Lab Reports Show Hundreds "Convicted in Error" for Drug Offenses

Categories: Courts, Crime

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iT@c

In recent months the Harris County District Attorney's Office has sent out hundreds of notices to defendants convicted of drug offenses, telling them that forensic lab reports show they were "convicted in error."

The Houston Press has obtained copies of those letters from Wayne Dolcefino, a former investigative reporter and consultant working with the Democratic DA candidate Kim Ogg, who's hoping to unseat incumbent Devon Anderson in next week's election.

The letters, which were sent between July and September 2014, show hundreds of defendants who took plea deals for misdemeanor and felony drug possession charges were later cleared when evidence tested by an HPD crime lab analyst came up negative for a controlled substance. Court records show that while prosecutors were notified several years ago that those tests came back negative, defendants weren't told until months ago.


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Former HCC Lawyer: Trustees Wanted to Make Multimillion-Dollar Bond a "Private Slush Fund"

Categories: Courts, Education

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Photo by WhisperToMe

If you believe Renee Byas, her tenure at Houston Community College was an incredibly rocky one. Shortly after joining HCC as general counsel in 2008, the college, one of the country's largest community college systems, was rocked by allegations that board members shuffled contracts to family members and demanded kickbacks from vendors. She hired an outside firm to launch an internal investigation, which found that several trustees abused their office.

By 2012, as HCC prepared a record $425 million bond package that voters would ultimately approve, the board of trustees promised change. Byas helped draft new rules meant to quash any hint of favoritism in handing out contracts - the new rules banned vendors from giving gifts to trustees, limited financial contributions from vendors to trustees' political campaigns, and expanded conflict-of-interest questionnaires, among other things.

But the trustees bristled at one new rule in particular, according to a counter-suit Byas filed in court this week: instead of handpicking the numerous contractors for each of the bond's 14 major construction projects, the new rules required that the board tap 14 "construction managers at risk," general contractors large enough to put up a $2 million bid bond. Those firms would then tap the numerous local subcontractors to finish the job.

Meaning the trustees - if they wanted to - would have a tough time micromanaging the bond and shuffling contracts to friends and family, as they've done in the past. But Byas claims that's exactly what HCC trustees wanted to do this time around. In a counter-suit filed this week, Byas claims HCC terminated her because she wouldn't play ball - and because she talked to the FBI when federal investigators came sniffing around HCC last year.

Byas alleges her firing "is HCC's attempt to silence a public servant who refused to let HCC's Board of Trustees use a $425 million public bond project as a private slush fund."


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Don't Call Al Hoang a Communist or He'll Sue

Categories: Courts

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Photo courtesy of Al Hoang
Al Hoang, himself.

Politics is an ugly business, but things went from ugly to violent this week when supporters of state Rep. Hubert Vo, Democrat, and those backing Republican opponent Al Hoang showed up at an early voting center in District 149 on Monday afternoon.

Hoang's party took offense to a banner that Vo's supporters had allegedly hung proclaiming that Hoang was a communist spy for the Vietnamese government. Things devolved from there with fighting and at least one box cutter, according to KPRC.

The crazy thing is this isn't even the first time someone has accused Hoang of being a communist.

It sounds like something from the bad old days of the McCarthy hearings, a time when just being accused of communist leanings or communist sympathies was enough to destroy your reputation, your livelihood and your life. We've (hopefully) moved on from that in the United States, but the threat of communism, and the smear that comes with being associated with it, is still alive in Vietnamese American communities.


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Expelled Students Sue University of Houston Over Sexual Assault Investigation

Categories: Courts, Education

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The Den, where Ryan McConnell met the woman he was later accused of sexually assaulting.
The night of November 19, 2011, Ryan McConnell went to the Den, a pub near the University of Houston campus, for some drinks with friends. There McConnell met a fellow UH student, and, after several drinks, talking led to kissing. The two eventually got so drunk a bartender told them to leave.

McConnell and the woman stumbled back to his place at the Calhoun Lofts, where McConnell insists they had consensual, albeit very drunk, sex and fell asleep naked on the floor.

The woman, however, filed police reports after she woke up the next day at Ben Taub Hospital. The night before, fellow students had discovered her dazed and completely nude in the Calhoun Lofts elevator. There were scratches and bruises on her arms and neck. A university police officer took the woman to Ben Taub, and she was later transported to College Station Medical Center, where a nurse informed her that, based on her injuries and the results of a rape kit, she'd likely been assaulted. She couldn't recall being in McConnell's room; the last thing she remembered was drinking at the Den.


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Riverside Hospital CEO Convicted of Fraud

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Image from Google Street View

Earnest Gibson III, Riverside's General Hospital's CEO of more than 30 years, was convicted Monday of conspiring to buy and sell patients in a Medicare and Medicaid scam that siphoned $158 million from government coffers.

Also convicted and awaiting sentencing are his son Earnest Gibson IV, Riverside auditor Regina Askew and Robert Crane, a shuttle driver. Federal prosecutors stated in trial that Crane admitted to an investigating officer he was in the business of referring clients to Riverside's drug and mental health treatment program in return for cash, and then Askew would furnish the paperwork to cover up any wrongdoing. Investigators said inconsistencies in the hospital's books proved that so-called hourly marketers were really headhunters paid a flat rate for every patient they enrolled at Riverside.

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AG Goes After "Celebrity Nutritionist" Lindsey Duncan

Categories: Courts

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This man has traveled the world "in search of superfruits." (Hey, his website says it, not us.)
The Texas Attorney General's Office is suing a dude it says isn't a doctor, but who plays one on TV -- and makes a bundle doing so.

Filed last week, the suit accuses Austin-based Robert Lindsey Duncan, a.k.a. Dr. Lindsey Duncan, of inflating his credentials in order to hawk nutritional supplements on shows like The View and Dr. Oz. Duncan calls himself a "naturopathic doctor," but the state does not recognize such a degree, according to the suit.

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Why Didn't the City Think Subpoenaing a Bunch of Pastors Might Be a Big Deal?

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Paul Aningat
It's hard to understand how or why the City of Houston didn't anticipate a clamorous backlash before it sent sweeping subpoenas to five local pastors critical of the city's anti-discrimination ordinance.

Maybe it's because Mayor Annise Parker and City Attorney David Feldman truly didn't understand the scope of those subpoenas, which asked for not just any internal records related to "equal rights, civil rights, homosexuality, or gender identity," but also the pastors' "speeches" and "sermons" that reference the city's fight to ban LGBT discrimination. The excuse floated Wednesday by Parker and Feldman that they aren't to blame, since an outside legal firm filed the broad request for documents, rings somewhat hollow, given Feldman's unwavering stance supporting the subpoenas earlier in the week and the less-than-apologetic tone coming out of Parker's office...

Beneath the outrage and the demagoguery, there's an underlying question: is there a legitimate legal basis for the city to subpoena this stuff? And, does the city's request (which Feldman says he'll amend to be a bit more narrow) violate the pastors' religious freedom protections?

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Christians Freak Out After City Subpoenas Sermons in Anti-HERO Lawsuit

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Aaron Reiss
In a tone-deaf moment of legal strategy, the City of Houston last month sent local pastors critical of the city's anti-discrimination ordinance sweeping subpoenas for notes and sermons.

The move comes in a lawsuit challenging the City of Houston for throwing out a petition from anti-HERO (Houston Equal Rights Ordinance) Christians that sought to repeal the law and put it to a ballot referendum. In their vociferous opposition to the ordinance, which bans anti-gay discrimination (with an exemption for religious organizations), religious-right groups were most riled up about the provision allowing transgender people barred from a restroom to file a complaint with the city. In circulating their petition, the group -- led, in part, by Jared Woodfill, former Harris County Republican Party chairman -- claimed that the ordinance threatens "the physical and emotional safety of our women and children!"

But last month's subpoenas by the City of Houston, which only came to light this past week when attorneys filed a motion to quash the request, weren't lobbed at any of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the city. The subpoenas targeted pastors who have been vocal critics of the anti-discrimination ordinance, including Hernan Castano, Magda Hermida, Khan Huynh, Steve Riggle, and David Welch.

And the subpoenas were far reaching. Among other documents, the city asked the pastors to turn over records related to...

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Judge Edith Jones Will Face No Judgment, Complaint Against Fifth Circuit Justice Dismissed

Categories: Courts

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Judge Edith Jones.

A federal appeals court judge underwent an incredibly rare ethics investigation, and came out the other side unscathed. After initially clearing Fifth Circuit Judge Edith Jones of any misconduct in August, the judicial counsel at the District of Columbia Court of Appeals rejected an appeal to that ruling on Wednesday.

Once upon a time Houston's own Jones was known for making the Supreme Court nominee shortlist under both George H.W Bush and George W. Bush. But Jones is probably better known these days for being one of the most conservative justices on a notoriously conservative court.

Back in February 2013, Jones either made a perfectly acceptable little speech on the death penalty at the University of Pennsylvania School of Law or made some of the most racist and bigoted public remarks ever to come out of a federal judge's mouth in modern times, depending on whose version of the story you believe. Her remarks, as interpreted by five law students and one professor in the audience that day, were enough for a collection of civil rights experts and legal ethicists to file a complaint with the Fifth Circuit. Attached to the complaint were eight affidavits including, six from people who actually attended Jones' speech.


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UPDATED Video Shows Montgomery County Constable's Deputies Lied in Affidavit and in Court to Justify Warrantless Drug Raid

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From the Texas Takedown video, U.S. District Court records
Montgomery County Precinct 4 Constable Kenneth "Rowdy" Hayden

See an update at the bottom of this post on who may have filmed the video that's now the basis of this lawsuit.


A few years back, Montgomery County Precinct 4 Constable Kenneth Hayden -- or "Rowdy," as he likes to be called -- opened his doors for a Montgomery County Police Reporter cameraman to shadow him and his deputies on the job. The result was Cops-style reality show, narrated by Dean Cain (yes, that Dean Cain), dubbed Texas Takedown: The Real Men in Black, which asked viewers to "stick around and ride with Rowdy as he continues to clean up east county."

Evidently cleaning up east county also meant lying in court documents and on the stand to justify a warrantless drug raid. According to documents filed in court and a Texas Takedown video showing one 2011 drug raid, Constable Hayden's deputies made up key details about the bust in an affidavit and in court testimony.

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