From Grits for Breakfast; March 2016

 

(transitive) To discourage by means of a disincentive or to discourage or deter by removing incentives:

 

Does corruption flourish in Texas because of incompetent state-level law enforcement? A San Antonio Express News story documenting South Texas corruption (March 12) opened thusly:

After he lost his City Council seat four years ago, Richard Diaz outlined his concerns about local corruption in a detailed three-page complaint to the Zavala County district attorney.

 

“It was about the misuse of public property, and then, of course, they were (gassing) up their private vehicles from the city yard, and there were other violations of the charter,” Diaz said, referring to city officials.

 

“They talked to a lot of people who knew about this, and verified what I was saying, but for some reason they just dropped the investigation. They never told me anything,” he recalled.

 

District Attorney Roberto Serna, a Crystal City native, said he asked the Texas Rangers to investigate. In the end, however, after “a very diligent investigation, no prosecutable cases resulted,” he said.

 

The FBI, which later got the complaint, dug deeper and eventually hit pay dirt.

The DA said the Texas Rangers’ investigation was “diligent,” but it wasn’t diligent enough to uncover wrongdoing. So how is it that the feds could get the job done? They found a “truckload of documents” they considered incriminating enough to seize as evidence and made numerous arrests.

 

Observing the slew of corruption cases in Texas, Grits has been struck by the fact that they typically are only ever prosecuted when the federal government steps in. Is this because the Texas Rangers are incompetent to the task? Clearly, they blew it in Crystal City.

 

Reported the Express-News, “The FBI in San Antonio also has seen a sharp increase in corruption cases, rising threefold to 64 open cases, between 2012 and 2014.” But corruption is illegal under state law, too, and these are local officials, for the most part, catching these cases.

 

Why isn’t Texas law enforcement able to identify and prosecute corruption? Is it because Texas DPS’s enforcement and spending priorities are focused on patrolling the border region, which ironically is the safest area in the state, instead of on officials who violate the public trust? Or might Texas fail to confront corruption even without competing priorities, simply leaving the task to the feds because it’s easier, and you get to blame Obama if things go bad? It’s not like state and local law enforcement were pursuing these cases before the border buildup.

 

It’s embarrassing that the feds keep finding and prosecuting serious corruption, especially in South Texas but also elsewhere, while state and local law enforcement can’t or won’t get the job done. Too bad some of that misspent border security money allocated by the Lege last session wasn’t designated for this purpose. Corruption is a greater threat to security than the next landscape worker or nanny who may cross the border illegally.

In the case of Leon County, we have learned of several instances in which citizens have taken public corruption complaints to the Texas Rangers. One involved money laundering in which the family who reported it suddenly lost 2 family members to suicide within several months following. Another source indicates revealing information in regard to inappropriate use of grant money that resulted in threats from the Sheriff’s Department. Another former Sheriff Department employee confirms this saying they were basically run off due to fear of people finding out. Do you not suspect they will certainly inform people now? In the Willhelm case we managed to obtain a copy of the Texas Ranger report from DPS. It was revealed the Ranger closed the case on the forged will after he was told by the DPS Crime Lab to obtain a writing sample from the suspect Gerald Willhelm and copies of the victim’s signature. What we found suspicious was that the Bank the victim used is a short walk from the Rangers office. Further alarming is the fact that the Ranger interviewed the suspect and did not bother to obtain a writing sample. This sort of thing in Leon County goes on and on.

 

Here are the comments to the original posting of this article in “Grits for Breakfast”

 

22 COMMENTS:

Anonymous said…

Great article. The Rangers will play politics with a case just like the average politically minded DA who is worried about getting reelected. Come to Brown County and find out for yourself. After an 18 month investigation by the FBI and Rangers related to public corruption they still haven’t arrested those involved. It appears the Rangers won’t take additional information in the case. At this point, I won’t give a wooden nickle for a Ranger.

 

3/14/2016 11:58:00 AM

Anonymous said…

I tend to agree with above. They are good investigators. But they are over-worked more than any other member of DPS. And you have to consider that DPS rarely prosecutes a political figure. Especially a Republican.

 

3/14/2016 01:26:00 PM

Anonymous said…

People move to Mexico to get away from the corruption in Crystal City.

 

3/14/2016 05:44:00 PM

Anonymous said…

That whole region is now a DMZ.

 

3/15/2016 06:28:00 AM

Anonymous said…

http://www.kltv.com/story/31467865/texas-judge-accused-of-sexting-while-sitting-on-judicial-conduct-board?clienttype=generic&sf22573547=1

3/15/2016 06:48:00 AM

Anonymous said…

Just to clarify, the Texas Rangers don’t actually prosecute any cases. They do the investigation and then it is up to the local prosecutor to decide if there are any charges to bring.

 

3/15/2016 08:14:00 AM

Bill Habern said…

 

It may be that the only state law enforcement agency more lacking in their efforts when it comes to state corruption that the Rangers is the TDCJ OIG agency. I would put up corruption and abuse more obvious than a car in the middle of the road, but these folks can’t seem to find it.

 

Bill Habern

Attorney

Houston, Texas

3/15/2016 08:19:00 AM

Anonymous said…

The Ranger are not well thought of internally by other DPS investigators in Narcotics and CID.

The virtually have no investigative experience when they come to the Rangers from Highway patrol. All that they’ve ever done is write traffic tickets

 

3/15/2016 09:29:00 AM

Gritsforbreakfast said…

@8:14, the article said the reason there was no state prosecution in Crystal City is because the Ranger investigation found no actionable evidence, even though the feds quite literally found a “truckload.” You’re right the Rangers don’t prosecute people. But their investigative failures are the reason state prosecutions don’t go forward.

 

@9:29, I’ve heard that a lot over the years, especially from the Narcotics guys.

 

3/15/2016 10:51:00 AM

Anonymous said…

Having spent most of my life as a Texas Law Enforcement Officer, I will tell you that there is no more of a worthless Law Enforcement Agency in Texas than the Texas Rangers. They strut around like they are something special. When in reality, they are nothing more than a bunch of Highway Patrolmen who have never investigated anything more than a traffic accident. They are a joke among most in Texas Law Enforcement. They show up on scenes and just walk around and they only thing that they accomplish is getting in the way. They openly talk about bending the truth and how to write reports so that he charges stick. How to leave evidence out of reports.

They expect prosecutors, judges and jurors to hang on their every word just because they are rangers.

Back in the 50s the Texas Rangers were made up of the best detectives from around the state. True and proven investigators. Then they came under the control of Texas DPS and the recruitment of the best went away. Now you have inexperienced people investigating crimes and they are in way over their head.

 

For me, if a Texas Ranger tells me the sky is blue, I will not believe them until I go outside and check for myself. That is just how bad the Texas Rangers have become. Oh and you want to talk about cover ups. Rangers frequently let their reputation go to their head and become law breakers their selves. Yet, you never hear about it because they are experts at covering it up. This I know for a fact because I have been on some of those scenes. DPS Troopers always show up and offer to take the case over and that is where it pretty much ends.

 

Just the prospective of an old 30+ year Texas Cop.

 

3/15/2016 10:57:00 AM

Anonymous said…

Get it right, folks. It’s the Texas Department of Political Safety. Sheez…

 

3/15/2016 11:58:00 AM

Anonymous said…

Amen on no experience. One day they (Rangers) were writing traffic tickets and the next they are God’s gift to law enforcement. As a former DPS crime lab supervisor, we had a couple of sayings related to Rangers; 1) “There are two kinds of evidence we received to analyze, one is good evidence and the other Ranger evidence”. 2) “If we ever got tired of the crime lab we could always push a knitting needle through our ear, wiggle it real hard, and become a Ranger”.

 

3/15/2016 01:09:00 PM

Anonymous said…

As an older man that lives “on the border” but not down south but NW of Del Rio, I have had the opportunity to speak with numerous Rangers over the last few years. In my opinion there are two distinct types: 1st are the old timers, these gentlemen are great men who care about what they are doing and are very capable. 2nd are the newer, younger Rangers that have been promoted from within DPS, and yes, I agree with the above comments, they either are incompetent or lack the proper training to do the job that they are paid to do unless we, the public, are mis-informed as to what their job really is.

 

3/15/2016 03:07:00 PM

Anonymous said…

Jefferson County is another one of those corrupt counties in Texas.

 

3/15/2016 06:43:00 PM

Anonymous said…

Incompetent. Was there a question?

 

3/15/2016 06:49:00 PM

Anonymous said…

3/15/2016 10:57:00 AM- True Dat

 

Can anyone forget how many time Rick Perry dropped their name “Texas Recon Rangers” patrolling on the Mexican border? Now they are all tactical dressed like Marines, carrying automatic weapons.

 

3/15/2016 08:17:00 PM

Anonymous said…

I have seen some Texas Rangers in action, they are used as puppets for the judicial system. They sit in on Court procedures. One Texas Ranger physically man handled an innocent man and caused injury under the order of the investigator who was working for the DA. They were saying that they had a court order to confiscate a computer (in which they destroyed client information) & material in their process.

 

3/15/2016 09:31:00 PM

Anonymous said…

One thing not mentioned is favoritism, selectism, or nepotism often allows troopers that are children or grandchildren of former Rangers priority in becoming a Ranger often over merit, competency or other considerations.

 

3/16/2016 06:43:00 PM

Anonymous said…

I know from personal experience the Ranger that covers Tyler is just as corrupt as the Smith County Sheriff’s office. So it’s no shock to see that sort of corruption from other Rangers.

 

3/17/2016 11:46:00 AM

Anonymous said…

I’ve met quite a few. The ones stationed in rural areas are really good people and make a lot of “big city” resources available to local agencies. Not sure why so many are located in the cities having these resources readily available. Haven’t seen this arrogance described here. Quite the opposite. Mostly humble folks who prefer doing the job without fanfare and attention. Yeah, they serve a desperately needed purpose out there. Most of their work is requested by the local District Attorney. They can’t help it if they are put on display by the powers that be. Ask one and you’d probably get this same reply. Can you imagine your local police chief in a city of less than 500 people in say, Brewster County, handling a multiple homicide? Pretty sure a three page offense report won’t cut it, but that’s what you’d get.

 

3/17/2016 10:10:00 PM

Dutch Avery said…

The younger, educated generations will not tollerate Texas Ranger corruption any longer. Particularly now that, instantly ,one can research weighted quantitative, qualitative methodologies on the Ranger & L/E entities instantaneously,and simultaneously. What was once an era of selective law enforcement, and optimal glory seeking, is now a quest just to keep your pay check. When I rolled up on a critical shooting of a cop in a rural area, I remember thinking why the Texas Rangers were there, at the same time common L/E officers arrived, that’s when it hit me. I viewed 2 officers go for their trunks ,and I thought they we’re Rangers taking out evidence kits. It was then that another cop, mentioned they were Rangers, and it was more of a make up kit, like the one my wife travels with. They were meticulously cleaning their silver belly hats, and I swear some of us saw them put on raid vests, raid jackets, and all their gear, as well as “MAN” make up, hair spray, Cologne, and anything else you can think of. These guys practically walked backwards at the TV cameras, this is why they wore the raid jackets, and all the tactical gear 1 1/2 hour after the shooting. I could only summize, why all the investigators & feds made ,so much fun of these guys. But, truly the hardest thing I ever heard, in that scenario, was when the Ranger told the young police officer to cancel the medivac chopper, because it was gonna cost, what that officer makes in 1/2 a year, and that the shot up cop wasn’t going to make it with so many rounds, and no vest. I literally got in that fellas face and reaffirmed a medical chopper for one of my brother in “blue”.

4/24/2016 04:21:00 PM

Anonymous said…

Texas is well known for their Corruption. Why are Corrupt Wealthy Texans and their Attorneys allowed to BRIBE Texas Government Officials and Texas Judges in exchange to cover up their crimes and be exempt from the Law?

 

Rather than arrest these criminals , victims are being advised to live in secret facilities or flee Texas for their safety.

 

*******************  UPDATE 2/15/2018  *************************

THIS CASE FROM SEVERAL YEARS AGO BROUGHT TO LIGHT THAT A TEXAS RANGER COMMITTED PERJURY

 

Court of Appeals of Texas,Houston (1st Dist.).

The ASSOCIATED PRESS, Houston Chronicle Publishing Co., Mike Cochran, Mark Smith, and Terry Keel, Appellants, v. Maurice COOK, Appellee.

No. 01-98-00773-CV.

OPINION

This libel case is an interlocutory appeal from the trial court’s order denying summary judgment to news media defendants and their sources.   Maurice Cook (“Cook”), the former Senior Ranger Captain of the Texas Rangers, sued the appellants, The Houston Chronicle Publishing Company (“the Chronicle”) and its reporter Mark Smith (“Smith”), together with The Associated Press (the “AP”) and its reporter Mike Cochran (“Cochran”), because of several articles that were published about him.   Cook also sued Terry Keel (“Keel”), the former Travis County Sheriff who was quoted in the articles.1  We reverse and render judgment in favor of the appellants.

iI. Background

The underlying story of the news articles referring to Cook concerns the Texas Rangers’ investigation of the 1990 killings of David Joost, his wife Susan, and their two small children.   The Rangers theorized that David Joost killed his family in anger after discovering an affair by his wife, and then committed suicide.   Relatives of the Joost family did not accept this theory.3

Because the Rangers resisted disclosing their investigative file, the relatives of the Joost family filed a lawsuit seeking access to it under the Texas Open Records Act. The disclosure would be permitted only if the investigation was inactive.   Initially, disclosure of the file was ordered by the court.   However, on February 25, 1993 (nearly three years after the shootings), the court conducted another hearing to reconsider its ruling.

At the hearing, Cook testified as Ranger Chief and Custodian of DPS records.4  He said the Rangers were still investigating evidence in support of the murder/suicide theory.   This theory involved the assumption that Susan Joost was having an affair with Jerry Hill, her former employer, and that the affair somehow came to light during a lengthy, late night telephone call between the Joost and Hill residences immediately before the shootings.   Cook specifically testified that “there was a lengthy phone call between the Joost residence and the attorney [Hill]” that occurred “the night before [the shootings] at about 12:00 midnight,” but that the Rangers did not know the identity of the parties to the conversation because “it doesn’t say who is talking.   It just has two numbers talking.”   According to Cook, the Rangers theorized that the phone call may have disclosed the alleged affair, causing David Joost, in anger, to kill his family and then himself.

Following Cook’s testimony at the hearing, the Joost family’s request for disclosure of the Rangers’ investigative file was denied.   The Joost case was officially closed by the Rangers in 1995, at which time the investigative file was officially released.   After it was released, Phillips learned that Cook falsely testified about the non-existent “late night telephone call.”   Therefore, Phillips filed a complaint with the Hays County District Attorney alleging that Cook committed perjury.   Ultimately, Cook was not indicted by the grand jury.   However, articles were published reporting the grand jury proceedings.   Keel and Phillips were quoted in the articles.

vII. Summary

We sustain the Chronicle and Smith’s point of error one, the AP and Cochran’s point of error one, and Keel’s points of error one and two.   We reverse and render judgment that Maurice Cook take nothing by way of his libel claims against the Chronicle, Smith, the AP, Cochran, and Keel, and his claims for tortious interference with a contract and intentional infliction of emotional distress against Keel.

FOOTNOTES

1.   Cook sued other defendants who are not parties to the appeal, the Amarillo News-Globe and John Phillips, another source named in the articles.   Cook nonsuited the Globe and Phillips.

2.   Section 51.014(a)(6) provides,A person may appeal from an interlocutory order of a district court ․ that denies a motion for summary judgment that is based in whole or in part upon a claim against or defense by a member of the electronic or print media, acting in such capacity, or a person whose communication appears in or is published by the electronic or print media, arising under the free speech or free press clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, or Article 1, Section 8, of the Texas Constitution, or Chapter 73.

3.   They suspected the killings were hired murders because David Joost may have discovered corruption at the Texas Racing Commission.   His body was discovered on the morning that he was expected to brief the commission on a controversial contract.   The family also grew suspicious because of the way the Rangers maintained tight control over the case, refusing them access to autopsy and lab reports, crime scene photographs, and other evidence.   If the deaths were determined to be murder, rather than a murder suicide, the Joost family’s relatives could have gained $214,000 in insurance proceeds.

4.   Cook’s testimony was incorporated as an exhibit to the Chronicle’s motion for summary judgment.

5.   The Chronicle and Smith’s motion for summary judgment was based on five different theories:  (1) the articles are substantially true;  (2) the articles in dispute are privileged;  (3) the articles included protected opinion, and, as a matter of law, are not defamatory;  (4) the articles were published without actual malice;  and (5) there is no evidence to support Cook’s claims.

6.   The second Chronicle article, published February 9, 1996, stated:A Houston Chronicle investigation of the [Joost] case files after the case was officially closed last year showed ․ that Cook may have embellished or misstated facts during closed-session court testimony.The third Chronicle article, published February 24, 1996, stated:Cook told the judge he had telephone records proving a “lengthy” late call “the night before” the murders to the home of Jerry Hill, Susan Joost’s boss and longtime friend.   Cook said that phone call gave credence to the theory that Joost flew into a rage and killed his wife after discovering her on the phone with her boss. In fact, the Joost phone records show no such call was made.   It is possible Cook was referring to a 9:06 p.m. call from Hill’s home to the Joosts about three weeks before the killings.   Hill said that call, on Feb. 15, 1990, was made on the day his son was born.   He denied having an affair with Susan Joost.

7.   Even the lead investigator for the Texas Rangers, Ron Stewart, testified that Cook’s testimony was not accurate, and that he “overstated” the facts.

8.   Even if it is not substantially true that Cook invoked his Fifth Amendment right, exercising a legal right is not defamatory as a matter of law.   See Banfield v. Laidlaw Waste Sys., 977 S.W.2d 434, 439 (Tex.App.-Dallas 1998, pet. denied) (finding statements that plaintiffs were “troublemakers” and “ringleaders” was not defamatory as a matter of law because union organizing is a federal right).   A statement is defamatory if the words tend to injure a person’s reputation, exposing the person to public hatred, contempt, ridicule, or financial injury.   Einhorn v. LaChance, 823 S.W.2d 405, 410-11 (Tex.App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 1992, writ dism’d w.o.j.).   Whether words are capable of the defamatory meaning the plaintiff attributes to them is a question of law for the court.  Id. at 411.   The court construes the statement as a whole in light of surrounding circumstances based upon how a person of ordinary intelligence would perceive the entire statement.  Id. Here, a person of ordinary intelligence would not construe the article any differently if it had said that DeGuerin addressed the grand jury on Cook’s behalf, and that Cook did not testify, because such a person knows the only legal basis for Cook’s refusal to testify was by exercise of his Fifth Amendment right.

9.   We note that in his Third Amended Petition, the last live pleading before the trial court, Cook abandoned his non-libel claims against the Chronicle and Smith.

10.   Cook’s claim against Cochran for the land ownership misstatement must fail for the simple reason that he cannot be held liable for an article that he neither wrote nor published.   See Carr, 776 S.W.2d at 569 (stating publication is an essential element of a libel action).   It is undisputed that he did not write or contribute to the article in any way.   Thus, Cochran was entitled to summary judgment on this claim.

11.   In his brief, even Cook acknowledges that the reporter “inexplicably” reported that he owned 12,000 acres, because the reporter was “apparently totally unaware that land ownership can be quantified in fractional sections of an acre.”   This acknowledges that the statement was merely a mistake, made without actual malice.   Interestingly enough, not only did Cook not sue Langford for making the statement, he did not even depose her.

12.   The parties dispute our jurisdiction over Cook’s defamation claim against Keel. Because Keel’s statements were quoted in the print media, we have jurisdiction over this claim under Civil Practice and Remedies Code section 51.014(a)(6).

13.   We have jurisdiction over these claims under Civil Practice and Remedies Code section 51.014(a)(5), which states that a party may pursue an interlocutory appeal when the trial court denies a motion for summary judgment that is based on an assertion of immunity by an individual who is an officer or employee of the state.   Even though Keel urged other theories to support summary judgment on these claims, we may consider only whether he was entitled to summary judgment based on his immunity defenses.   See Boozier v. Hambrick, 846 S.W.2d 593, 596 (Tex.App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 1993, no writ) (explaining that the legislative intent was to provide interlocutory appellate review only of the merits of immunity defense).

14.   We note that employees of the House are at-will employees, who do not have a long-term contractual relationship with the House.

15.   Cook says he told the plaintiff’s lawyer in that case that he would not testify unless he was subpoenaed;  he was never subpoenaed and he never testified.

LEE DUGGAN, Jr., Justice (Retired).