Five stories that have North Texas talking: East Texas town known for seizing property with little cause shines a light on asset seizure in America, the George Zimmerman verdict inspires a college scholarship in Dallas, dolphins remember old tank buddies by sound alone and more.
We all know police officers and deputies seize guns, cash and stolen property from crime scenes, but a New Yorker piece spotlights an east Texas town that took asset forfeiture much further. The mid 2000s were a controversial time for the City of Tenaha, a small town in Shelby County near the Louisiana border. Dozens of travelers accused police officers of pulling them over for violations like driving too close to the white line or remaining in the left lane without passing another car. These traffic stops often led to vehicle searches, and if cash or valuables were found, the driver and passengers were frequently taken in to the station.
When Jennifer Boatwright, her boyfriend and two children found themselves in that position after police discovered cash in their car’s center console. They were given two options at the police station. As reported by the New Yorker: “They could face felony charges for ‘money laundering’ and ‘child endangerment,’ in which case they would go to jail and their children would be handed over to foster care. Or they could sign over their cash to the city of Tenaha, and get back on the road.”
Claims like Boatwright's eventually led to a class action lawsuit and the city and county decided to settle. Law enforcement officials near Tenaha must now video and audio record all traffic stops and undergo training in racial profiling compliance. In all, 21 policy changes have been ordered.
- Hasan’s Defense Team Wants Out: A judge in the court martial of the accused Fort Hood shooter says defense attorneys can't be taken off the case. Maj. Nidal Hasan is representing himself and fired his attorneys back in May, but the judge required them to stay on for technical assistance. The defense team told the judge yesterday they can’t do their job and defend Hasan when he is clearly seeking the death penalty. But this morning, the judge ruled that the defense team simply doesn't agree with Hasan's strategy and must remain part of the case. Hasan is accused of killing 13 people in 2009. [NPR]
- Verdict Inspired Scholarship: As the George Zimmerman acquittal was being handed down, two North Texans decided to take a stand through higher education. According to the Dallas Morning News, as word of the verdict came, Paul Quinn College president Michael Sorrell and Tonya Veasey sent text messages back and forth, and the OCG PR Scholarship for Social Justice was born in a matter of hours. Quinn College is a predominantly black school in south Dallas and the scholarship will be open to 3.0 and up juniors and seniors in the legal studies program. “We always knew that we would take a substantive approach in dealing with the issues raised in the trial,” Sorrell said. Veasey is a Paul Quinn graduate and is married to U.S. Representative Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth.
- For Now, It’s Just Pass Fail: Texas school district and individual campus ratings come out today, but this year “exemplary” and “acceptable” won’t be in the vernacular. For the next few years, the Texas Education Agency will only use the terms “Met Standard” or “Improvement Required.” It’s basically a pass/fail system for now, but a few years down the road, however, letter grades will make their way into the rating system.
- Is That You Old Pal?: Dolphins have been astounding us on the creature smart chart for a long time, but this newest discovery is something special. Dolphins have signature whistles the way we all have names; it’s how they recognize friends and acquaintances. These whistles are set in stone before a dolphin turns one and don’t change, and researchers recently discovered that long lost aquarium mates recognize each other’s whistles years later. Texas State Aquarium darling Kai recognized the signature sound of his tank neighbor Hastings when it was played on a speaker years after the two were separated. Impressed? Go ahead and whistle. [NPR]