Last November, Northside ISD police officer Daniel Alvarado responded to a routine call — a bus with a flat tire. Moments later, he rushed into the backyard of a Northwest Side home, shooting and killing unarmed 14-year-old Derek Lopez. According to a lawsuit filed last week by Lopez’s mother, Alvarado’s response was a deadly overreaction to a simple “schoolboy fight” between her son and a classmate. In her lawsuit against the officer, the school district and its police chief, the victim’s mother Denys Moreno claims the department showed “deliberate indifference” to Alvarado’s dismal disciplinary record, an indifference that led to her son’s death. According to court records, Alvarado saw Lopez punch another teenager at an off-campus bus stop and rushed to the scene. When Lopez ran, dispatch records show Alvarado’s supervisor told him to stay put with the victim. Instead, Alvarado went on the chase, ignoring his supervisor, something he had a documented history of doing. While Lopez tried to hide in a shed in the backyard of a Northwest Side home, the lawsuit claims that Alvarado ran into the back yard with his gun drawn, “charged up to the shed, flung open the door and shot and killed the unarmed boy.”
The lawsuit cites Alvarado’s 16 reprimands during a four-year period, including seven citations for insubordination and failing to follow orders. Alvarado was suspended without pay on five occasions and in 2008, according to the lawsuit, was even recommended for termination.
Craig Wood, the school district’s attorney, defended Alvarado’s actions, saying the officer’s own report on the incident claim Lopez “bull-rushed the door, flung open the door, and it struck the officer, and that’s the point at which the shooting took place.” Of course, that’s Alvarado’s report we’re talking about. NISD spokesman Pascual Gonzalez said Alvarado is still with the department, though he’s no longer on patrol duty.
In the past week, our Fed Up! regulatin’-hatin’ governor has swung through his first two rounds of GOP presidential debates, all the while his state’s been smoldering. With wildfires burning thousands of acres across Central Texas, claiming at least two lives and destroying over 1,400 homes, Perry took a brief break from the trail to come home and assess the damage. For a vet campaigner like Perry, it was a priceless opportunity to flash his commander-in-chief bona fides — empathizing with evacuees and cheering the state’s volunteer firefighters keeping the flames at bay. Volunteer firefighters? Oh, wait. Did we mention the Perry-directed slash-and-burn budget churned out by the Legislature this year delivered serious cuts to the state’s volunteer fire crews? The Texas Forest Service lost a full third of its funding over the next two years, and that supplemental spending bill wasn’t enough to float the agency through the first of the month. So it’s likely federal cash will start flowing as FEMA starts approving grants to pay for eligible reimbursements. If that’s not enough, Perry has said he is willing to consider Rainy Day Fund cash to mitigate damage from natural disasters. But even after this fire is quenched, volunteer firefighters will still be holding the short end of the stick. Reimbursement grants for volunteer departments were cut by the Lege to the tune of 70 percent to about $7 million, according to Chris Barron, executive director of the State Firemen’s and Fire Marshals’ Association. These are the departments that make up roughly 80 percent of the state’s fire crews and are first on the scene at about 90 percent of Texas wildfires ever year, he said. Those lost grants are typically used to help pay for things like fueling up trucks and buying protective equipment for cash-strapped crews, not to mention training.
“A lot of these guys need equipment right now, they need funding right now,” Barron said, but a backlog of preexisting requests, estimated in the millions, has already kept crews waiting in line for months. “I know a lot of these guys are taking money out of their own pocket books just to keep the departments open,” he said. “Some will eventually have to shut their doors.”
If any of you jobless and/or homeless homo sapiens care to reinvigorate your sense of humanity: nothing works better than by speaking up for a fellow primate. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine gave it a try by petitioning the USDA to investigate the treatment of 14 chimpanzees recently transferred from Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico to the primate research center at San Antonio’s Texas Biomedical Research Institute (you may remember it as the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research). The unlucky 14 were to be part of a larger bundle of 200 transferred chimps before the National Institutes of Health agreed to an investigation on the topic of whether or not chimps are even needed for medical research, now being led by the Institute of Medicine. “We think they are incapable of taking care of chimpanzees, witness the fact that they have so many violations that they are now part of an active investigation [by the USDA],” said Dallas-based medical doctor and PCRM Director of Academic Affairs John Pippin. “We want them to undo this thing we claim was done illegally and under the radar until this report.” The 14 chimps have already been subjected to invasive research in San Antonio, according to records released to PCRM under federal open-records law, but Que2 was unable to gain comment from the USDA about the petition of investigative action prior to press deadline Tuesday.
Late last month, as thousands of environmental activists dug in for a “wave of civil disobedience” in Washington, D.C., to decry the planned $7 billion, 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline proposed to move tar-sands oil from Alberta to Texas refineries and ports, news out of the State Department inflamed tempers. In its long-anticipated analysis of the project, the State Department declared the pipeline would cause minimal environmental harm, despite a litany of cases and concerns continually cited by both activists and the EPA. But with the White House protest and over 1,200 arrests behind us, the State Department heads into national hearings to discuss if the project is in the national interest, including in Port Arthur (September 26) and in Austin (September 28). The final hearing on the matter will take place in D.C. on October 7.
The environmental concerns are clear — the company’s smaller Keystone line has already seen 12 spills, including the nasty case of the 800,000-gallon spill in the Kalamazoo River. The EPA has labeled past State Department analyses “inadequate” and “insufficient,” saying they failed to address spill risks, look at possible alternate routes, or assess potential damage from the pipeline to wetlands and migratory birds. But now opposition groups are challenging the very idea that the pipeline would even benefit us. The project has been touted by the oil industry as a way to boost U.S. energy security, but a new study released this month by Oil Change International claims the pipeline would do little to help in that regard. Rather, it would benefit owner TransCanada and others hoping to profit by courting the export market.
With an oversupply of oil hitting the U.S. market, producers these days are looking to rising-demand markets like Europe and China to make a buck. “An honest assessment of the Keystone XL project will show that the oil will be exported and will not benefit U.S. consumers,” the report claims, citing TransCanada’s already-existing contracts with companies like Valero, Motiva, Canadian Natural Resources and others openly planning to export. “The construction of Keystone XL will not lessen dependence on foreign oil — rather, it will feed the growing trend of exporting refined products out of the United States, thereby doing nothing to stabilize oil prices or gasoline prices at the pump.”
Still, in an interview with InsideClimate News, TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard charged that “professional activists” lining the ranks of the opposition were simply trying to muddy the debate. As the project hits this critical juncture, he said, “These groups will drag in everything and the kitchen sink. It’s just an absolute bunch of rubbish.” •
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.