Latest Investigations

Hoping to stave off federal action, Texas rewrites lizard plan

Hoping to stave off federal action, Texas rewrites lizard plan

Aiming to reform a troubled state program designed to stave off federal habitat protections for a rare lizard species in the petroleum-rich Permian Basin, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar is asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to approve a new version, meant to address what Hegar’s office called the plan’s “systemic problems.” The proposal, the latest turn over how to protect...
How a natural gas group pushed for new energy curriculum in Texas

How a natural gas group pushed for new energy curriculum in Texas

Concerned that environmental groups were winning the hearts and minds of Texas schoolchildren — filling their heads with statements of the ills of fossil fuels — a politically connected Texas natural gas industry advocacy group devised a plan to fight back. The group, the Texas Natural Gas Foundation, whose founding members include academics and politicians with ties to the natural gas...
Windstorm association reverses course on bait shop owner’s Harvey claim

Windstorm association reverses course on bait shop owner’s Harvey claim

On Thursday, Mary Ann Heiman was at the site of her Port Aransas bait shop, which nine months ago had been flattened when Hurricane Harvey roared across the causeway. Nothing had remained after the Category 4 winds passed. But Thursday was a good day. “Right now, they’re pouring my foundation,” she said. “I’ve waited a long time to see this.” Until recently, it...
Cornyn seeks to ensure prosecution of juvenile sexual assault on bases

Cornyn seeks to ensure prosecution of juvenile sexual assault on bases

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, filed legislation this week to plug a jurisdictional gap on military bases that has allowed hundreds of sexual assaults committed by juveniles to go unprosecuted. Co-sponsored by New York Democrat Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Maine Independent Angus King, provisions of the bill have been included in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, the annual defense spending...
Cornyn bill targets prosecution of juvenile sex assaults on base

Cornyn bill targets prosecution of juvenile sex assaults on base

Sen. John Cornyn has filed legislation that seeks to plug a jurisdictional gap on military bases that has allowed hundreds of sexual assaults committed by juveniles to go unprosecuted in recent years and decades. Cornyn is the second Texas lawmaker to push for a solution to the issue, which the American-Statesman revealed in a 2015 investigation. In March, U.S. Rep. John Carter, who represents the...
Federal agencies clash over border wall’s impact on endangered ocelot

Federal agencies clash over border wall’s impact on endangered ocelot

The fight to save the endangered ocelot has pitted a federal agency that wants to keep the U.S.-Mexico border open for animal migrations against one that is seeking to plug the gaps. Publicly, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials, whose strategy to save the spotted cat has included building corridors between the two countries, has declined to comment on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection&rsquo...
Based on Fort Hood deal, bill seeks juvenile sex assault prosecutions

Based on Fort Hood deal, bill seeks juvenile sex assault prosecutions

U.S. Rep. John Carter, the Republican from Round Rock who represents Fort Hood, has filed legislation that would order military installations around the country to enter into agreements with local prosecutors to prosecute sexual assaults committed by juveniles on base. The bill is based on an agreement reached recently by Fort Hood officials, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Waco and...
Facial recognition scanners to be tested soon at Texas-Mexico border

Facial recognition scanners to be tested soon at Texas-Mexico border

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has long sought a way to identify the millions of travelers who leave the country each year through land border crossings into Mexico and Canada. The logistical hurdles have been monumental: At the U.S.-Mexico border in particular, setting up an exit checkpoint could cause disastrous traffic backups and disrupt trade. When Congress ordered the agency to use biometrics...
As storms batter Texas, billions in state property goes unprotected

As storms batter Texas, billions in state property goes unprotected

You are a responsible property owner, so you make sure to buy insurance to pay for repairs or rebuilding in the event of a disaster. Unless you’re the state of Texas. Last summer, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice sustained an estimated $1 million in damage from Hurricane Harvey, most of it at the W.F. Ramsey complex, about 40 miles south of Houston. It is on farmland near the Brazos...
VA blasted for problems plaguing $543M technology contract

VA blasted for problems plaguing $543M technology contract

Investigators with the Department of Veterans Affairs have concluded that a half-billion-dollar contract to bring cutting-edge tracking technology to VA hospitals has been plagued by poor oversight and security lapses and has an uncertain future even after VA officials dramatically pared down its scope. The findings from the VA’s Office of Inspector General, released this month, confirm the...
These 13 American-Statesman investigations had an impact in 2017

These 13 American-Statesman investigations had an impact in 2017

Throughout 2017, Statesman reporters shone a light on scandals, conflicts of interest and plans that government powers tried to keep hidden from the public. Their stories have resulted in the reopening of a homicide prosecution, forced the Austin City Council to bring more sunlight into their deliberations and led to a series of legislative changes. What follows is a compilation of the Statesman&rsquo...
As Texas special education overhaul stalls, TEA answers don’t add up

As Texas special education overhaul stalls, TEA answers don’t add up

At 5 p.m. on a Friday, the Texas Education Agency abruptly announced that it had pulled the plug on a special education data-mining project it had defended for months. Parents and advocacy groups had too many concerns over the $4.4 million, no-bid contract, TEA Commissioner Mike Morath said. He promised to review the agency’s contracting processes. But documents, contracts and emails obtained...
Trump immigration crackdown targets Central Americans seeking asylum

Trump immigration crackdown targets Central Americans seeking asylum

In its crackdown on illegal immigration, President Donald Trump’s administration has made a series of policy changes that lawyers and advocates say are trampling the rights of a group of immigrants who did not cross the border illegally: asylum-seekers. The results so far this year have been dramatic: Immigration judges, who are employed by the Justice Department and not the judicial branch...
Congressman ‘shocked, outraged’ by Statesman report on Temple VA abuses

Congressman ‘shocked, outraged’ by Statesman report on Temple VA abuses

U.S. Rep. John Carter sent a letter to Department of Veterans Affairs Director David Shulkin on Monday demanding answers regarding findings of abuse of veterans, equipment theft, abuse of power and possible financial crimes at the VA’s Temple campus. On Sunday, the American-Statesman detailed the results of an internal investigation into issues with the Temple VA’s motor pool and grounds...
Carter ‘shocked, outraged’ after Statesman report on Temple VA abuses

Carter ‘shocked, outraged’ after Statesman report on Temple VA abuses

U.S. Rep. John Carter sent a letter to Department of Veterans Affairs Director David Shulkin on Monday demanding answers regarding findings of abuse of veterans, equipment theft, abuse of power and potential financial crimes at the VA’s Temple campus. On Sunday, the American-Statesman detailed the results of an internal investigation into issues at the Temple VA’s motor pool and grounds...
Investigation finds corruption, intimidation at Temple VA campus

Investigation finds corruption, intimidation at Temple VA campus

Veterans in the work program at the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Temple campus had complained about being assigned to the motor pool for years. The complaints, made by veterans undergoing drug and alcohol treatment as they tried to get their lives back on track, alleged the unit’s boss— who was in charge of the grounds crew at the motor pool — had regularly subjected...
Mesquite police: Video showing Taser shock to teen’s groin is misleading

Mesquite police: Video showing Taser shock to teen’s groin is misleading

In the dash camera video of the night 18-year-old Graham Dyer sustained fatal injuries while in the backseat of a Mesquite police cruiser, a night-vision lens adds clarity to the images. To the right of the frame, the hands of an officer grasp the handcuffed teenager’s head and hair. On the left, the arm of another officer holding a Taser moves in and shocks Graham in his genitals while the...
Video: 4 guards watched as Austin man hanged himself in Georgia prison

Video: 4 guards watched as Austin man hanged himself in Georgia prison

An Austin man sentenced to three years in prison in Georgia killed himself while prison guards watched, newly acquired surveillance footage shows. The videos add to evidence that officers did not intervene as 24-year-old Richard Tavera, who had a history of mental health problems, hung himself in December 2014 with a makeshift noose in Smith State Prison’s isolation-segregation unit. Click here...
Uncommon but ‘horrific’: When Tasers set their targets on fire

Uncommon but ‘horrific’: When Tasers set their targets on fire

Texas Ranger Shawn Palmer arrived at the San Angelo Fire Department’s training center mid-morning on Aug. 16, 2007. He was investigating a gruesome death that had occurred in the West Texas city two months earlier, and he needed to conduct an experiment that could supply a vital clue. With the help of several firefighters, Palmer placed a rubber mannequin near the open door of a large garage...
567 million reasons why Houston faces long, tough recovery from Harvey

567 million reasons why Houston faces long, tough recovery from Harvey

As the victims of Hurricane Harvey dry out and begin to contemplate the unimaginably huge task ahead of them rebuilding communities devastated by a historic disaster, here is number to keep in mind: $567,000,000. In September 2008, following the one-two punch of Hurricanes Ike and Dolly, Congress allocated $3.1 billion in disaster recovery funds to assist Texans recover from the storms. Thanks to...
Bastrop oil spill stirs Austin’s angst over Longhorn pipeline

Bastrop oil spill stirs Austin’s angst over Longhorn pipeline

Six months before a maintenance crew caused an 87,000-gallon crude oil spill in Bastrop County on July 13, the pipeline’s owner and operator agreed to pay $18 million in penalties and remediation efforts related to three spills that fouled waterways in three states, including a 20,000-gallon spill in Texas City. As part of the January settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection...
‘PUSH! PUSH!’ How a bungled private contract cost Texans $130 million

‘PUSH! PUSH!’ How a bungled private contract cost Texans $130 million

A dozen years ago, Texas health care administrators hired a company to help determine when taxpayers should cover the cost of dental care for the state’s poorer residents, particularly children. The company, later acquired by the giant corporation Xerox, deployed a team of medical specialists to review the tens of thousands of requests for dental and orthodontic care that flowed in every year...
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...
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