X-rated freakonomics, the vexing vice squad, ICEd out 

X-RATED FREAKONOMICS

Were you alarmed to read in the Express-News last week that 71 of the 257 arrests for prostitution between January 1 and mid-May this year took place along the Roosevelt and South Presa corridors? The QueQue was, and not just because we live a stone’s throw from that incorrigible red-light district. It was a concentration of another sort, not reported in Scott “Status Quo” Stroud’s May 21 column, that caught our attention: Of the 257 arrests, not one was a man, and when we asked the SAPD for “a breakdown by client and service provider: e.g. how many arrests were made of johns, and how many of prostitutes?” we were initially told that “all 257 arrests were for prostitution.” But following a Kafkaesque email exchange, SAPD clarified that their stats do not distinguish between buyers and sellers, leaving open the tantalizing possibility that some of those 257 petty criminals were involved in pay-to-play girl-on-girl action.

Jim Kopp, chief of the Bexar County District Attorney’s Criminal Trial Division, said the DA doesn’t track statistics by johns and prostitutes, either, because they’re prosecuted under the same statute — Chapter 43, Subchapter A of the Texas Penal Code, which makes it clear that retail sex is a crime on either end of the bargain.

Theoretically johns and prostitutes will also be equal under the City’s new vice-fighting tool, which resulted from a Council Consideration Request from District 3 Councilwoman Jennifer Ramos. Ramos had asked the City to designate “prostitution-free corridors” along high-traffic streets using the same state law that allows the creation of gang injunctions, but Police Chief William McManus informed the Governance Committee last week that approach wouldn’t work because your average street prostitutes are generally independent contractors, not members of crime syndicates. This assertion, incidentally, went unquestioned by the tongue-tied Governance members, who passed along the already-operational initiative to the Public Safety Committee without comment.

The proposed alternative solution, which the DA began implementing last week: As a condition of bond and/or probation, offenders will be barred from returning within 1,000 feet, or approximately a quarter-mile, of the spot where they were arrested. Violate the boundary ban, and bond or probation could be revoked. But neither consequence is automatic, says Kopp; ultimately it will be up to a judge to determine the penalty. Police officers will bear the responsibility for spotting arrestees or convicted prostitutes who’ve returned to their old stomping grounds in violation of a court order.

The QueQue can’t help but think of this as a perfect “unintended consequences” illustration, or an economic-distribution experiment, but First Assistant DA Cliff Herberg says that skeptics who said the gang injunction would fail because gangs would simply move to new locations were wrong. “It’s hard to move elsewhere,” he said. “It means the marketplace has to find a new location.” Disrupt it enough, he said, and it will have the intended effect.

Bexar County Adult Probation Chief Jarvis Anderson compared the initiative to the boundary bans placed on sex offenders or restrictions placed on drivers with DWI convictions, and, like Kopp, is in favor of any extra incentive or penalty that might help them redirect prostitutes to treatment programs to address the underlying addictions that drive much of the low-level street trade. Anecdotally, he could recall only two cases of johns on probation in his 17 years on the job.

And so, the topic kept coming up in the office: If the police want to really crack down on prostitution, why not address demand with the same heavy hand applied to supply? We’re told by multiple sources that the SAPD does run john stings: The question is, then, are this year’s stings just coming up empty or are we focusing on the most exploited end of the trade and taking a boys-will-be-boys approach to the customers?

PLEADING THE FIFTH

In a refreshing change of pace, the Dangerous Structure Determination Board played the role of compassionate humans to the SAPD’s overreaching at the May 24 DSDB hearing. `See “Kangaroo court,” April 21.` Before the board: the TV-sensationalized case of Billy Joe Davis, accused by police of attempting to host a nude barbecue in his backyard, and of violating the state’s obscenity law by selling a $38 dildo — only one of some 150 “sex devices” in Davis’s home according to SAPD Detective Scott Poth — to an undercover officer on May 4. Based on that sale and the purchase by secret cops in late April of $40 worth of adult DVDs, SAPD obtained a search warrant May 5 and raided Mr. Davis’s Westside home. Conditions noted by the undercovers during their forays, including animal feces, an objectionable odor, and lots of stuff stored in a manner that would make Martha Stewart apoplectic, caused SAPD to tip off Code Compliance, and well, there we were.

Only one problem. The obscenity law the detective cited as the basis for the criminal search warrant was invalidated by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2008, which found it created an impermissible burden on our right to privacy. (Mr. Davis might still be in trouble for operating a sexually oriented business without the proper permit, but that’s a notably less serious charge.) Mr. Davis fortunately was accompanied by attorney Allen Cazier, who brought up this point to the board more than once, prompting City Attorney Savita Rai to assert that the SAPD had operated under another provision of the law, which had not been declared unconstitutional. In any event, she added, “We’re not going to focus on that. … We need to focus on the condition of the property.” But the copy of the search warrant obtained by the QueQue cites 43.21 and 43.23 of Title 9 of the Penal Code — which even Wikipedia would no longer enforce.

When Cazier asked the detective whether he knew the statute had been overturned, Poth replied simply “no,” and according to Cazier the Vice Squad is working up its case to present to the DA this week. The SAPD says, “They are enforceable state laws,” because the Fifth Circuit is not controlling. To which Cazier responded with a laugh: “I think it’s pretty controlling.”

Since Mr. Davis’s ordeal began, he has been deprived of hot water, although he went and purchased the small metal table for his heater now required by code. The City has declined to restore his agua caliente, according to Davis, saying he needs a permit, and since the Code Compliance raid he’s also been unable to pull a permit to address his electrical-code violations. The City explained during the DSDB hearing that his property had been flagged because of the pending hearing … but now that the Board (perhaps as uncomfortable as the QueQue with the questionable legal impetus for this whole mess) has given Mr. Davis time to correct the issues with his property, COSA should get with the program.

Expect to hear more from and about Mr. Davis in next week’s third installment in the Current’s series on the DSDB — postponed one week but worth the wait!

STORY TIME

We hope someone lined up a Levatol I.V. for State Board of Education member Rick Agosto when he finally returned to San Antonio from last week’s epic meetings on the social-studies standards for Texas public schools.

Despite Agosto’s rapidly rising condemnations (and pulse), on Friday evening the SBOE passed the document that earned Agosto’s board the ridicule of the nation and the scorn of several education experts. The final Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards contained more than 400 amendments from the original document crafted by educator work groups last summer and fall. Critical teachers had decried the TEKS as “bloated” and a “laundry list,” even before 100-plus amendments were added on Thursday.

Agosto, who is not seeking reelection to his seat in November, explosively turned himself into the loudest opposition to additional amendments Thursday evening, after a vote to re-instate labor leader Dolores Huerta into third-grade citizenship failed and several other new names were suggested.

“I’m very uncomfortable with us just grabbing names and putting them in on a personal basis. We have experts giving us these names, with information and explanations,” Agosto said. Later in the evening he told the Board to stick Jefferson Davis’s inaugural address, which board member Don McLeroy proposed be studied alongside Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, “where the sun doesn’t shine.”

“The intent of the experts was to analyze Abraham Lincoln, not compare him to Jefferson Davis. We’re changing this TEK, we’re adding Jefferson Davis, because we like him?” asked Agosto incredulously.

If the length of the social-studies TEKS were the only concern, it’s likely the front few rows and the media box wouldn’t have been packed to the gills. But the excessive amendments began when conservative ex-chairman McLeroy began trying to correct a perceived liberal bias in the textbooks. That led staunchly conservative members Terri Leo, Cynthia Dunbar, Barbara Cargill, David Bradley and Ken Mercer (who represents parts of San Antonio and the Hill Country) to issue their own amendments to alter language, insert key people and remove others from the standards that will be used to create textbooks and state standardized tests for the next decade. Moderate members Patricia Hardy, Geraldine Miller, and Bob Craig and more liberal members Agosto, Mary Helen Berlanga, Lawrence Allen, and Mavis Knight then began issuing amendments to amendments to try to insert their own views or reconfigure the new TEKS to resemble what they once were under the work group.

A somewhat taciturn Mercer explained near the end of Friday’s meeting that work groups originally had recommended the removal of Veterans Day, Christmas, and the Liberty Bell from their draft of TEKS, which apparently sparked his and others’ proactive approach. That was in the same speech where he compared all members of the media to Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels for creating “the big lie” that the Board wished to erase Thomas Jefferson from social-studies standards and “repeating and repeating and repeating it.”

Mercer’s reference stems from one particular TEKS in which Jefferson’s name was removed from a list of Enlightenment thinkers. Though Jefferson appeared in grades 5, 8, and U.S. Government, the perception was that his removal from the Enlightenment thinkers list was tantamount to removing him altogether. In an attempt to reintroduce Jefferson to that particular list, Bob Craig issued an amendment Friday afternoon and unintentionally touched off Agosto’s biggest meltdown. ”That Thomas Jefferson discussion is the perfect example of what’s wrong with this board,” Agosto said when we caught up with him during a brief break. As has become standard on this Board, Craig introduced a new amendment handwritten on notebook paper that would reinsert the word “Enlightenment” and Thomas Jefferson into a standard that read (after the infamous change during the last board meeting): “explain the impact of the writings of John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Voltaire, Charles de Montesquieu, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, and William Blackstone.”

McLeroy pointed out that several of those names (added last session after the removal of Jefferson) were not Enlightenment thinkers. Dunbar pointed out that neither was Blackstone, and spoke passionately about keeping Calvin in as a philosophical founder of America. Mercer made an attempt to include James Madison in the new list for his work on the Federalist Papers. Craig motioned that perhaps Aquinas and Calvin could be included in another section somewhere else, which failed. A motion to strike the newly inserted Madison from the language carried. Allen pointed out that the amended standard now was too vague. “You have to have an objective in the standards. It has to have a verb that goes somewhere. What writing, his writing to his mama?” Allen asked. Craig amended his language to include “explain political philosophies such as,” to try to address Allen’s concerns.

”First we took out ‘Enlightenment’ and Jefferson,” ranted Agosto outside the meeting room, “then we added language so we could put in John Calvin. Now Thomas Jefferson doesn’t fit so we have to change the meaning again. What is going on here?”

At the end of the day Friday, after hearing testimony until midnight on Wednesday from more than 160 people, most of whom opposed the TEKS as amended by the board, after arguing until after midnight Thursday on the finer points of Barack Obama vs. Barack Hussein Obama and what role slavery played in the Civil War, the board passed, in parcels, social-studies standards containing many of the most conservative TEKS (learning in detail about the conservative resurgence in the ’80s and ’90s in high-school U.S. history, examples extolling the virtues of free markets compared to communism or command economies) but containing some wins for those concerned about religious freedom and minority representation. The votes went down on party lines, 9-5, with Miller absent and Craig siding with Democrats. But not before Agosto made his grandest gesture yet. “I don’t know what this thing is!” he shouted, waving the latest TEKS document around. Hoisting his wastebasket onto his desk, he dropped in the document. “This thing belongs in the trash!”

Now, the state, and possibly the nation, wait until the new board, minus a few of its most conservative members, meets, and the legislature reconvenes in January to decide if they share Agosto’s opinion.

ICEd OUT

Since the first cries of protest erupted from the Port Isabel Detention Center last spring, the U.S. Immigration and Customs’ version of events about life there has gone unchallenged by any other official version. Despite the many hunger strikes and complaints about lack of due process, ICE’s Isabel appears to be an island answerable only to itself.

Of several detainee complaints released to the Current by Homeland Security under federal open-records law (which only took about three months longer to release than FOIA supposedly allows), only one appears to be under investigation by Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

One complaint about a relative on a hunger strike at Port Isabel, about whom an administrator allegedly said “if he dies, he dies ... oh well,” was determined by ICE to be unfounded and dismissed.

A detainee pleading for protection from ICE officers supposedly determined to kill him (and possibly in league with the Mexican Mafia?) was also investigated by ICE and dismissed.

The issues most often taken up by civil-rights activists — allegations of lack of due process and access to legal counsel — were voiced in a third complaint released to the Current. That one was forwarded to the Office of Inspector General, which refused to consider it.

It appears, the only group that has truly tried to investigate the many complaints about detainee treatment at Port Isabel has been the non-governmental human-rights group Amnesty International, representatives of which toured the facility last year. Below is an excerpt from the transcript of an AI interview with an ICE representative. Watch how the ICE rep mistakenly drops the “don’t” from “don’t conduct strip searches.” Revealing?

Q. What are the types of security measures? I’m talking about strip searches.

A. ICE does conduct strip searches unless there is reasonable suspicion that contraband may be concealed on the person, or when there is a reasonable suspicion that a good opportunity for concealment has occurred, and when properly authorized by a supervisor.

About that hunger strike, which ICE spokesperson Nina Pruneda denied happened (she admitted to one case of “voluntary fasting”)? ICE’s response to AI admits as many as seven participants participated in the hunger strike, although a former detainee, who has since beat the charges against him in court and is reestablishing his former life up in Massachusetts, put the number between 70 and 90.

It’s apparently a sore point at Port Isabel.

“The truth is ... they blocked our `phone` number,” said Anayanse Garza of Southwest Workers Union, who first released information about the strike. Family members of detainees informed Garza of the telephone block recently, saying it was instituted because so many detainees had been contacting the organization with their complaints. “It’s been retaliation ever since,” Garza said.

Pruneda was not available for comment. •


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