Monday, March 3, 2008

Harris County to pay $1.7 million in civil rights case

BREAKING NEWS: Harris County to pay $1.7 million in civil rights case

i have to tell you i've been following this story pretty carefully. you might know it as the scandal that brought down powerful harris county DA chuck rosenthal but to me it was a critical case for photographers across the nation.

so here's what happens in a nutshell: cops burst into a home to effectuate a drug raid, which happens to be located next door to the ibarra brothers. the cops send grandma and the kids onto the porch while they search. it happens to be very cold and the cops take a long time. grandma asks one ibarra brother to take pictures to document the fact that she thinks that she and the children are being mistreated (i'm writing all this from memory, feel free to correct me). so ibarra brother #1 goes into his home to get a camera. he comes back out and begins taking pictures. a cop comes over and demands that he hand over the camera. ibarra brother #1 says 'no', hands the camera to grandma, and orders grandma into his home. multiple cops follow ibarra #1 into his home and there's a tussle. the cops pull guns and beat up brother #1. ibarra brother #2 grabs a video camera to record the tussle. they are both arrested, charged with resisting and evading arrest, and the cameras are taken from them and the film destroyed.

here's why it's in the news: during the investigation, it comes to light that the sheriff's office may be trying to gain special treatment for the deputies. evidence of this, it was guessed, may be recorded in the sheriff's emails to the district attorney (chuck rosenthal). so the DA's emails are subpoened.

so the DA responds by deleting all his emails! some are retrieved some are not, but the ones that do survive clearly show why the DA wanted to delete them: among his emails were racist humor, pornagraphy, and 'love notes' to and from his secretary (i've read a couple and imho, she was sooo bored with him), as well as evidence he was campaigning from his office (that's a HUGE no-no). there's more to it but i want to get back to the ibarra brothers' civil case...

the ibarra brothers were cleared of criminal charges, stuck to their guns for SIX years (this all started in 2002), brought down a corrupt and biggoted county official (who still faces contempt charges from the court as well as an on-going investigation by the texas attorney general), and today, march 3, 2008 it was announced that the county agreed to settle this case! someone start a ticker tape parade! it just makes me beam.

now, i don't think for one second that there will be policy change at Harris County Sheriff's Department regarding citizens documenting police activity from their property, but i do think that it is an indication of things to come, given the virtual explosion of digital media into the working class environment (and i don't think we've seen the tip of the iceberg yet).

in honor of ibarra brothers past and present, let's all be mindful of protecting photographers' rights as a question of civil rights and a safeguarding of our citizenry against the tyranny of the powerful.

thank you, sean and erik. thank you, thank you, thank you...

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