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Monday, May 15, 2017

TEXAS - Cops And Street Gangs


There is a law in Texas, Section 46.02 of the state penal code, that declares: “A person commits an offense if the person intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly carries on or about his or her person a handgun, illegal knife, or club if the person is…a member of a criminal street gang, as defined by Section 71.01.” And that section of the Lone Star State’s big book of dos and many don’ts defines a criminal street gang as “three or more persons having a common identifying sign or symbol or an identifiable leadership who continuously or regularly associate in the commission of criminal activities.”
Now a lawyer in Texas named William S. Morian, Jr. has filed a motion to dismiss charges against an alleged member of the Bandidos Motorcycle Club named Arvin L. Bartlett, III who has been charged with riding in a car with a gun while being a Bandido. Morian, who has numerous Bandido clients, plans to file similar motions “in Bandido cases across the state where they are being charged with unlawful carry of a firearm just because the Bandidos are classified as a ‘criminal street gang’ by various Texas law enforcement agencies.”


The concept of “gangs” has been significantly redefined since University of Chicago sociologist Frederic Thrasher published his landmark book, The Gang: A Study of 1313 Gangs in Chicago, in 1929. Thrasher saw gangs as surrogate families.
According to James Hagedorn, a criminologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago and one of the nation’s leading authorities on the gradual redefinition of the term “gang,”  “gang research experienced a revival” in the 1950s and 1960s. “As concern for minority gangs grew among nervous whites in central cities,” Hagedorn has written, “some researchers reframed the definition of gangs from being primarily a problem of wild peer groups to being primarily a law enforcement problem. This refocus from the Thrasher definition was in keeping with stepped up suppression efforts by police and a ‘war on gangs.’”
Hagedorn thinks that today gangs are best defined as “an arena for the acting out of gender. Most gangs today are unsupervised peer groups, but many have institutionalized in urban ghettos, barrios, and prisons. Male gang members typically display an aggressive masculinity expressing values of respect and honor and condoning violence as a means to settle disputes.”
Most current definitions of “gang” are intended to stigmatize criminal defendants and to deprive them of rights other defendants enjoy.

Overly Broad

In his motion, Morian writes “The (Texas) definition of a criminal street gang is overly broad and unconstitutionally vague because it captures activity outside the intended scope of the statute.”
“It seemingly categorizes a criminal street gang as a group of three or more people who share a common identifying sign or symbol;” Morian argues, “or, in the alternative a group of three or more people who have an identifiable leadership who continuously or regularly associate in the commission of criminal activity. By this definition, members of a political party who work together during elections to engage in voter fraud are to be considered members of a criminal street gang. Status as a member of a criminal street gang could extend to members of the political party who had no part in the voter fraud.”
“For example,” the motion continues, “the officer could have found the defendant was a member of a criminal street gang if he was riding his motorcycle with two other people while the three were wearing the same t-shirt with a ‘common identifying sign,’ or a ‘common identifying symbol,’ or if one of them decided to lead the group on an afternoon ride. Because the statutory definition of a criminal street gang does not define what conduct is proscribed with sufficient definiteness that ordinary people can understand and in a manner that does not permit arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement it is unconstitutionally vague.”

Police Gangsters

Morian thinks the same general argument that Texas prosecutors are trying to use on the Bandidos and members of other clubs can also be used against police departments.
In support of his motion, Morian commissioned a study of “the number of licensed peace officers, including jailers, street cops and other detectives, who have lost their state peace officer certification for cause in 2014, 2015 and 2016.” The study was limited to “peace officer licenses, reserve officer licenses or those with joint peace officer/jailer certifications.”
The report found that: “Since 2014, 2,733 statewide have lost their certification for offenses raging from official oppressions to conspiracy to murder. One thousand six hundred twenty-one – 60 percent – of those removed certificates came from peace officers. The most common infraction is assault – 428 of the revocations are linked to assault, including family violence. Eighteen officers have lost their certifications from charges related to engaging in organized criminal activity, including drug dealing and protecting drug dealers. Also in there are ten murders, five incidents of money laundering and 38 cases of perjury.”
“In Harris County,” where Arvin L. Bartlett is charged with being a “gang member,” “137 officers have had their peace officer license revoked over the past three years, 89 of them officers, or 65 percent, more than the state average. Of those relieved of their certification for cause, 22 were for violent actions, including sexual assault, assault and intoxication manslaughter. Others have had their certificates pulled for terroristic threats, violation of the Hobbs Act, unlawful restraint, and harassment.”
“Revocations from misconduct as a percentage of overall decertifications vary by county. In Collin County, 13 percent of those revoked have been for cause in the past three years. In McLennan, the figure is close to 10 percent.”
Morian describes the statistics as “interesting.”
He said, “I think some of these  agencies should themselves be worried about being classified the same way,” as street gangs..