Report: Houston schools burying on-campus gun incidents in ‘gun free zones’. District Attorney silent.

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HOUSTON, TX – When shots rang out in Houston’s Bellaire High School on January 14th, leaving 19-year-old Cesar Cortez dead, it was at least the second gun-related incident at the campus this school year. 

Report: Houston schools burying on-campus gun incidents in 'gun free zones'. District Attorney silent.
Cesar Cortez, 19, was shot and killed at Houston’s Bellaire High School in January (YouTube screenshot)

Authorities have said they believe a 16-year-old classmate accidentally shot Cortes while showing off a semiautomatic pistol.

 
Report: Houston schools burying on-campus gun incidents in 'gun free zones'. District Attorney silent.
Suspected Bellaire shooter (YouTube screenshot)

In October, a gun went off inside a student’s backpack. In the 40+ days since that fatal shooting, Houston Independent School District confirms that two more guns have been found on their high school campuses.

On January 21st, a student was caught with a gun. Two weeks later, a similar occurrence took place. The two were not related, happening at Sharpstown and Worthing High Schools, respectively. 

Interim Superintendent Dr. Grenita Lathan said the district was holding parents accountable.

“One of the things we are doing now, if students are found in possession of a gun, [HISD Police] Chief Cordova is submitting that to the DA’s Office if it’s a parent’s gun, asking that they be charged as it relates to ” Lathan said during a February 6th district agenda review meeting.

The local ABC affiliate, KTRK, reports that they began asking questions and requesting public information, and HISD changed its the story.

First, they asked the HISD press office for the names of adults who had been charged.

The district refused to provide those names and only sent the following statement:

“In three of the four recent cases in which firearms were recovered on HISD campuses, district police issued citations to adults for making a firearm accessible to a minor.”

They then requested, under the law, the public portion of those citations.

“HISD does not possess information responsive to your below request,” was the first response from an HISD lawyer.

That appears to contradict previous statements received by the news station. The districts response to that perceived contradiction?

“HISD police officers have filed complaints with Harris County Precinct 7 Constable’s Office. The HISD Police Department does not possess copies of the complaints and/or citations.

You may make your request for the documents to Harris County Precinct 7 Constable’s Office.”

So, wait, now I am confused. Did ISD police issue citations, or did they not? 

KKTRK decided to follow the district’s advice. They contacted the Harris County Precinct 7 Constable’s Office. After checking, a spokeswoman said no one knew what HISD was talking about.

According to KTRK’s Jessica Willey, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office and Houston Municipal Courts also had no records of charges and/or citations against adults stemming from guns found on campus.

This past Monday afternoon, they reached out again, asking HISD for clarification again and did not receive response.

Closing out her live report, Willey said, “If HISD Police are really doing something about all of this, the thousands of parents and students they serve might want to know.”

So, what is the district doing in the wake of this stemming problem in Houston? 

Administrator’s are exploring the idea of installing metal detectors at the district’s middle and high schools in response to last week’s fatal on-campus shooting of a student, a step few districts in the region have taken following nationwide incidents of mass gun violence at schools.

In a blog post, Houston ISD Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan wrote that she will be meeting with students and community leaders to determine whether the district should increase security measures.

“These meetings, along with reconvening safety and security council committees on every campus, will be a catalyst for increased vigilance and preventative measures in our schools,” Lathan wrote.

“Another measure the district is exploring includes assessing middle schools and high schools for metal detectors as a screening measure for entry onto campuses.”

According to the Houston Chronicle, the addition of metal detectors would represent one of HISD’s costliest and most significant security upgrades in recent years.

While prices for metal detectors vary, outfitting all 106 campuses that serve grades 6 and higher could be costly, particularly if the district installed multiple machines at larger schools. Chicago Public Schools officials last year approved the purchase of an undisclosed number of metal detectors for nearly $4,000 per unit, with installation and warranty included.

The idea of metal detectors is receiving mixed reviews from district personnel. 

Trustee Patricia Allen, a former elementary school principal, said she supports the installation of metal detectors in middle and high schools, arguing the increase in security outweighs the logistical hurdles of screening students daily.

“You already see them so much, even at the football stadiums where they have lots of people going through those,” Allen said. “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

However, Trustee Dani Hernandez said she opposes metal detectors at schools, largely because of the message they send to students. 

Ah, yes, the “perception is more important than reality” and “feelings are more important than facts” arguments. 

“We would need to figure out more about the cost, but also how that plays into the school-to-prison pipeline,” said Hernandez, a former elementary school teacher.

For those of you unfamiliar with that particular pipeline, it is a perceived process through which students are pushed out of schools and into prisons. In other words, it is a process of criminalizing youth that is carried out by disciplinary policies and practices within schools that put students into contact with law enforcement.

Um, I have some questions? 

Shouldn’t students who bring guns to school be put in contact with law enforcement? Aren’t laws being broken? Is this not criminal activity?

Is detention really going to be a deterrent? 

The Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) held their recent annual Mid-Winter Conference in Austin January 26th through the 29th. As part of that annual conference, attended heavily by superintendents, their deputies and other school administrators, there is an exhibit hall. 

Law Enforcement Today can confirm that at least one member of HISD administration was roaming the booths at the exhibit hall, speaking with security vendors about entrance protection solutions, to include metal detectors. 

In speaking with the administrator, they acknowledged that “guns on campus are more prevalent than most would like to admit.”  

Of the 403 exhibitors more than 50 dealt with safety and security in some capacity, indicating how big of a conversation school security is in Texas. 

For the record, HISD had a booth of their own set up. It was highlighting their Medicaid Finance and Consulting Services Department. 

According to their website, the Houston ISD established the Medicaid Finance & Consulting Services (MFCS) Department with the specific mission of providing professional consulting and decision support services to other school districts to maximize their Medical Revenue with excellence customer service and provide SHARS training that meets Medical regulatory compliance.

Last week, Joe Gamaldi, who FOP National Vice President and Houston Police Officers’ Union FOP Lodge 110 President, posed a simple question in his op-ed below:

Why pass more gun laws when cities like Houston won’t even go after criminals breaking the ones we have?

Much has been made recently, here in Houston and across other big cities, about the horrific results of bail reform.  But to be honest, this isn’t even the worst of what is going on in the criminal justice system.

I am sure you are thinking: “what could be worse than letting violent repeat offenders out on bond over and over again?”

It’s cutting them sweetheart deals when they agree to their guilt …and it is much more insidious and damaging to our community. This is happening every day in Harris County, Texas courtrooms with the full knowledge and approval of the elected District Attorney Kim Ogg.

They can accomplish this egregious affront by bastardizing the practice of “Deferred Adjudication”.

For some readers, this may be the first time you have ever heard the words deferred adjudication, so let’s take a moment to explain what that is.

Deferred adjudication can be given to a defendant in a criminal case (in an agreed plea deal) and in most cases allows them to skirt any jail/prison time.

They walk free from the court room. As long as they stay out of trouble for the length of time they are placed on deferred, their criminal history will reflect no conviction or wrong-doing.

This tool in the DA’s toolbox is actually a good one if used properly.

The design when this was put into law, was to be used for a first-time offender, who maybe got caught in a bad situation who didn’t deserve to be put away for years.

The little brother who just happens to be in the car when the older brother robs the store, doesn’t deserve to have his life ruined. I think we can all agree it is advantageous to have the ability to give that young man a break.

Let me assure you, that is not what is happening in our court rooms.

We are seeing a disturbing trend of deferred adjudication being given to violent, habitual offenders, career criminals. There is no thought of justice for the victims in these crimes.

The DA’s office is giving them numerous chances, and it is clear they have no intention of holding the true criminal element in our community accountable on a consistent basis.

A few quick examples to highlight just how bad it is:

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-Clayton Brown has a lengthy, violent, criminal history, he shot three people in two separate incidents, one was 15-year-old girl. In a plea deal with the DA’s office he had two of his cases dismissed and on the third they gave him deferred. Shot three people was given no prison time. Where is the justice for the victims?

-Adrian Lizcano pointed a gun at several people and threatened to kill them. He was given deferred for that incident. While on deferred, he crushed his 15-day old infant daughter’s skull and killed her.

-Antonio Washington was given deferred for 3 aggravated robberies. While on deferred he robbed a Walmart at gun point, putting dozens of citizens in mortal danger. Thankfully one of our officers happen to be off duty and in line and was able to stop him.

-Mark Baldridge, a prolific collector and distributor of images of child sex abuse, was given deferred adjudication for 8 felony counts of Child Pornography.

I could go on and on with egregious examples, but the other side will claim we “cherry picked” them. Rest assured there are thousands. Let’s peek behind the curtain to see the scope of this disturbing trend.

Kim Ogg and her office have taken deferred adjudication and placed it on steroids, the likes of which we have never seen. The long-term harm to our community and victims is immeasurable. Here is just a taste, as December 2019:

  • We have nearly 1600 people on deferred adjudication for aggravated assault
  • Over 1100 people on deferred for aggravated robbery and robbery,
  • Over 600 people on deferred for possession of child pornography/indecency with a child/online Solicitation of a minor
  • Over 300 people for sexual assault
  • Over 1750 people for felony DWI offenses
  • And what I believe is a true marker of just how far we have fallen, over 300 people on deferred for felon in possession of a firearm.

Let that sink in for a moment.

We are having a national debate on guns and gun laws and yet we are handing out no jail time to convicted felons, who are found in possession of a firearm.

Kim Ogg is literally giving gun toting felons a “Get Out of Jail Free Card”.

That is not even mentioning a large group of the aggravated robberies and aggravated assaults committed with guns, and the assailants were given a sweetheart deal with no jail time.

We aren’t even using the tools we have in our toolbox now to hold criminals accountable for crimes with guns and all anyone can talk about is new gun laws.

Even more disturbing, the above numbers is what we can track. These deferred numbers are actually much higher.

When someone violates their deferred, is revoked and convicted, we are unable to track that case effectively.

The above numbers do not include those criminals who have been placed on deferred, re-offended, and therefore violating the conditions of their deferred adjudication.

(Conceivably at that point they should go to the jail for the original charge, however we are finding the DA’s office and Judges aren’t even following through in those cases. But that is an article for another day).

It doesn’t take an active imagination to understand, it means the numbers above are infinitely worse.

Kim Ogg apologists will say they have to cut these deals, in order to keep their dockets manageable, and Judges play a role in accepting the terms of the agreement. I will concede those points.

They absolutely must negotiate deals with defense attorneys in order to allow the system to run somewhat efficiently. However, they are giving away the farm in these negotiations with full approval from District Attorney Kim Ogg and her administration.

When you have violent, true habitual offenders, you should only be discussing how long they will go to prison, not negotiating to let them off the hook completely.

Is anyone asking the victim how they feel about these deals? Does anyone care of about justice for victims? Our current elected DA is so worried about going light on criminals, she has completely forgotten that it is her duty to protect and represent victims!

People will attempt to make this a partisan issue or a political issue, but throwing the book at violent criminals, who prey on the hard-working people of our community, is something we should all agree on.

With a loud voice, everyone should demand these criminals be held responsible for their actions and stand up for victims.

Please share these statistics with your friends, family members, neighbors, and co-workers.

I am confident the average Houstonian believes that if someone sticks a gun in their face and robs them, that miscreant will be thrown in jail for 10+ years. The reality is the opposite.

They are much more likely to receive a sweetheart deal, and let free to victimize the next hard-working person and maybe even kill someone. Venture to say this is not what any of us want and it is certainly not the Houston I know and love so dearly.

This epidemic is within our power to change. We all need to come together and vote out the very person who swore an oath to uphold the law and protect victims in our community…Ogg Must Go. Harris County Deserves Better!

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