Advocates fight statute delaying transgender prisoners’ ability to change their names: Marius Mason, a transgender man incarcerated at a federal women’s prison located in Fort Worth, Texas, has wanted to change his legal name to his chosen name since 2014. However, Texas Family Code prevents anyone in the state with a felony conviction from changing their legal name until two years after completing all of the terms of their sentence, a law advocates are fighting. The continued use of birth names can contribute to a climate of violence and harassment, both in prison and outside. Additionally, being unable to change their names could deny trans prisoners access to gender-affirming medical care. “[M]y old [name] reminds me every day of the person that I am not anymore,” Mason says, “and it feels false and humiliating to be constantly reminded that society does not see me as the man I want to be. It feels cruel to me to force me to live in this way.”[Aviva Stahl / In Justice Today] But see Texas prisons have updated their LGBT policy after a lawsuit from a trans woman who was beaten and raped after being housed in a men’s prison. [Jolie McCullough / Texas Tribune]
Defendants paid Brown County Attorney: Records obtained by a local ABC affiliate show that Brown County Attorney Shane Britton accepted money in exchange for dropping charges over many years. The records were obtained from the Brown County Sheriff’s Office, which started investigating Britton’s operation after a former FBI agent tipped it off. Britton allegedly funneled the money he received into the Brown County Attorney Donation Fund that the prosecutor created over a decade ago. According to the records, a defendant paid Britton $1,500 to get his indecent exposure case dismissed. Investigators suspect that he received these payments between 2009 and 2014. “[Defendants] could avoid hiring a defense attorney. They could avoid a conviction on their record and everything went away. All you had to do was make a donation,” Brown County Chief Deputy Bobby Duvall said of the scheme. He also specified that Britton was involved in “outright theft cases” and “cases that would be easily categorized as extortion.” [Joshua Peguero / KTXS 12]
Criminal justice resolution “tabled indefinitely” after public concern: A city council resolution in Pflugerville, Texas, that would have “[encouraged] the courts to sentence criminals convicted of drugs or violent acts to the maximum punishment allowable by law” flopped last week, due to community backlash. Three out of five councilmembers had cosponsored Resolution 0508, including Rudy Metayer, who said he opposed it but wanted it to generate a public discussion. Ultimately, he got his wish. Community members slammed the proposal during a council meeting, after members of a local criminal justice organization, MEASURE, alerted them about the potentially disastrous proposal. Just Liberty, another Texas-based organization that promotes comprehensive reform, also solicited letters from constituents who opposed the legislation and sent dozens to the mayor’s office. For his part, Mayor Victor Gonzales says he was against the resolution from the moment he saw it, as violent crime fell 7 percent in the past year. “I was appalled we would even suggest … that crime was on the rise, things were out of hand and we had no control over law enforcement,” Gonzales said of the resolution. “I think we need to bow to the judiciary and process that’s available.” In the end, the five members of the council voted unanimously against the proposal. [Iain Oldman / Community Impact]
Family of Danny Ray Thomas file wrongful death lawsuit: Last Thursday, with the help of two attorneys, relatives of Danny Ray Thomas filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Harris County. The suit alleges that the sheriff’s deputy who pulled the trigger, Cameron Brewer, resorted to excessive force “even after observing that Mr. Thomas was unarmed and clearly in a state of crisis or suffering from mental health problems, and was not then presenting any objective danger to others or himself.” The suit also claims that this kind of excessive force is part of a larger trend of using force against people in a state of crisis. The lawyers for the family held a press conference at the Harris County Civil Court to address the lawsuit the same day it was filed. “Statistics bear out that if you’re mentally ill and you are black that you already have two strikes against you when you encounter law enforcement,” said one of the family’s attorneys, Benjamin Crump, who previously represented the families of Mike Brown and Tamir Rice. “With the filing of this lawsuit we declare that just because you are having a mental crisis does not mean that you should encounter the death penalty, executed by a police officer on a street corner.” [Tom Dart / Guardian] See also “The aftermath of Danny Ray Thomas’s shooting” in the 4/5/18 edition of this newsletter.
Why this judge dreads execution day: Former District Judge Mike Lynch presided over eight capital cases during a two-decade-long career in Texas, but the death penalty never sat right with him. In this first-person account, he describes how deeply conflicted he felt when he confronted people found guilty of grisly crimes. He knew what they did was deplorable, but he was still able to see their humanity. He journaled as a coping mechanism, writing once that he believed he was “invading God’s province.” In another entry, he wrote, “If only we could execute the bad side and keep the good side alive.” He describes the anxiety he felt before one execution, knowing that he had set the date and time. He also knew he’d have to make a quick decision regarding a stay, if new evidence were presented at the eleventh hour. Unable to stomach more capital cases, Lynch retired in 2012. “Sometimes I was able to rationalize that my role in the outcome of these cases was minimal. After all, jurors were the ones who weighed evidence and reached a lawful verdict. But other times I wondered whether the system I have been a part of for so long was, simply, barbaric,” Lynch said. [Mike Lynch / The Marshall Project]
Thank you for reading. See you next week!