SeaWorld Ends Surveillance, New 'San Antonio 4' Trial, Boats, Boats, Boats!

The River Walk barges will have a new look soon.
The River Walk barges will have a new look soon.

No More SeaWorld Spies

The following is not a failed elevator pitch for a James Bond movie. It is a real, live news item: SeaWorld ended its practice of having employees covertly pose as animal-rights activists last week.

SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby admitted to the practice during an earnings call on Thursday, February 25. The park had previously been accused of spying on People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Manby called those allegations "very concerning" in a July 2015 news release.

"These allegations, if true, are not consistent with the values of the SeaWorld organization and will not be tolerated," Manby said last year.

PETA, predictably, had harsh words for the parks, alleging that the espionage went far beyond having employees wearing the same color T-shirts as PETA representatives or sitting in on a few planning sessions:

"SeaWorld's corporate-espionage campaign included trying to coerce kind people into setting SeaWorld on fire or draining its tanks, which would obviously have hurt the animals, in an attempt to distract from its cruelty and keep PETA from exposing the miserable lives of the animals it imprisons," the organization said in a news release.

SeaWorld's local park is undergoing some upheaval of its own. Its president, Dan Decker, was fired last month as part of a broader corporate shakeup.

Uncertainty for the "San Antonio 4"

Senior District Judge Pat Priest ruled last week that the "San Antonio 4," a group of women who were imprisoned for sexual assault in the 1990s but later had their convictions vacated, should receive new trials, falling short of completely exonerating the women.

Kristie Mayhugh, Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera and Anna Vasquez were convicted of sexually assaulting Ramirez's nieces in 1994. They maintained their innocence, and the trial was marked by bigotry, inconsistent stories from witnesses and other pieces of evidence later shot down as "junk science." One of the accusers recanted. Their convictions were vacated in 2013, and three of the women were released from prison. Vasquez had already been paroled.

Priest's ruling claimed that their "assertion of proof of actual innocence falls short of the mark." The case will now be taken up by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which will issue its own opinion on the convictions.

Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood has said that his office likely wouldn't retry the cases if the appeals court sides with Priest.

"I have some serious reservations about this case, and I don't believe pursuing these cases would be in the interest of justice," LaHood said, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

New River Barges

The ubiquitous flotillas that pass along the River Walk are closer to being revamped. The City of San Antonio announced last week that it had selected three finalists to redesign its river-barge fleet.

The finalists include METALAB from Houston, Sadi Brewton and Jonathan Davies from Austin, and San Antonio's Luna Architecture + Design in partnership with Lay Pittman & Associates of Florida. The three finalists, selected from of a pool of 12, will receive $7,500 to develop their design and create a 3-D model.

The new boats were required to meet certain design criteria. The new fleet will be completely electric-powered, ADA-compliant and each boat will seat at least 35 people.

The designs will be publicly exhibited on Monday, March 28, from 6 to 9 p.m. at AIA's Center for Architecture Gallery (1344 S. Flores St.). The winner will be announced on April 2.