Clay Jenkins and Inmate Groups Push Dallas County to Stop Profiting from Jail Phone Calls

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Andreas Praefcke
Dallas County Jail
They successfully fought contract provisions that would have banned in-person visits at the Dallas County jail while the county made money from new video visits. Now exonerated inmates, prison rights advocates and County Judge Clay Jenkins aim to make the county among the first in the nation to stop profiting off phone calls between jail inmates and their families.

See also: Dallas County Will Not Ban In-Person Visits for Inmates After All

About $3 million in the county's recently approved budget stands to come from surcharges applied to phone calls made to and from the jail, but Jenkins wants to change course and find the money elsewhere.

"What you've got is an irreconcilable conflict between our desire to make money off these poor families so we can balance our budget and our duty to lower crime and treat people fairly," Jenkins says.

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Meet the Arlington Libertarians Who Spend Their Nights Chasing and Filming Cops (Video)

Tomorrow morning, the Observer's Sky Chadde will have a long story about a group of Arlington "cop watchers" who spend their nights following the suburb's patrol cars, filming police's interactions with the citizenry and lobbing the occasional "oink," all in the name of liberty.

As part of that story, videographer Sarah Passon recently hit the streets with the group. Her video is above.

How a Mall Fight Led to Courtroom Drama, a Prosecutor Quitting and an Alleged Cover-Up

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Prosecutor Dodds quit and accused District Attorney Craig Watkins of playing politics.
It started out as a case that wasn't very dramatic or high-profile. Latoya Scott, a 26-year-old woman, was arrested by the Irving Police Department for an alleged fight at a mall. Prosecutors said Scott hit and scratched a woman she was dating. She was charged with family violence assault, a felony a Class A misdemeanor.

But now that assault case has turned into the minor backdrop for another fight, a weird feud between the county attorneys on the case and the judge overseeing it. Rebecca Dodds, the former chief of the misdemeanor division in the Dallas County District Attorney's Office and the main prosecutor on Scott's case, insisted that Scott pleaded guilty to the assault charge back in April. But Judge Elizabeth Frizell said that wasn't true and tried to hold a jury trial for Scott on September 2.

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After Preserving In-Person Visits, Clay Jenkins Takes Aim at County Jail Phone Commissions

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Andreas Praefcke
Dallas County Jail
Two weeks ago, County Judge Clay Jenkins led a successful effort to change a contract that would have ended in-person visits with jail inmates while the county collected a share of the money a private company made from charging for the video visitation that was to replace it.

See also: Dallas County Will Not Ban In-Person Visits for Inmates After All

The county will still offer video visits in addition to in-person, but the county won't collect a surcharge from inmates or their visitors from video visits. Yet Jenkins still is not happy. He wants to the restart the process for finding a company to provide jail communications and eliminate surcharges for phone calls too. Dallas County would make $3 million from the surcharges over the life a proposed contract with Securus Technologies, which had the original winning bid.

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Group of Black Lawyers and Judges Seeks Dallas Police Data to Root Out Brutality

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The National Bar Association says it has filed an open-records request with the Dallas Police Department for information regarding police brutality.
A national organization of black lawyers and judges is still awaiting a response from the Dallas Police Department to the group's recent request for 10 years worth of public information "regarding the number of individuals who have been killed, racially profiled, wrongfully arrested and/or injured while pursued or in police custody."

National Bar Association President Pamela Meanes says the group is seeking data from 25 cities that have a history of police violence in minority communities. She expects the police departments to be cooperative, and the group has already heard back from Kansas City and Little Rock, Arkansas. The association will sue if necessary to get the data.

"The ultimate goal is to identify police departments that have a pattern of abuse so the the federal government can come in," she says.

At least some of information her group is seeking may soon be available online to everyone. Dallas Police Chief David Brown told a community meeting Thursday night that the department will soon publish, for the first time, information on officers' use of deadly force. "This will be detailed briefings of all our police shootings dating back to 2003 to current," he said.

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Dallas County Will Not Ban In-Person Visits for Inmates After All

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Andreas Praefcke
Still open for visits.

Dallas County commissioners are asking for new bids on a controversial contract for the management of visitation and phone services to jail inmates, after County Judge Clay Jenkins and inmate advocates objected to a proposal that would have ended face-to-face visits while letting the county profit off families visiting their jailed loved one via video.

The original version of the contract with Securus, a local technology company, would have obligated the county to cut off in-person visits to promote remote video visits, from which both Securus and the county would reap payments.

Jenkins led the fight against the contract's approval, telling supporters in an email that "video and phone companies hook elected leaders to the sugar of 'commissions' the contracted company share with local government while socking the cost to the loved ones of the incarcerated with a high priced scheme."

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Dallas ISD's Own iWatch Allows Kids to Tell On Each Other for Way Less Than $350

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FBI
This is the headquarters of the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services division, which sifts through law enforcement data. Is your anonymous tip to the Dallas PD just ending up here?
For Dan Elliott, his life's work and now-generous income was born out of a horrendous family tragedy 25 years ago. "I got 'the call' from my mother, who told me that I needed to go tell my younger brother that his fiancee had been murdered," says a stoic Elliott. "Someone had decided that he wanted to be her new boyfriend. And she rejected his affections and he beat her to death with a jewelry mallet 300 times. And then forensically cleaned her apartment for 6 hours, including bathing her corpse. The case is unsolved."

While he seems to have his own theories on the case, Elliott says current social media use and the Clery Act, which was passed a few years after the murder, could have helped law enforcement track down the murderer. It would take another several years before Elliott applied his grief to his business. He started out working with the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas formulating maps to show local crime. "My 'aha' moment was, we should not just tell people where crime was," he says, "we should ask them where it is."

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A Reminder That Texas Cops Still Don't Need a Warrant to Collect Cell-Phone Metadata

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Flickr user arlo_
Big brother is watching.
Even without cell-phone metadata placing him near his ex-girlfriend's San Antonio condo in the early morning hours of New Year's Day 2009, prosecutors may still have convinced jurors that Jon Thomas Ford was guilty of her murder. There was the testimony of their friends at the party he'd stormed out of early, pictures from an ATM camera showing his car pulling into her complex, his DNA on the blood-soaked towel found covering her face when her body was discovered on the bathroom floor. The cell-phone records, which investigators used to triangulate Ford's general location based on its communication with cell towers and track his incoming calls, just made it that much easier for prosecutors to debunk Ford's claim that he'd headed straight home after the party and gone to bed.

The thing about those phone records was that police obtained them without a warrant. Ford argued on appeal that this was illegal, that the metadata should never have been allowed to be introduced as evidence, and that, as a result, his 40-year prison sentence should be thrown out.

The problem for Ford, as San Antonio's 4th Court of Appeals pointed out last month when it rejected Ford's plea, is that, more than a year after Edward Snowden leaked secret U.S. surveillance information, the warrantless collection of cell-phone metadata is still perfectly legal in Texas.

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Grand Jury No-Bills Duncanville Officers in Clint Peterson Shooting

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Clint Peterson
Clint Peterson's on-again, off-again girlfriend called the police on October 28 to report that he showed up uninvited to her house that morning and vandalized her car. She says she warned the dispatcher that Peterson also sometimes carried a fake gun and may have had it on him. The girlfriend was still on the phone when Duncanville Police Department officers arrived to her house on Kelly Court. In less than a minute, witnesses say, one of the officers shot and killed Peterson as he was running away.

A Dallas County grand jury finally got the case this week and decided on Thursday not to indict any of the three officers who responded to the call.


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Would Texas' Stand Your Ground Law Protect The Dallas Officers Who Shot Unarmed Suspects?

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Daniel Oines
A strange, but probably pretty important, question concerning Texas' stand your ground law.
Since August 10, Dallas police officers have shot six people, killing four of them. Most were armed and a threat to others. One, Andrew Scott Gaynier, was unarmed, though police say he lunged at the off-duty officer who shot him.

The events surrounding the shooting of an unarmed teen in Ferguson, Missouri, the fact that Gaynier was unarmed, but apparently enough of a threat for an officer to use deadly force,and memories of Trayvon Martin got us here at Unfair Park doing a little free associating. What if Gaynier's shooter was just another civilian, not a police officer? And how would Texas' "stand your ground" law come into play?

First, some historical context. In the last 10 years, according to a search of The Dallas Morning News archives on the public library's website, Dallas officers have shot 10 men who were not carrying weapons. In the same time span, there were three officer-involved shootings in which there was some debate as to whether the suspect was unarmed.

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