June 2, 2020
To the family and friends of George Floyd, and to all members of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association:
The Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association (HCCLA) expresses sincere condolences for the outrageous death of native Houstonian George Floyd. Mr. Floyd’s death while in the custody of law enforcement officers was completely unnecessary and exemplifies the systematic abuse of people that will continue to occur without serious and effective oversight of law enforcement policies, procedures and actions. HCCLA demands a full and transparent investigation, and charges must be sought against all criminally responsible parties.
The community is in pain. This pain is not unique to Minneapolis, sadly; it extends across America. The killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor are just the latest examples to bring to light the national shame of brutality perpetrated in the name of law enforcement. Far too often, that overzealousness and barbarism is aimed at people of color. The United States has witnessed too many undeserved, early funerals.
HCCLA is the largest local criminal bar in the State of Texas with nearly 800 members. HCCLA demands justice for Mr. Floyd and others victims throughout the nation, and here locally. HCCLA insists the time for change is now, and not for the next generation to address.
HCCLA demands courts stop upholding unjust convictions by claiming the violation of individual rights by police is “harmless”. HCCLA demands District Attorney Offices across Texas immediately release the names of peace officers found to have engaged in sustained use of force or complaints of racism. HCCLA demands local governments stand against police union obstruction of justice. All lawyers, judges, and upstanding officers of the law and the courts must rise up against this exploitation of any person. In an effort to propose a solution, we strongly support implementing the following rules immediately:
- Require all police officers wear body cameras and equip all patrol vehicles with dash cameras. Police policies should require all officers leave their bodycams and dashcams running during any encounter and keep them on while a person is in police custody. No muting or turning the cameras off while they are on scene. Police departments should also eliminate any delay in releasing the footage for cases filed.
- Increase the penalty for official oppression from a Class A misdemeanor to a 3rd Degree felony. Police Officers are granted large amounts of authority and trust from the community. When they violate that trust the penalty should be higher. If an assault where a person causes bodily injury is a Class A misdemeanor, then the penalty should be higher when an officer uses his or her authority in an unjustifiable assault. Officers enjoy enhanced protections when they are “targets” of crime, they should also suffer enhanced penalties for abusing their authority.
- We need transparency for the officer complaint process. All protections for un-sustained complaints against police officers should be removed. Far too often when complaints are made, Internal Affairs will investigate and, in some cases, recommend mediation. Un-sustained complaints should remain in an officer’s public personnel file along with the investigation and outcome.
- Immunity from civil liability should be removed for officers who violate people’s civil rights as well as departments who continually protect those officers from discipline for excessive force.
HCCLA’s members are seeking to be part of the solution. Many HCCLA members are providing free representation (pro bono) for those people arrested while engaging in peaceful protest. Together, HCCLA stands against racism, violence in the name of order, and demands due process for all citizens accused. HCCLA will use all available resources to promote awareness of any criminal cases involving excessive force or racism by law enforcement.
HCCLA is prepared to assemble with community members, partners and local officials to help identify what more can be done together. Starting in Houston – starting today – resources must be dedicated to address this systemic, institutional problem. There are no reasons to wait for tomorrow.
President, Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association