Dallas Judge Cracks Down on Domestic Violence Offenders With Gun Surrender Initiative

Judge Roberto Cañas' Facebook page
Judge Roberto Cañas says cutting down on gun possession by domestic violence offenders could save many lives in Dallas.

Dallas County Judge Roberto Cañas has a grim job: He presides over a county criminal court that specifically sees domestic violence cases. While Cañas does not hear felony cases, he sees plenty people come through his court whom he worries would be more than capable of more violent acts. This fear that has led him to become a local spokesman for the movement to enforce a hard-to-enforce law -- requiring domestic violence offenders to surrender their guns.

The movement to crack down on domestic violence offenders' gun ownership has gained momentum since the murder of Karen Cox Smith in January 2013. After enduring more than 10 years of abuse by her husband, Cox was shot to death in a UT Southwestern parking garage by her husband, Ferdinand Smith. He had completed a period of probation for a domestic violence offense before the murder, and he owned a gun despite a state law that prohibited it.

Domestic abusers who accept plea bargains and are placed on probation may not possess firearms for the term of their probation plus five years. Smith's husband was one of many offenders who broke the rule.

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If You're in Jail Without Charges, Dallas Cops Want More Time To Build a Case Against You

John Vanderslice
Police want more time to file cases -- but their proposal could keep defendants who haven't been convicted of anything in jail longer.
For 25 years, people arrested in Dallas County but not sure why have been protected under more or less the same rule. Dallas cops have three whole business days to figure out what to charge an arrested person with and get the paperwork in, not including the day you were actually arrested. (Booked into jail on a Friday night? Happy weekend, sucker).

Sure, you can bond out of jail much sooner than three days if you have the money. Giving the cops a deadline, however, helps ensure that all defendants get treated fairly, at least according to the district judges who created and upheld the rule in the first place. "It's just saying you can't hold someone in jail without a case file," explains Judge Rick Magnis, who as presiding judge of the Dallas Criminal Courts has tweaked the three-day rule slightly over recent years, allowing a full 10 days for crimes like murder and assault.

But earlier this month, the Dallas Police Department famously released a bunch of inmates who weren't supposed to go free, and now Chief David Brown is blaming that deadline policy as part of the problem.

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Rowlett Sued Because It May Have Fired a Trainee Cop for Allergy

André Karwath
The (alleged) root of all this.

Of all the things that one thinks might derail a trainee cop's trip through the academy, an allergy isn't the first thing that comes to mind. Mishandling a weapon or failing a drug test, sure, but not an allergy. But in a lawsuit filed in Dallas County late last week, Rachel Figura says that her allergy to cayenne pepper -- or the fact that she was a woman, one or the other -- is what led to her firing by the Rowlett police.

Figura says cayenne pepper is one of the primary ingredients in mace, an important tool in a modern cop's arsenal. She was still able to fully perform her duties, she says, she just sat out drills involving being sprayed with the pepper spray, from which her allergy would cause non-life threatening respiratory distress. (Her lawsuit specifies she's allergic to cayenne and uses "mace" and "pepper spray" interchangeably. MACE is a brand name belonging to Mace Security International Inc., makers of self-defense products that contain capsicum derived from peppers, though the company's website doesn't specify exactly which peppers it uses in its recipe.)

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A Former Texas Inmate Is Suing the State for Roasting Him in an AC-less Prison

Scott Rogers
A new lawsuit claims the high temperatures in Dallas' Hutchins State Jail harmed an inmate.
Texas, as you may have intuited, is hot, but Texas prisons, as you may have heard, are hotter. Since 2007, 14 inmates, including nine in 2011 alone, have died from heat-related illnesses, according to a 2014 report from UT Law School's Human Rights Clinic.

Larry McCollum's death received most of the press. McCollum was a 58-year-old Hutchins inmate -- in for a nonviolent crime -- who suffered a seizure after several 100-degree-plus days in a row. At the hospital, his body temp was 109.8 degrees. He fell into a coma and died six days later, from living in a place with high temperatures and no A/C. Lawyers from the Texas Civil Rights Project sued the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which runs the state's prison system. That lawsuit is still playing itself out, but now the department has another one on its hands.

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For One Ex-Dallas Cop, Not Standing Up for Your Girlfriend Is a Beatable Offense

Chivalry, you'll be happy to learn, isn't dead. Almost, maybe, but it still burns on in the heart of former Dallas police officer Michael Mosher.

Mosher was one of seven officers who responded to a report of three potentially suspicious young men walking through an alley in the 6600 block of La Cosa Drive in Far North Dallas after dark one evening in January 2011. Those suspicions seemed justified when two of the young men bolted at the sight of the first squad car and when the other, 21-year-old Aaron Curtis, admitted to having a glass marijuana pipe in his pocket.

Since Curtis wasn't in possession of any actual marijuana, officers cited him for possession of drug paraphernalia and drove him to the apartment he and his girlfriend shared nearby.

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The Private Texas Prisons Housing Undocumented Immigrants Are a Disaster

ACLU of Texas
Reeves County Detention Center is one of five prisons in Texas for non-citizen offenders.
Until 2011, Luis lived in Mexico, where he made a living building houses. Luis' wife and children, who are American citizens, lived in Los Angeles. Luis visited his wife and children as much as he could, until he was arrested for illegal reentry. For this crime, he served a three-year sentence at Big Spring Correction Center in west Texas, alongside nearly 3,500 other inmates.

Luis is one of over 25,000 non-citizen prisoners currently incarcerated in Criminal Alien Requirement, or CAR, facilities across the United States. And according to a 100-plus page document released today by the ACLU of Texas, the private prison facilities are routinely guilty of prisoner neglect, abuse, medical mistreatment and overcrowding.

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Police Chief David Brown Says Dallas Will Keep Locking Up Pot Users Until the Legislature Makes It Stop

In a handful of places in Texas -- Austin and Midland and San Marcos, for example -- getting caught carrying a small amount of marijuana will get you a ticket and a court date but, barring more serious infractions, won't involve handcuffs.

Dallas has a different approach.

"We take you to jail," Chief David Brown told Unfair Park last week in an interview for an upcoming profile in our annual People Issue.

The city doesn't have to do that. Under a 2007 law, cities and counties in Texas can opt out of jailing suspects for marijuana possession and a few other Class A and B misdemeanors, like graffiti and driving without a license, by implementing a "cite and release" program, as Travis, Midland and a handful of other counties have done.

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Teens Keep Vandalizing a University Park Sex Offender's House, and He's Getting Sick of It

Robert Coleman's photograph posted on the DPS sex offender registry.
When Robert Coleman's house got egged, he called the University Park police. It was a Saturday night in September 2012. Officers came to the crime scene but found no leads, other than the splattered egg yolk. Coleman realized that his patio umbrella was also missing, according to the police report.

The following Saturday night, the eggs hit again. A neighbor told the cops that he saw two teenagers walking nearby around the same time.

Coleman installed a video camera security system, hoping to catch the egg-throwers. But when his house got hit again, the vandal spotted the camera and slapped it down.

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McKinney PD Accused of Destroying Damning Video, But Maybe Their Dash Cams Just Suck

Squad Car Footage from Amy Silverstein on Vimeo.

The allegations against the former McKinney Police Department officer are serious: He was driving too fast, with no siren lights on and making a dangerous lane change before crashing into the car of a man who is now suing him. But there's no footage of any of that. The video from the squad car that allegedly caused the crash is gone. All that remains is this brief clip that doesn't actually capture the accident, or anything interesting at all.

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Dallas County Sheriff Valdez Says Recruits May Have Flunked Certification Exams on Purpose

Thumbnail image for newyearsdayparadesheriffvaldez_picnik.jpg
Something weird and unsettling happened last year at the Dallas County Sheriff's Training Academy. Of 27 recruits that enrolled, a mere seven -- barely 25 percent -- passed on their first try. Weird because the wave of failures was unprecedented. The previous year, all 16 would-be deputies passed. Unsettling because as NBC 5 first reported on Friday, it put the academy in danger of being shut down by the state.

No wonder then that Dallas County Commissioners would demand answers when they met on Tuesday. Dutiful public servant that she is, Valdez gave them an answer: the recruits may have flunked their exam on purpose.

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