Page 11


POLITICAL INTELLIGENCE Happiness is Houston in Your Rearview Mirror DO THE CRAWFISH There is a new dance craze sweeping the Baytown police department. It’s called the Crawfish and it involves plenty of wiggling backsteps. To demonstrate how it’s done, acting police chief Byron Jones, along with City Manager Monte Mercer, sat down with the editors of the Baytown Sun at the end of March. The meeting came on the heels of several important “clarifications” by Jones. The interim chief had raised the ire of many in the Greater Houston area by insisting for months that his officers had acted according to established policy in the in-custody death of Mexican-American Luis Torres \(a posture that could expose the city to tured in hideous detail by a police camera mounted on a patrol car. \(See “Are You Experienced?”, March was physically ill to the point of disorientation, unarmed, and without any illegal drugs or alcohol in his system. The tape shows officers tripping Torres, who had up until that point offered no resistance other than backing away. The officers then proceed to use pepper spray, savagely beat him, and one appears to lean with his full body weight on Torres’s neck for almost two minutes. The coroner determined the cause of death to be “mechanical asphyxiation with blunt impact trauma: Now, in an abrupt about-face, when asked again whether the three policemen, Bert Dillow, Micah Aldred, and Sgt. Rodney Evans had “followed proper procedures,” Jones declined to comment and stated instead that it is “up to the grand jury to decide.” And indeed, the results of a Baytown police investigation have been forwarded to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, which expects to present the case to a grand jury sometime in April. The FBI is also investigating the incident. For Jones, it’s just one equivocation of many. As reported in the Baytown Sun, after the killing, the chief had insisted the department would review its use-of-force policy. Subsequently, Jones admitted the department didn’t actually have such a policy. Nor are Baytown police currently trained on how to deal with the mentally or physically ill. \(Chief Jones says that officers are scheduled to receive such training in Houston in Jones also let slip, more than a month after the fact, that on February 20, the same day he placed Evans and Aldred on desk duty, and Dillow on administrative leave with pay, he had added a fourth officer to the list, Chad Billeaud. When queried why he waited until the end of March to mention that Billeaud had also been sent to a desk over the incident, Jones explained to the Sun that “no one had ever asked him.” In his sitdown with the paper’s editors, Jones admitted that this answer and several of his other statements were mistakes. The Torres family lawyer, Michael Solar, is not convinced Jones has learned much from his recent stab at contrition and truthfulness. He points to another statement the chief made to the Sun in the course of his meeting with the editors. Jones fretted that his officers were worried about the upcoming grand jury process. The paper quoted the chief as saying “Imagine being in their place, living with that uncertainty from day to day, for who knows how long it will take.” Jones seems to have no such compassion for an innocent man beaten and strangled by his officers; no words for the wife, children, and grandchildren he left behind. “It is really horrific that this man can feel sorry for himself, the department, the city, his police officers without any effort to express condolences for the family of Luis Torres:’ Solar says. UNEQUAL PROTECTION It now appears Gloria Swidriski might receive justice in the death of her son Marc Kajs. In 1998 Kajs, who was gay, was gunned down by his ex-lover Ilhan Yilmaz, who then shot himself. The event occurred in the parking lot of Houston’s Tony Urbana restaurant, where Kajs worked Sunday brunch as a waiter. Yilmaz had stalked Kajs for seven months. Although the 28-year-old Kajs had repeatedly begged Houston police for protectionincluding on the morning of his deaththey had ignored him. Although Kajs had not obtained a court protective order against his stalker, Texas law does not require such an order for police to provide protection. About the same time as the Kajs incident, Swidriski’s attorney Robert Rosenberg pointed out, Houston police had arrested a man for stalking and making terroristic threats against his wife, without her having obtained a restraining order. Rosenberg filed suit against the police department, alleging that they failed to help Kajs because he was gay, a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The City of Houston 14 THE TEXAS OBSERVER -4/12/02