You are browsing the archive for Chief Art Acevedo.

What Flood? 2 weeks of disaster relief in Austin, Texas (#ATXFloods)

7:30 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Collapsed house after Austin Halloween Flood

A condemned houses in the aftermath of the Austin, Texas Halloween 2013 flood.

In the early hours of Halloween 2013, Austin, Texas suffered from a record-breaking flood. Some 1,100 homes were affected by the floods with hundreds of those seriously. Flood response was dangerously delayed by a faulty flood gauge and improper human monitoring of the rapidly rising Onion Creek. Because of the city’s seemingly laissez-faire attitude toward the residents of the floodplain, many remained asleep as water began to pour into their homes:

Onion Creek was transformed into a raging river last Thursday. The Halloween flood set a new record for high water levels in the creek. More than 1,000 homes were damaged and five people died.

At a town hall meeting in the Dove Springs area Tuesday night homeowners had a lot of questions, and one comment caused concern.

‘We relied too much, me, on technology and gauges that were not working properly,’ said Police Chief Art Acevedo.

Flood survivor Norma Jeanne Maloney took to Facebook to tell how she and her partner Dawna Fisher were awakened by rising waters:

Dawna Fisher woke me up to tell me we had a problem. Half asleep I said ‘Say again, what kind of problem?’ ‘We have some water outside and it looks pretty high.’ I went to our front window to see a raging body of water about 3 feet high. I said ‘We need to wake up the kids we are in serious trouble.’ I woke up Ruby and she woke up Texie. I went back into our bedroom where the water had already begun to seep up into our floors, I heard my cat Pickup howling, yes cats howl, under the bed. I managed to grab him and while he clawed me to pieces ( and he has never ever hurt anyone ) I said to him, go right ahead pal, I’m not letting you go. Texie and I shoved him in a bag and zipped it up. …

We all had gathered in the living room wondering if anyone on earth knew what was happening and how we were going to get out. We saw someone trying to escape in their car, it flipped on its side and was washed away. I heard voices and saw a boat in the street and my immediate response was to open the front door to swim to the boat to get help for my family. Do not try this at home, it lets more water in. We began flicking our porch light on and off and were seen. A beautiful tall firefighter walked through the raging water and made it to our window and asked how many lives we had in our home including pets …

He said he would be back. We waited and watched the water continue to rise, our belongings beginning to float about the house. My daughter Ruby asked me if we were going to die. That was the hardest part. Of course not I said, wondering if I just lied to my child and if we were all going to perish. I said guys, I know this isn’t really your thing, but can we pray? Without hesitation we all grabbed hands in a circle and asked that we be spared, at this point the water was past our waists. … The firefighter came back, we heard our neighbors screaming and we said go back for them, they are elderly and need your help. Our neighbors (we know now) were screaming go get them, they have babies! On his last trip to our window they finally managed to get the boat near our living room window against the current and said they were ready to load us. These brave men loaded our family and our animals in the tiny craft and we were transported less than a half mile north up our street where it was completely dry.

As is so often the case in these disasters, city organizations and big nonprofits poured into the neighborhood to offer assistance and ask for cash donations in the immediate aftermath, but it didn’t last. The Red Cross turned up to serve thousands of hot dogs before halting meals a week after the floods. A city-operated shelter opened for a mere 2 weeks. And while the Austin city government offered buyouts to over a hundred of the worst damaged homes, residents are expected to wait months to receive that money:

Austin Overpass Light Brigade Faces Police Repression (#OATX)

3:04 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Austin Police insist that Occupy Austin is breaking the law when it holds lighted signs on highway overpasses.

I spoke with two occupiers, Corey Williams and Joe Cooper, about their experiences.

The Overpass Light Brigade began in Wisconsin during the “uprising” of 2011, and has since spread to at least 10 other locations. In this simple, nonviolent action, protesters hold lighted signs on the sidewalk of a freeway overpass while night time traffic passes underneath. One of the newest divisions is in Austin, Texas; it formed in early October during Occupy Austin birthday week. Though police drove by the first display, which proclaimed UNFRACK THE WORLD, occupiers successfully held signs for about an hour at an overpass on the south end of the city.

Lighted protest sign: LOVE > $$$

The new Occupy Austin Overpass Light Brigade at Tent City Rising, October 6 2012.

But police shut down a second attempt that week, and another more recent mobilization.  At the second Austin OLB the message began as LOVE > $$$. Police arrived as the group began to rearrange letters to make a repeat of the UNFRACK message. The officers refused to cite what laws were being broken, but expressed concern that signs could be dropped from the overpass railing on which the activists were holding the display. While regrouping, the Light Brigade consulted with long-time Austin activist Debbie Russell who referred to a previous consultation with Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo:

[Y]ou can’t have signs that when holding, are “over” the roadway–you have to hold them inside the railings such that if it was dropped, it falls on the sidewalk and not below on the freeway. Some officers know this, some don’t, but Acevedo has very specifically said this is the case and a few years ago … he gave this mandate to his officers so they’d know. They’re out of practice tho.

Another data point: one afternoon a month at 4:20pm, the Texas Hemp Campaign displays a cannabis legalization banner held on the sidewalk of a busy overpass. Though sometimes monitored closely by police, they allow the display to continue.

If the issue was the danger posed by signs, activists decided to try yet another approach. The third attempt occurred on Saturday, October 27. It was the closest Saturday to Halloween, a night when police are typically busy downtown patrolling the club district for drunken costumed revelers. It was on a similar busy weekend closest to Halloween in 2011 that police made dozens of arrests at Occupy Austin’s standing encampment. In keeping with the symbolism of this anniversary, approximately a half dozen squad cars were waiting.

The message on that night was to be LOVE > FEAR, a response to recent hate crimes against queer people and people of color. This time, the Overpass Light Brigade used an overpass at St. Johns on Interstate Highway 35. This location is across the street from the abandoned Home Depot we attempted to encamp during the occupation’s birthday. Most importantly, this overpass is completely fenced in. It would be impossible to drop signs onto traffic.

Immediately, officers arrived and attempted to shut them down but the display continued for about twenty minutes. While part of the group held the signs, others demanded police cite a specific law that was violated. As the perceived threat of arrest grew more immediate, the OLB took down their signs and waited as police returned to squad cars to look up the law. Eventually, with the help of a Texas Department of Transportation employee summoned to the scene, they cited a portion of the Texas Transportation Code which applies to SIGNS ON STATE HIGHWAY RIGHT-OF-WAY. This law, a class C misdemeanor when broken, says:

Read the rest of this entry →

#D12 Gulf Port 7: Austin Police Department vs. Houston

1:58 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

More on the Gulf Port 7: Austin Police Enabled Houston Felonies, Judge Campbell is Not Amused and Austin and Houston Police Coordinated Through Fusion Center.

Pre-Trial Hearing to Resume October 31; Criminal Instrument Charges Proliferate

Ronnie Garza interviewed by mainstream media while wearing mock lockboxes.

Members of the Austin media interview Ronnie Garza while he wears mock lockboxes at Austin Police HQ. (Photo: Kit O'Connell).

The Texas fusion center enabled Austin Police to entrap activists in Houston, but apparently it can’t help settle a dispute when that entrapment comes to light. The Austin Chronicle reports that the Austin Police Department would rather drop the charges against the Gulf Port 7 than reveal their undercover officers:

If the city of Austin – and, importantly, the Austin Police Department – had its way, the charges pending in Houston against a handful of Occupy protesters charged with blocking a road last winter at the Port of Hous­ton would be dismissed. If that happens, the APD will not have to reveal the names of two undercover officers who were part of a three-investigator contingent that worked to keep tabs on the activities of Occupy Austin members; the department would like to keep those two names confidential. Unfortunately, it does not appear that the Harris County District Attorney’s Office is interested in what the city or APD wants. During a court hearing Oct. 4, Assistant D.A. Joshua Phanco told Judge Joan Camp­bell the D.A.’s office is “prepared to turn over those two names” and to move forward with the case against the Occupiers, including OA member Ronnie Garza.

The seven activists, who came from Occupy groups in Austin, Dallas and Houston, linked their bodies with lockboxes (or ‘sleeping dragons’). As a result, they were charged with using a criminal instrument, an obscure state felony unused since the days of Deep Throat (the pornography, not the informant) when it was invented to prosecute projectionists. The pre-trial hearing continues October 31st, where the names of the two Austin Police Department officers that worked alongside Detective Shannon G Dowell are expected to be revealed. Although the Occupy movment will be better informed about its infiltrators and their methods, seven of its members face prison time in one of the country’s worst state prisons.

One of the seven charged with using a “criminal instrument” is a veteran, Eric Marquez, imprisoned since the December Port Shutdown thanks to complications with previous charges. After Occupy Austin successfully raised thousands in bail to free him from Houston, Dallas immediately imprisoned him again — because he missed court dates in Dallas while jailed in Houston! His bail in Dallas is now $100,000.

If the Gulf Port 7 case goes to trial, the verdict could set an important precedent for activism elsewhere in the state. Though lockboxes have a long history of use in nonviolent civil disobedience, the criminal instrument charges have spread to the Tarsands blockade. Alejandro de la Torre, Maggie Gorry and now Shannon Beebe all now face this charge reports Tar Sands Blockade:

There is also a new and outrageous development in the story. Our brave friend Shannon Beebe is now being charged retro-actively with felonies for using a device to lock arms with Benjamin around a piece of Keystone XL construction machinery as part of a peaceful protest. This is an archaic charge (use of a ‘criminal instrument’) that has literally no case history in the last 30 years. This adds ”insult to injury” with slapping additional FELONY charges against our friend. Yesterday, Shannon was pulled over and arrested because of this new, outstanding warrant for a retro-active felony charge. She’s currently in jail on a $7,500 bail. Its clear that the industry is pursuing a strategy to utilize their deep pockets and corporate lawyers to drain the limited grassroots resources we’ve managed to raise.

Previously on myFDL, Benjamin Franklin reported on his and Shannon’s torture by police at their arrest.

 

#D12 Gulf Port 7: Austin Police Coordinated With Houston Through Fusion Center

6:32 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

An angry Jugge Campbell

Judge Joan Campbell explains Brady disclosure to lawyers at Houston district court, September 6 2012 (Photo: John Jack Anderson, used with permission)

For more on the Gulf Port 7 and Austin Police Infiltration of Occupy Austin see Undercover Austin Officer Enabled Houston Felonies, Judge Campbell Is Not Amused, and Kit’s Gulf Port 7 Interview.

Austin Police coordinated felony arrests at the Gulf Port Shutdown with Houston Police through the fusion center known as Austin Regional Intelligence Center.

The pre-trial hearings for the Gulf Port 7 case continued on September 6, 2012; although the Austin Police Department presented the information Judge Joan Campbell requested at the previous hearing, most of it was done in camera – in private, where defense and accused activists could not access it. What was revealed is troubling — that APD coordinated the day’s actions with Houston police through the local Texas fusion center, known as Austin Regional Intelligence Center. This, of course, raises the question of to what degree federal authorities were involved in the entrapment of Occupy activists; I personally witnessed Department of Homeland Security vehicles on the ground at the Occupy Houston encampment on December 12, in addition to photographing men in unknown military-like uniforms who were observing the port shutdown.

Further, it appears that officials involved may have made a decision to withhold information that was requested by Ronnie Garza’s defense attorney. This is in direct violation of Brady disclosure. Campbell’s frustration with the behavior of the state is clear in court transcripts, as she gives lawyers a lesson in this essential aspect of criminal law:

Here’s the thing, y’all – under Brady — y’all can’t make that decision.  Y’all need to scrupulously look through any information that you have. Always. Y’all cannot just rely on, it does not look like anything, that is not what you can do because clearly the result is an Austin police officer authorized … bought the things that made this a felony. That’s what happened. And so that information … is clearly Brady, can be a defense, may make, if this goes to trial, may make a jury find them not guilty and that type of information needs to be carefully passed down through the channels and y’all cannot under Brady make the decision.

The state has brought a Motion To Quash, asking that the names of undercover officers and related documents not be turned over to the defense. Campbell agreed to review the documents in camera and return near the end of September to make a ruling. But she took the time to underline the unusual nature of this case:

Read the rest of this entry →

#D12 Gulf Port 7: Undercover Austin Narcotics Detective Enabled Houston Felonies

1:19 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

A red tent is erected over a blockade.

The Houston Fire Department places an inflatable red tent over protesters using lockbox devices built by Austin Police Department Detective Shannon G. Dowell (Photo: December 12, 2011 at the Port of Houston by Kit O'Connell)


Update

Why did undercover Austin Police Department Detective Shannon G. Dowell provide material support for an activist protest that resulted in them being charged with a felony in Houston?

That’s the question I want answered after speaking with Ronnie Garza, a member of Occupy Austin who faces felony charges resulting from actions at the Port of Houston on December 12, 2011. On this day, the National Port Shutdown day of action, seven activists from Austin, Dallas, and Houston blocked the main entrance into the port by laying in the road and linking arms inside lockboxes (also known as sleeping dragons), which physically linked them together so that police cut them apart. The use of these instruments resulted in these seven being charged with Unlawful Use of a Criminal Instrument or Device, while others who merely linked arms and legs faced lesser misdemeanor charges. I was present at this day of ‘Gulf Port Action‘ and wrote about it on my blog, Approximately 8,000 Words.

But it turns out that a secret undercover agent with the police department had infiltrated the activist group, and he is the person who acquired the materials and built the “lockboxes” for this action. Further, apparently other members of the police department were also involved in enabling an action which, but for the undercover agent’s intervention, might never have been classified as a felony.

In addition to Garza, other members of the Gulf Port 7 include Iraq veteran Eric Marquez, who has been stuck in jail since December and Remington Alessi, a Green Party candidate for Houston sheriff. If convincted, they face up to two to ten years in state prison.

The cases were brought before Judge Joan Campbell of the 248th District Court who dismissed all charges due to lack of evidence. However, the felony charges were later reinstated by a Houston grand jury. Garza told me that the latest development of uncovering an infiltrator came to a head at a discovery hearing on Monday, August 27, but is the result of months of hard work by many including his attorney, National Lawyers Guild’s Greg Gladden. Photos of the officer at Occupy Austin have been obtained by Gladden.

Read the rest of this entry →