‘Affluenza’ Killer Not Entitled to New Judge

September 30, 2016
By David Lee
FORT WORTH (CN) — “Affluenza” killer Ethan Couch’s attempt to be released from jail was unsuccessful after his motion for a new judge was denied Thursday.
In rejecting the motion, Judge David L. Evans was not persuaded by Couch’s attorneys at a Tuesday hearing that the transfer of Couch’s juvenile probation to Judge Wayne Salvant’s adult criminal court was incorrect, because such transfers are civil cases.
Salvant sentenced Couch, 19, to nearly two years in county jail in April for violating the conditions of his juvenile parole soon after the case was transferred to his court.
The sentence was based on 180 days for each of the four people Couch killed while driving drunk as a juvenile – mother and daughter Hollie and Shelby Boyles, youth pastor Brian Jennings and Breanna Mitchell.
Several other people were seriously injured when the truck Couch was driving plowed into a crowd that was helping a stranded vehicle in south Fort Worth three years ago.
Public outrage grew when former judge Jean Boyd sentenced him to only 10 years probation and therapy.
A defense psychologist testified at trial that Couch was a product of “affluenza” – that his family felt their wealth bought privilege and that there was no rational link between behavior and consequences. Couch had faced up to 20 years in state prison.
Couch got in trouble again last year when he and his mother Tonya, 48, fled to Mexico after a video was posted on Twitter that showed someone who resembles Couch at a beer pong game. Couch was banned from drinking alcohol under the terms of his probation at the time.
The duo was arrested in Puerto Vallarta in December, and Couch’s mother was deported days after her arrest. Couch initially fought deportation to Texas but dropped his case in Mexican court and was deported on Jan. 29.
Couch’s attorneys filed for his release last month, arguing Salvant’s “criminal district court” is not a “district court” and that its jurisdiction is limited to criminal matters. Salvant asked Evans to rule on the request.
Wm. Reagan Wynn, with Kearney Wynn of Fort Worth, told Evans during Tuesday’s hearing that Salvant should be removed from the case because of a “conflict of interest” resulting from the possibility that Couch could sue for illegally jailing him.
Prosecutors responded that the litigation threat “does not make any sense” and that there is “no disputing” the case stopped being a civil case when it was transferred.

From Courthouse News.

Tulsa Cop Pleads Not Guilty to Manslaughter

September 30, 2016
By David Lee
TULSA (CN) – A white Tulsa police officer pleaded not guilty Friday to a first-degree manslaughter charge for the shooting death of unarmed black motorist Terrence Crutcher.
Betty Shelby, 42, wore a white blouse and dark pants as she was escorted into the courtroom by sheriff’s deputies. Her plea was entered by Tulsa attorney Shannon McMurray. Shelby’s preliminary hearing is scheduled for Nov. 29.
Shelby was recorded in helicopter and dashboard camera footage exiting her police cruiser near a disabled SUV on Sept. 16. Crutcher, a black man, is shown slowly walking away from her with both of his arms in the air.
As Crutcher approaches the driver side of his vehicle, he is hidden from view as the helicopter circles around the passenger side. He then slumps, falls to the ground and is covered in blood after being shot. A female voice is heard on the radio screaming “shots fired.”
Shelby’s defense team has publicly stated she was very scared, thought Crutcher was on drugs and that he did not follow commands. Shelby says she pulled the trigger after she feared he was reaching for a weapon in the driver’s window.
Crutcher’s family has disputed this account, displaying photos from the helicopter video showing the window was closed. No weapons were found on Crutcher or in his car.
His death and the release of the police video resulted in several days of angry but peaceful demonstrations in Tulsa.
Shelby turned herself in shortly after she was charged on Sept. 22 and freed on a $50,000 bond.
An investigator for Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler believes Shelby “reacted unreasonably by escalating the situation from a confrontation” to “becoming emotionally involved to the point that she overreacted” when shooting him, according to an affidavit.
Several members of Crutcher’s family were in the courtroom to hear Shelby’s plea. The family’s attorney, Damario Solomon-Simmons with Riggs Abney in Tulsa, told reporters he was expecting the not-guilty plea and that it “was part of the process.”
He declined to comment on a question about perceived special treatment Shelby may be receiving. He said the family will be at all subsequent hearing in the case.
“The family just buried their son on Monday, so they are still processing and grieving,” Solomon-Simmons said.

From Courthouse News.

Texas Backs Out of Federal Refugee Program

September 30, 2016
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) – Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Friday the state has followed through on threats to quit the federal refugee settlement program over concerns that incoming Syrian refugees are a security threat.
Last week, Abbott threatened to withdraw Texas from the program if federal officials do not timely approve the state’s plan to take refugees who are “fully vetted” and determined to not be a security threat.
“Texas has repeatedly requested that the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the director of national intelligence provide assurances that refugees resettled in Texas will not pose a security threat, and that the number of refugees resettled in Texas would not exceed the state’s original allocation in fiscal year 2016 — both of which have been denied by the federal government,” Abbott said in a statement released Friday.
In a Sept. 21 letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, State Refugee Coordinator Kara Crawford warned that if the agency failed to approve Texas’ amended plan for the coming year, the state would “interpret your silence as a rejection of the application.”
States serve as administrators for the refugee program that is fully funded by the federal government. Texas’ withdrawal will not stop refugees from settling in the state – the federal government will now appoint a nonprofit to administer the program in Texas.
Texas has taken in more than 1,100 Syrian refugees since 2011, behind only California and Michigan, according to the federal Refugee Processing Center.
The refugee program was not a prominent political issue until the terrorist attacks on Paris in November that killed 130 people.
Texas sued the United States and the nonprofit International Rescue Committee in federal court a month later, trying to block any further Syrian refugees.
Abbott claimed the Refugee Act of 1980 requires federal officials to “consult regularly” with state and local governments and volunteer agencies before placing refugees into new homes.
A federal judge rejected Texas’ request for a preliminary injunction in February. Hedismissed the lawsuit outright in June, concluding that Congress never intended “private enforcement by states” when it passed the 1980 Refugee Act.
Donna Duvin, executive director of the International Rescue Committee, condemned Abbott’s withdrawal as being “completely out of touch” with Texas values.
“Refugee families have lost their homes, their jobs, and friends and family to violence and war,” she said in a Sept. 21 statement. “They want nothing more than to live a peaceful life. The governor’s actions cannot obstruct our moral obligation to protect and welcome the world’s most vulnerable.”

From Courthouse News.

‘Affluenza’ Killer Wants to Sue Over Jail Sentence

September 27, 2016
By David Lee
FORT WORTH, Texas (CN) – In a bid to spring their client from jail, attorneys for “affluenza” killer Ethan Couch said Tuesday that Couch could sue a criminal court judge for sentencing him to nearly two years in county jail.
Wm. Reagan Wynn, with Kearney Wynn of Fort Worth, told visiting Judge David L. Evans that the transfer of Couch’s juvenile probation to an adult criminal court was incorrect, that such transfers are civil cases.
Wynn said state District Judge Wayne Salvant lacked the subject matter jurisdiction to sentence Couch and that “there’s an argument” his client has been illegally jailed for months. He also said Salvant should be removed from the case due to the resulting conflict of interest.
A bearded Couch sat silently by his attorneys during the hearing, clad in a red county jail jumpsuit.
Tarrant County Assistant District Attorney Richard Alpert disagreed, saying there is “no disputing” that Couch’s case stopped being a civil matter when it was transferred to Salvant’s court. He said the defense’s argument of suing the judge “does not make any sense.”
Salvant sentenced Couch, 19, in April for violating the conditions of his juvenile parole soon after the case was transferred from juvenile court. The sentence was based on 180 days for each of the four people Couch killed while driving drunk as a juvenile – mother and daughter Hollie and Shelby Boyles, youth pastor Brian Jennings and Breanna Mitchell.
Couch’s attorneys asked for his release last month, arguing Salvant’s “criminal district court” is not a “district court,” that its jurisdiction is limited to criminal matters. Salvant asked Evans to rule on the request.
Evans declined to rule on the request from the bench, saying he would rule in the near future.
Several other people were seriously injured when the truck Couch was driving plowed into a crowd that was helping a stranded vehicle in south Fort Worth three years ago.
Public outrage was swift when former state District Judge Jean Boyd sentenced him to only 10 years probation and therapy. A defense psychologist testified at trial that Couch was a product of “affluenza” – that his family felt their wealth bought privilege and that there was no rational link between behavior and consequences. Couch had faced up to 20 years in state prison.
Couch got in trouble again last year when he and his mother Tonya, 48, fled to Mexicoafter a video was posted on Twitter that showed someone who resembles Couch at a beer pong game. Couch was banned from drinking alcohol under the terms of his probation at the time.
The duo was arrested in Puerto Vallarta in December, and Couch’s mother was deported days after her arrest. Couch initially fought deportation to Texas but dropped his case in Mexican court and was deported on Jan. 29.

From Courthouse News.

Dez Bryant & Texas Pol Drop Their Lawsuits

September 27, 2016
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) — Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant and a state senator have settled their ugly dispute over state Sen. Royce West’s claim that Bryant trashed a rental home and Bryant’s countersuit accusing West and his law firm of stealing $500,000 from him.
Bryant and West, D-Dallas, filed a joint notice of nonsuit on Friday in Dallas County Court.
“West would show that he no longer desires to prosecute his causes of action against Bryant,” the 3-page filing states. “Bryant would show that he no longer desires to prosecute his counterclaims against West.”
Both men asked the court to dismiss their claims with prejudice.
West’s attorney, Trey Crawford with Gruber Elrod in Dallas, said Monday that the men “have settled the disputes between them amicably and have withdrawn all claims and counterclaims.” Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
The dispute began in June when West sued Bryant, claiming a 6,400-square-foot, gated community home in DeSoto that he rented to Bryant for more than two years was so badly trashed that it needed $60,000 in repairs.
“Under the lease, Mr. Bryant undertook to return the property to Mr. West in the same condition in which he received it, excepting normal wear and tear,” the complaint stated. “When Mr. Bryant returned the property to Mr. West in February 2016, however, Mr. West found it in a state of serious disrepair: littered with trash and feces, missing blinds and shutters, with cracked windows and blackened carpeting. Mr. Bryant has been unwilling to accept responsibility for the damage, forcing Mr. West to file this suit.”
West presented several photographs of the home that show large, dark stains in the carpet, abandoned furniture, piles of trash and cracked windows.
Bryant countersued West a month later for breach of fiduciary duty, negligence and fraud, claiming that $200,000 and $3000,000 payments were stolen from him when West was his attorney.
“West would instruct endorsement companies and others to make payments for any endorsement agreements to [adviser David] Wells, not Bryant,” the counterclaim stated. “Many of these payments stopped at Wells and/or West, but never reached Bryant.”
West fired back in August, demanding sanctions against Bryant’s attorneys for the counterclaim he said was filed “in bad faith and without reasonable inquiry” into its validity.
West said the disputed $500,000 payments to him were received in trust “to settle lawsuits at Bryant’s request and such settlement payments were in fact made to litigants” who had sued Bryant.
West said $475,000 of the money Bryant wired him was paid to settle a lawsuit by third party Eleow Hunt, and that West kept $25,000 in legal fees, with Bryant’s consent.
“In total, West & Associates assisted Bryant in approximately nine matters over the course of approximately 4½ years, in only three of which West was the acting attorney, and in total for which West & Associates received $113,024.81, including actual expenses,” the motion stated.
West first served as Bryant’s attorney in July 2012, when the football player was accused of attacking his mother, Angela. Mother and son later appeared at a press conference at West’s law office, telling reporters that a family disagreement did occur but that there was no “family violence.” Bryant was not charged.

From Courthouse News.

Tulsa Cop Charged for Killing of Unarmed Man

September 22, 2016
By David Lee
TULSA (CN) – A white Tulsa police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black man near a disabled vehicle last week was charged with first-degree manslaughter Thursday, satisfying demands from the community for justice and transparency.
Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler announced the charge against Officer Betty Shelby, who shot and killed Terence Crutcher, 40, on Sept. 16. She faces at least four years in state prison if convicted.
In disturbing helicopter and dashboard camera footage released in the days after the shooting, Crutcher is seen slowly walking towards Shelby’s police cruiser near his disabled SUV in the middle of a street. Shelby appears to draw her weapon after exiting her vehicle, resulting in Crutcher slowly walking away from her with both of his arms in the air.
As Crutcher approaches the driver side of his vehicle, he is hidden from view as the helicopter circles around the passenger side. He then slumps, falls to the ground and is covered in blood after being shot. A female voice is heard on the radio screaming “shots fired.”
Just before Crutcher is shot, an unknown male in the helicopter says Crutcher “looks like a bad dude” and is that he is “probably on something.”
The police on the scene are shown doing nothing for a dying Crutcher for several minutes before an officer begins to render aid.
Crutcher’s death and the release of the videos have resulted in several days of angry but peaceful demonstrations in Tulsa.
Shelby’s attorney has publicly said that she was very scared, thought Crutcher was on drugs and that he did not follow commands. Shelby says she pulled the trigger after she feared he was reaching for a weapon in the driver’s window. Crutcher’s family has disputed this account, displaying photos from the helicopter video showing the window was closed.
Kunzweiler told reporters that Shelby will turn herself in.
“I do not know why things in this world happen the way that they do,” Kunzweiler said at a press conference. “We need to pray for wisdom and guidance on each of our respective paths in life. Each of us, at the end of our days, will have to account for our actions.”
Marq Lewis, with We the People Oklahoma, told reporters he was grateful for the district attorney’s filing of charges. The community-activist group has called for criminal charges to be filed for several days.
Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett applauded Kunzweiler’s office for its handling of the case.
“We will continue to be transparent and ensure the system carries out its responsibility to provide justice,” he said in a statement Thursday. “Whether through peaceful demonstrations, prayer vigils or countless statements of support to the Crutcher family and the entire community, we are in this together as one Tulsa. We continue to pray together, mourn together and we will get through this together.”
This is the second time Tulsa law enforcement has been involved in the high-profile killing of an unarmed black man. Former Tulsa County reserve sheriff’s deputy Robert Bates was sentenced to four years in state prison in June on one count of second-degree manslaughter.
Bates mistook his pistol for his Taser when he accidentally shot and killed a restrained and unarmed Eric Harris during a gun-sale sting.

From Courthouse News

Texas Threatens to Quit Refugee Program

September 22, 2016
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) – In its latest salvo against accepting Syrian refugees, Texas threatened to quit the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program if its demands for more intense vetting are not “unconditionally” met by the end of the month.
Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday that Texas would quit the program if federal officials fail to timely approve the state’s plan to take refugees who are “fully vetted” and not a security threat.
“Empathy must be balanced with security,” Abbott said in a statement. “Despite multiple requests by the state of Texas, the federal government lacks the capability or the will to distinguish the dangerous from the harmless, and Texas will not be an accomplice to such dereliction of duty to the American people.”
In a Wednesday letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, State Refugee Coordinator Kara Crawford warned that Texas’ plan for 2016 will expire soon.
“If you do not approve our state plan as amended by Sept. 30, 2016, we will interpret your silence as a rejection of the application,” Crawford wrote.
Federal officials and refugee assistance groups dispute Texas’ claims of danger, saying the refugee resettlement program is the most difficult way to enter the country because of rigorous security screenings that take up to two years and involve several intelligence agencies.
Most refugee resettlement services in the United States are provided by nonprofit, religious and charitable groups — not government.
Aaron Rippenkroeger, CEO of Refugee Services of Texas, said Wednesday his group is “deeply disappointed” by Abbott’s announcement.
He said the threat to withdraw from refugee resettlement “is a departure from historic Texas values” and that the Texas and the country have “enormous capacity” to take in more refugees.
“Texas’ integration program, efforts and experience in the resettlement of refugees serve as an international model of success, resulting in the fastest and highest levels of self-sufficiency for those involved,” Rippenkroeger said in a statement. “To suggest otherwise is untrue and irresponsible. Providing security and refuge are not mutually exclusive objectives. Texas has accomplished both objectives for decades. Refugees remain the most scrutinized group of people who come to the U.S., having successfully undergone 20 layers and two years-plus of security checks and clearances, including extensive in-person interviews, biography mapping, biometric analyses, fingerprinting and other security measures.”
Texas has taken in more than 1,100 Syrian refugees since 2011, behind only California and Michigan, according to the federal Refugee Processing Center.
The refugee program was not a prominent political issue until the terrorist attacks on Paris in November that killed 130 people.
Texas sued the United States and the nonprofit International Rescue Committee in federal court a month later, trying to block any further Syrian refugees.
Abbott claimed the Refugee Act of 1980 requires federal officials to “consult regularly” with state and local governments and volunteer agencies before placing refugees into new homes.
A federal judge rejected Texas’ request for a preliminary injunction in February.
He dismissed the lawsuit outright in June, concluding that Congress never intended “private enforcement by states” when it passed the Refugee Act.

From Courthouse News.