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Street ‘Crime in Palestine BY DARVYN SPAGNOLLY GOING TO JAIL is never pleasant, but going there on a seat-belt rap is especially galling. Police in Palestine, Anderson County, stopped Rosa Vasquez on May 23 on her way to work. She was arrested on charges of not wearing a seat belt, not having her driver’s license and not having proof of car liability insurance, all Class C misdemeanors. Even after her husband showed up and produced the insurance proof, which had been in the glove compartment, she was taken away in handcuffs. According to Mrs. Vasquez’s testimony to the Texas Civil Rights Project, the officers radioed for a backup car, which arrived bearing a shotgun-wielding officer. A neighbor who offered to interpret for Vasquez, whose English was limited, was threatened with arrest if she interfered. Police searched Vasquez’s car without her consent before the police finally allowed the , neighbor to tell her she was being arrested. At no other point during or after the arrest was a translator available to Vasquez. In order to obtain her release she was compelled to sign papers she could not read, and her husband had to pay $148. The Austin-based Civil Rights Project has charged that Hispanic and African Americans in Anderson County, in East Texas, suffer an inordinate number of false arrests, are more likely be arrested for offenses that generally merit a field-release citation, are required to post excessively high bail for misdemeanor or non-violent charges and are sometimes ‘detained for months in cases in which no formal misdemeanor charges or felony indictments were ever filed. Rev. Dexton Shores, the Southern Baptist pastor to a Hispanic congregation in Palestine who did most of the report’s initial research, said the victims were too intimidated to speak out, and the authorities knew it. He originally tried acting on his own after his experiences as a volunteer court interpreter led him to examine court records. He then turned to the Anderson County Community Relations Council, which held a public forum. There, the district attorney, the police and dip sheriff’s department all denied that any problems existed. The forum made the headlines of the Darvyn Spagnolly is a graduate student in journalism at the University of Missouri at Columbia. local paper. “It gave the courage to a few to say, ‘Hey, enough is enough,'” Shores said. Then, after the TCRP report came out and made the front page for four days running, complaints poured in. “The phone didn’t stop ringing,” said C.X. Rodriguez, a former council member who helped present the report in Austin. Rosa Vasquez, Shores said, was the first Hispanic to file an official complaint. “T,he very next day after that was filed, a couple of deputies known to some as `Starsky and Hutch’ were blocking the road on the way to the meatpacking plant where a significant number of Hispanics work. … When I called to ask about it the chief_ deputy didn’t even know; [he] claimed not to know anything about the roadblock. And if he didn’t, well then these guys were taking it upon themselves to show these Hispanics, ‘You know, you complain, this is what’s going to happen.'” For an example of what could happen in Anderson County, population 49,915 filed with the assistance of the TCRP in federal court in Tyler. Gerald Jordan, a parole violator detained at the jail, seeks damages and an injunction under section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act. The lawsuit alleges that jail officials beat and hog-tied Jordan and tethered him to a sewage pipe overnight. The jail guards also denied him access to law books. Jordan believes he was singled out because he is a plaintiff in an earlier, separate civil rights case against the sheriff’s department. The second civil rights lawsuit, on behalf of Gerald Battles, claims that the jail officials removed law books from his cell after he filed a civil rights action generated by an injury to his hand after a jail officer closed a cell door on it. The TCRP published its findings in a 60page report after visits in June and August by four investigators and an attorney from the Austin-based non-profit, civil-rights litigation program. Among the cases documented: Eduardo Trejo Galvan was arrested on January 15 for littering, a Class C misdemeanor. He was held for 24 hours and released after he paid a $105 fine. A month later, he was arrested oh a warrant that charged “gang related activity,” in connection with a shooting, and a judge set his bond at $100,000. \(Anderson County Sheriff Mickey Hubert said later that Palestine has “no more [gang activity] than normal for this size town.” The district attorney never sought Galvan’s indictment because of the days in detention, where other inmates assaulted him. He missed the birth of his first child, and was denied medical treatment during a serious bout of fever and chills. Cesar Albino Canas was arrested for failing to wear a seat belt. He was detained and later released after paying a fine. Ten days later the same officer and his partner, with guns drawn, arrested Canas on a charge of “organized crime.” Canas spent 33 days in the Anderson County Jail \(all in the same set of white jail overalls, without never moved to secure his indictment. Abel Garcia Cabrera was arrested by sheriff’s deputies on June 8, 1994, after he was stopped at a roadblock near the meatpacking plant where he works, on a charge of driving without a valid license. The deputies would not let a bystander interpret for Cabrera, whose English is poor. After several hours in jail, which cost him a day’s pay, Cabrera secured his release by paying a $45 towing fee and $250 in fines, including a $175 fine for failure to show proof of insurance even though the , truck’s owner had shown the proof of insurance to the deputies. Ray Larson, an Anglo contacted by TCRP investigators, said he was stopped at the same road block and could not produce his license but was able to recite his license number; the deputies never asked him for proof of insurance, he said. Javier Olvera Vargas on July 4, 1989, was arrested for drinking a bottle of water he had taken from a railroad car. He was held 36 days on a charge of burglary of a vehicle before the district attorney declined to prosecute the case. Adolfo Bravo Vasquez was arrested on January 27, 1988, after police, answering a disturbance call, pursued several Hispanics into the woods and returned to find Vasquez, who says he had not been involved in the disturbance. Vasquez was charged with hindering apprehension and was found guilty so that, in the words of District Attorney Jeff Herrington during Vasquez’s trial, a “message would be sent to the Hispanic community that these kinds of situations would not be tolerated in Anderson County.” Vasquez’s punishment was the 26 days he already had spent in jail. After his release, he left Palestine. His guilty verdict was reversed on appeal but Vasquez apparently has never learned of his exoneration. TiE TEXAS OBSERVER 13