It's Definitely OK to Film Cops, Texas Judge Rules

Smile for the camera, officer.
It's perfectly legal to film people who don't want to be filmed as long as it's all happening in public. If you're trying to provoke an asshole into kicking your ass without breaking the law yourself, getting a camera and the courage to overzealously use it may just be your ticket.

But filming cops, a popular pastime in Texas (and a topic we cover a lot here) doesn't quite have that same legal protection. The Supreme Court has never ruled on your right to record police. That's why activists and civil liberties experts are happy about a new ruling a Texas judge made in support of this avid cop-filmer.

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A Sex Offender's Fight to Live in Lewisville

Texas Department of Public Safety Sex Offender Database
Aurelio Duarte
There are, out of the tens of thousands of homes and apartment units in the city of Lewisville, a total of 466 places where a registered sex offender can legally reside.

Theoretically. In reality, since all or almost all of these homes, which fall outside the city's 1,500-foot sex-offender buffer zone around places where children "commonly gather," are occupied at any given time, a registered sex offender will find it all but impossible to find a place to stay.

That's how Aurelio Duarte came to inhabit a 275-square-foot motel room on the I-35 service road with his wife and two teenage daughters.

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Fort Worth Is Recruiting Gay Cops, and They Won't Even Be Openly Harassed by Colleagues

The Fort Worth Police Department has come a long way since 2009, when it marked the 40th anniversary of the landmark Stonewall riots, sparked by the ill-conceived, poorly executed raid of a New York gay bar, by conducting an ill-conceived, poorly executed raid of the Rainbow Lounge. The department reprimanded multiple officers, appointed an LGBT liaison officer, and began partnering with the local gay community, while the City Council, led by gay Councilman Joel Burns, passed a sweeping anti-discrimination ordinance.

Kudos to Fort Worth PD for the progress. Kudos also for the efforts to actively recruit LGBT officers by letting an openly gay detective share his story on YouTube. Yet somehow the video fails to persuade that Fort Worth PD, in its culture if not its policy, is quite ready to embrace the gay community.

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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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