The Art of Deflection: HPD chief shows how to blame judges for policing failures

2019-09-29

Police chiefs in Harris County continue to attack bail reform - most recently Houston police chief Art Acevedo - but the examples given never seem to bear out their complaints. Acevedo yesterday went on local TV to blame judges for releasing a defendant who later ended up shooting a police officer with his own gun after a struggle.

His comments came at the scene of an unrelated police shooting near a school where the suspect was killed, and the chief attempted to conflate the cases. In the Fox26 news story, he succeeded in conflating them; the article was so poorly constructed, I had to go to other sources to figure out what the hell he was talking about. Reported Fox26:

Acevedo threatened to call out judges who grant bond to violent offenders while speaking at the scene of an officer involved shooting on South Gessner Monday. The shooting happened as one of his officer [sic] is recovering from being shot Thursday by a suspect who was out on bond. 

Court records show that suspect—Brandon Bell, 17—paid zero dollars to bond out of jail two weeks ago after allegedly carjacking a woman at gunpoint. 

"If you lived in a high crime area and you knew that these judges were gonna let a violent criminal go in one door and within a matter of hours or a day or two get out on a low bond, do you want to testify against them?" asked Acevedo.

Brandon Bell was NOT the shooter at the school where Acevedo gave the comments, but you really can't tell from the story until the final line, when the reporter finally named the deceased.
It turns out, however, there's more to Mr. Bell's story than the chief is letting on: "In Brandon Bell's case, records show he bonded out on a misdemeanor trespassing charge September 3, before investigators could collect enough evidence to charge him with felony aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon."
So think about what's being said: Acevedo crows to the media that Bell was let out on a personal bond for carjacking, and the reporter dutifully repeats the claim. But she already knows that's not exactly true, and buried the counterfactual at the bottom of the story. His officers hadn't filed the carjacking charges when he was released, only misdemeanor trespassing!
How long should courts hold misdemeanor defendants to let police investigate them for crimes with which they haven't been charged? On what basis should they have detained the 17-year old, who in most other states would have been charged as a juvenile?
In America, police don't get to arrest people and hold them in jail when they are unable to supply probable cause the person committed an offense. And if they'd presented evidence against Mr. Bell in the carjacking incident, he'd have been charged with a felony and remained in jail. The failure to do so is the only reason he wasn't held longer.
The judge who bonded the guy out told the reporter:

Judge Darrell Jordan who approved Bell's bond told Fox 26 he was just following Texas law. 

"If there is a trespassing case or something like that—then that person will be released on a general order bond," said Jordan. "The bond amount will say $100, but they pay nothing."

Even if Bell had been required to pay the $100, that's not going to keep anybody off the streets for long. The real issue is Houston PD and the DA's office hadn't charged him with anything more serious, even though he'd allegedly committed a carjacking. Two weeks later, the kid shot a police officer.
This is pure deflection, blaming judges for Houston PD's own failures.

MORE: For those interested in more detail, Don Hooper of the Houston Conservative Forum posted the police affidavit on Twitter alleging Mr. Bell engaged in carjacking, and proceeded to argue the details of the episode (contentiously) with a cop. The complainant recognized the carjacker at the scene, and a robbery detective conducted a photo array on the same day in which she identified him again. But police didn't file the affidavit alleging the carjacking charge until Sept. 9th, after Bell had already been released. How is this the judge's fault, again?

Posted by: Pat Monks