San Jacinto Dioxin Case Kicks Off

Categories: Crime, Environment

Photo by Susan Du
Highlands residents still fish in the San Jacinto River despite the EPA advisories against eating fish and crab.

The trifecta of lawsuits filed against companies for allegedly dumping toxic paper waste into the San Jacinto River finally came to trial on Monday. Waste Management, International Paper and McGinnis Industrial Maintenance Corporation are accused of allowing dioxin, a "cancer-enhancer" chemical, to leak uninhibited into a river system where people have been swimming and fishing since the 1960s. They stand to pay damages worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Harris County and local residents if they are found liable.

In 2011, Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan sued all three companies for $2 billion in penalties for failure to disclose and clean the waste. His move opened the floodgates for suits from dozens of Vietnamese fishermen who depend on contaminated San Jacinto River and Galveston Bay fisheries for their livelihood. Residents of Highlands filed a third lawsuit, claiming they never would have moved beside the river if they knew about the toxic waste dump underneath the surface.

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Lawsuit Claims Child-Predator Pastor First Met Victim During Outreach at a Public School

Categories: Courts, Crime

Chad Foster, a former youth pastor, pleaded guilty to raping and sexually exploiting teenage girls.
The attorney suing two massive Houston-area churches for employing a youth pastor that sexually exploited young churchgoers claims the minister first found one of his targets during outreach at a local public school.

Last week attorney Cris Feldman filed a lawsuit against Second Baptist Church and Community of Faith Church on behalf of the parents of a teenage girl who fell victim to 35-year-old Chad Foster, a former youth minister with both churches who pleaded guilty to raping one teenager and soliciting another for sex via Facebook and Skype three years ago.

Feldman claims Foster met the girl while doing outreach for Second Baptist at a middle school in Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, on the city's northwest side. The lawsuit, which does not name the district as a defendant, claims Second Baptist had a "simple yet effective marketing scheme" in which youth pastors would recruit young members by showing up during public school lunch hours and giving students free McDonald's and Pizza Hut lunches.

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'American Insurgent Movement' Leader Pleads Guilty to Plot to Overthrow Government, Rob Banks and Blow Up Mosques

Screenshot from the Southern Poverty Law Center
Robert James Talbot Jr.
A Katy man who the FBI says tried to form an "American Insurgent Movement" to rob banks, blow up mosques and overthrow the government with "blood and bullets" has pleaded guilty in federal court.

Court records show Robert Talbot Jr., 38, admitted to plotting his revolution in a hearing before federal district court Judge Ewing Werlein Jr. on Friday. The charges, including attempted interference with commerce by robbery and solicitation to commit a crime of violence, could put him in prison for 20 years.

The FBI opened its investigation into Talbot in August 2013, apparently after finding Talbot's Facebook posts searching for "like-minded" recruits to join his cause. Unbeknownst to him, his three "like-minded" recruits ended up being undercover FBI agents.

What's truly remarkable about the case is the amount of crazy Talbot let spill out into the open, on his Facebook page, for everyone (including federal law enforcement) to see. Here are some of the more stunning posts, culled from court records:

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UPDATED Driver Arrested in Hit-and-Run Death of Northwest Side Bicyclist

Photo from Houston Police Department
Eduardo Torres, 30, turned himself in to police days after bicyclist Jose Mendez-Manzano was killed in a traffic accident.

A 30-year-old Houston man was arrested in the hit-and-run accident that killed Jose Mendez-Manzano on Saturday. Eduardo Torres was charged with failure to stop and render aid, which as of September 2013 is considered a second-degree felony.

The victim, Mendez-Manzano, was a 63-year-old grandfather who sold fresh produce from a grocery cart tethered to the bicycle he used to get around town. He was struck near Link and Airline, along a two-way road without sidewalks. A white memorial bike marks the site of the accident, only a few blocks away from Mendez-Manzano's home.

Houston police say Torres turned himself in days after the accident.

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Sheriff Adrian Garcia Is 'Damn Mad' About Conditions Uncovered at the Harris County Jail

Categories: Crime

Screenshot from KTRK's initial report on Goodwin
Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia repeatedly told reporters Thursday that he's "damn mad" about the deplorable conditions one mentally ill inmate was forced to endure at the county jail last year.

"I remain damn angry and I am outraged by the recent accounts of failure in the Harris County Jail," Garcia said. The sheriff, who runs the nation's third-largest jail, says he's called in the FBI, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the Harris County DA's office to review his ongoing investigation into why inmate Terry Goodwin was locked in a cell with mounds of trash, swarms of bugs, and piles of his own feces.

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Sheriff Launches Investigation After Inmate Found in Cell With Bugs, Garbage and Feces

Categories: Crime, Spaced City

Screenshot from KTRK
A whistleblower leaked photos of Goodwin's cell to KTRK
It's not necessarily that Harris County Jail officials didn't know about the squalid conditions inmate Terry Goodwin was forced to live in for weeks. It's just that nobody told Sheriff Adrian Garcia about it, his office insists.

Garcia would have immediately taken corrective action, according to sheriff's spokeswoman Christina Garza, but he didn't know about the incident -- how Goodwin was trapped in a cell with mounds of trash, swarms of bugs, and piles of his own feces -- until three weeks ago, right around the time someone sent an anonymous tip to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards and a whistleblower shared photos of the gnarly-looking cell with KTRK. On Tuesday, the same day KTRK posted its story with photos showing Goodwin's cell, TCJS sent Garcia a letter temporarily putting the jail back in "at risk" status until his office sends the jail commission a plan to make sure something like this never happens again.

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The Harris County DA's Race Is Mostly About Drugs

Thumbnail image for Marijuana.jpg
Wikimedia Commons
This year, the race for Harris County District Attorney, who heads the largest prosecutor's office in Texas and one of the largest in the country, is mostly about drugs.

That much was clear in a debate this weekend hosted by Fox 26 between incumbent Republican Devon Anderson and Democratic challenger Kim Ogg. Instead of trading tough-on-crime bona fides, or arguing over who's "soft" on the death penalty (Harris County is, after all, the most execution-friendly county in the nation), the vast majority of the debate centered on how to handle low-level, nonviolent drug offenders.

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5 Texas Murderabilia Items: Charles Whitman's Gun Isn't Even the Creepiest Thing on the List

Categories: Crime, Texas

A listing for the Remington 700 rifle wielded by Charles Whitman during the 1966 UT shooting
People are oddly fascinated with horrible happenings. We get it. Some want to see the evidence and make contact with people who perpetrated the crimes. But it's still stunning to see the gun Charles Whitman used at the University of Texas Tower shootings up for auction. That is, until we saw all of the other strange, ghoulish bits of Texas murderabilia that have been sold over time.

A number of items connected in one way or another to brutal and gruesome doings in the Lone Star State have made their way from sellers to buyers. Odd (and a trifle sickening) but true. We've put together a list of five of the more disturbing Texas murderabilia items that have ended up on the market:

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Trouble in Galveston's Version of Paradise

Categories: Crime, Whatever

Google streetview
The front of Bobby Wasylik's Galveston home, where the assault took place.
Bobby Wasylik didn't think he'd ever seen the guy before. Cue-ball bald, standing at 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighing 225 pounds, the man towered over 68-year-old Wasylik in the front yard of his Galveston home. "Are you Bobby?" the man asked.

Like most assault cases, exactly what happened next depends on whom you ask. This much, however, is clear: The attack from James Ruby, 42, fractured Wasylik's right shoulder. The blows to Wasylik's neck and chest landed so hard they dislodged plaque from his arteries, triggering multiple strokes, according to medical records and the doctor who treated Wasylik. When police arrived at the home, the right side of Wasylik's face had already begun to droop. Ruby, meanwhile, had taken off on a bicycle unscathed.

The March 14, 2014 attack didn't rouse Wasylik's friends, neighbors, and other Galveston residents because it was unusually brutal or heinous - after about a week in the hospital and time in physical therapy, Wasylik has for the most part bounced back, though he says he still suffers from nagging shoulder pain and "equilibrium" problems. What's made them write letters to the editor and pen lengthy complaints to Galveston police and prosecutors, however, is this: Galveston is apparently the kind of place where someone can beat a stroke into you -- in your front yard, in broad daylight, in front of a witness -- and skate by a grand jury without consequence.

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HPD Has a Machine That Can Steal Your Phone's Data, Says ACLU

Categories: Crime, Tech

Matthew Pearce
Craig Estes is about as conservative as they come in the Texas Senate. He helped kill Sen. Wendy Davis' midnight filibuster over abortion regulations. The "Craig on the issues" portion of his website features photos of placards blaring, "Pro-Life, Pro-God, Pro-Gun," "No! Amnesty," and "Must Show ID To Vote." He's not the kind of politician you'd expect to heed to warnings from the American Civil Liberties Union, a group that, at least in conservative circles, has long been synonymous with opposition to the death penalty, support for gay rights and same-sex marriage, and defense of abortion rights.

But Estes listened earnestly at a senate committee hearing last week as an ACLU expert warned lawmakers of surveillance-state tactics trickling down from the feds to local police departments. The testimony that appeared to most rattle Estes came from Chris Soghoian, chief technologist with the ACLU's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, on cell phone-tracking technology that's made it into the hands of local cops. These so-called "cell site simulators" or "IMSI catchers" essentially mimic a cell-phone tower, Soghoian explained, sending out a signal that tricks every phone in the area into reporting back its location and other identifying information, which cops can then scoop up.

And, Soghoian warned, the Houston Police Department is one of only two law enforcement agencies that we know of in the state that has one (the other being the Fort Worth Police Department). While HPD is mum on the issue (department reps wouldn't respond to specific questions last week), here's what we do know, thanks to public records and a document obtained by the ACLU.

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