing thousands of endangered children, Texas’ three top elected leaders issued an edict to the agency Wednesday: Get your act together. In a letter to Department of Family and Protective Services Commissioner Hank Whitman — whose agency runs Child Protective Services — Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov...
Statesman wins national award for digital journalism

Statesman wins national award for digital journalism

An American-Statesman investigative project into the deaths of homeless people in Austin received a national journalism award late Saturday. At its annual conference in Denver, the Online News Association announced that a team of Statesman journalists had won its award for Excellence and Innovation in Visual Digital Storytelling. The other finalist in the medium circulation division was the PBS investigative...

With stops and searches, numbers don’t add up for some DPS troopers

Between 2009 and mid-2014, a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper patrolled a three-county area between San Antonio and Houston, stopping 6,500 motorists. The officer, a 30-year veteran of the agency, was more than seven times more likely to search African-American and Hispanic drivers than white motorists — yet he was only half as likely to find contraband on the minority drivers. The...

TOP LOCAL STORIES OF THE WEEK

MONDAY Council OKs plan to cut all electric rates: The Austin City Council unanimously approved Austin Energy’s bid to reset its residential electric rates Monday, after the city-owned utility dropped its controversial proposal to increase its base electric rate. Under the revised rate structure, all of Austin Energy’s 400,000 residential customers would see their electric bills cut &mdash...
Four CPS leaders lose jobs amid agency shakeup

Four CPS leaders lose jobs amid agency shakeup

Child Protective Services officials fired four high-ranking managers this week, saying the changes are part of a strategy to reform an agency under fire for failing to protect the state’s most vulnerable children from being abused or killed. Officials at CPS said they decided not to rehire four of the 10 regional directors, all of whom were recently forced to reapply for their jobs. A fifth...
Statesman analysis: Pilot error cited in 70 percent of balloon crashes

Statesman analysis: Pilot error cited in 70 percent of balloon crashes

An American-Statesman analysis of every fatal hot air balloon crash investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board since 1964 shows that officials found numerous safety issues, ranging from improperly modified equipment to lack of helmets for passengers, among the 71 flights that ended in 135 deaths. Pilot error of some sort was cited by the safety board in nearly 70 percent of the fatal...
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