Inquest in Odessa: the DA’s offensive Ever since newsmen and state and federal authorities started inves tigating the violent death of Larry Lozano in the Ector County jail on the night of January 22 \(Obs ., trict attorney John Green has been raising a mighty ruckus against the intruders on his turf. His complaints have deflected public attention occasionally from the main issue in the casewhat happened to Larry Lozano while in the custody of county lawmen. But the obstreperous prosecutor, who has closed the Ector County books on the case twice already, hasn’t persuaded state and federal officials that the jailhouse death should be of no further concern to them: federal prosecutors, having concluded a grand jury inquiry of their own in July, are now deciding whether to seek indictments for civil rights violations against county sheriff’s deputies and others who allegedly brutalized their Mexican-American prisoner. DA Green went on the warpath as soon as Texas Attorney General John Hill announced last February that his office would investigate charges \(reported been beaten to death by his jailers. The DA denounced Hill’s move as a ploy to win Mexican-American votes. But Green’s own best effort to weigh the merits of the evidencea local coroner’s inquestleft some critical questions unanswered, even though the coroner’s jury returned a quick verdict of “accidental death” in April. That verdict hinged primarily on an autopsy by Houston medical examiner Joseph Jachimczyk, who contradicted the earlier “homicide” conclusion reached by another pathologist. However, Jachimczyk’s findings also laid to rest the “suicide” theory originally offered and later abandoned by Sheriff Elton Faught. The Houston pathologist concluded that the immediate cause of Lozano’s death was suffocation due to a crushed larynx, and surmised that the injury resulted from a restraining hold placed on Lozano by an antagonist in a struggle that occurred just before he died. Sheriff Faught conceded that Lozano died during a jailhouse brawl with deputies who entered his cell to subdue him after he “went berserk.” Along with persistent reports that deputies had a grudge against the inmate because of the bloody fight he’d put up at his arrest and booking, the inquest findings seemed to leave open the possibility that excessive force had been used deliberately. The coroner’s verdict was still good enough for the district attorney, but not for Attorney General Hill, who joined with Mexican-American leaders in urging a federal grand jury probe. Much to Green’s dismay, they got their wisha federal grand jury convened in Midland on July 17 and heard testimony from scores of witnesses \(including Sheriff but reliable sources say that indictments of some or all of the men who confronted Lozano on January 22 are likely. Green was predictably disturbed that the inquiry had passed out of his control, and a broadcast news report by Midland station KMID-TV gave him a chance to lash back while the federal grand jury proceedings were still underway. The broadcast quoted sources close to the investigation as saying that several indictments had already been prepared in the Lozano case and that “Ector County government officials are among those named.” KMID added that Hill was “the mastermind” behind the federal probe and that Green “appears to be the main target.” The day after the newscast, Green got busy: he announced that he might investigate Hill’s office for withholding evidence from him, castigated reporters as that witnesses who testified at the April inquest might be liable for perjury if they told a different story to the feds, and Intraparty squabbling For the past two years the Mod Cons, a conservative band of Democratic Party activists, have been in a deep pout over their defeat by more progressive party members at the 1976 state convention. Now, with Democrats convening in Fort Worth for their biennial session, the conservatives are making a comeback bid, trying to get more of their own rank elected to the State Democratic Executive Committee. They are off to a shaky start, howeverin a flyer sent to all delegates and alternates going to Fort Worth, the Mod-Con caucus rather shrilly denounced the current SDEC as being dominated by “extreme liberals” as evidenced by that body’s audacity in having invited Cesar Chavez to come speak to them. Even some of the conservative delegates thought this line of attack was subpoenaed the tapes of the KMID broadcast. He then quickly opened and closed a local grand jury inquiry into the Lozano case, once again pronouncing a definitive end to the matter. But the main thrust of Green’s counteroffensive was now political rather than legal. He fired another broadside at Hill, deriding him as “a sawed-off Democrat” willing to let local law enforcement officials be “railroaded” to advance his political fortunes. He repeated a characterization of Ruben Sandoval, the activist attorney retained by the Lozano family, as a “fat enchilada .. . who drank too much tequila.” Most improbable of all was his charge, in response to reports of White House interest in the investigation, that “the only reason why the President is taking an interest in the Lozano case is because he wants to take the heat off the dope users in the White House . . . it’s frightening.” Having thus burned his bridges to the Democratic officeholders who wouldn’t respect his position as the arbiter of crime and punishment in Ector County, Democrat Green proceeded to endorse Republican gubernatorial candidate .Bill Clements. One index of the decline in the DA’s fortunes due to his handling of the Lozano case may be the response that he got from the Clements camp: a spokesman welcomed Green aboard, but emphasized that “Clements does not know Green personally” and “didn’t solicit Green’s endorsement.” Mark Vogler and Eric Hartman a bit unfortunate, the party standing for open dialogue and all. And a liberal member of the SDEC said he was perfectly willing to take any heat the ModCons wanted to give him over the Chavez invitation, but he did think they ought at least to spell the farmworker leader’s name correctlythe flyer had it as Chaves. The consumer’s friend This session of Congress has been very much to the liking of big busi ness lobbyists, and precious few members have had the mettle to stand up to them on behalf of consumer interests. Nonetheless, Consumer Federation of America has identified 25 of the 535 members as folks who warrant the organization’s support and might need some help in this fall’s elections. Among the 25 is Bob Eckhardt of Houston. 14 SEPTEMBER 22, 1978
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The Texas Rangers are tasked with investigating corruption and crimes by public officials. Those officials are rarely held accountable.