National report on use of force

Rob Kepple

TDCAA Executive Director in Austin

At the end of 2015, TDCAA issued a report on use of force prosecutions in Texas. The report served as a roadmap for TDCAA training efforts and was widely shared around the country. (You can read it below.) Now the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, with the help of some Texas prosecutors, has issued its own report, “21st Century Principles of Prosecution: Peace Officer Use of Force Project.” (It’s below as a PDF.) The report focuses on a number of principles organized around four core areas: human dignity, prosecutorial independence, transparency, and procedural fairness and justice. The issues surrounding use of force prosecutions aren’t going away, and this report is a good beginning on a national level.

The needs of our newest prosecutors
We always ask those who attend our seminars to fill out an evaluation form and a questionnaire about their training needs. We play close attention to those, and TDCAA’s Training Committee uses them to pick topics for our courses and design the courses themselves.
    The evaluations from our newest prosecutors—those at the January Prosecutor Trial Skills Course—revealed some predictable needs: mostly more hours in the day to get things finished, help in dealing with law enforcement officers who have done a less-than-great job on their misdemeanor cases, and more DWI training. We also identified a relatively new thread in this last batch of questionnaires: help in how to plea-bargain a case. Not just strategies, but rather how to arrive at a just and fair offer. I was impressed that this group was thinking so hard on this issue (part of it was that the faculty and faculty advisors spent time talking about how important plea bargains are). If you are supervising relatively new prosecutors, know that it is also your job to guide them in how to handle plea bargaining so that it arrives at a fair and just result. They’d appreciate the guidance!

Dean of Investigators and Key Personnel?
In the last edition of The Texas Prosecutor journal, I congratulated Charles Bailey (DA in Camp and Titus Counties) on being the longest-serving elected DA, thus becoming the Dean of Texas District Attorneys. In addition, I noted that our Dean of Texas County Attorneys is Joe Warner Bell of Trinity County. This proclamation prompted at least one letter asking about long-serving personnel—investigators, victim assistants, and support staff—in prosecutor’s offices. It’s a great question: Who is the Dean of Texas Investigators? Who is the Dean of VACs? Who is the Dean of Texas Key Personnel? I am only spit-balling here, but I am thinking the Dean of Texas Investigators might be O.J. Hale, who works for the DA in Webb County, Isidro “Chilo” Alaniz. He’s been at it for 44 years—since 1973.
    Is there another investigator with longer service? And who has clicked off that kind of a number among the ranks of our victim assistants or key personnel? If you think you might be worthy of the title, email me at [email protected] .com.

Our State Bar President can write!
I want to thank our State Bar President, Frank Stevenson, for the time and effort he took to write his President’s Opinion in the latest Texas Bar Journal published January 2. (You can read it by clicking THIS LINK.) In his column, titled “The Time of our Lives,” Frank begins with the story of Odysseus and Calypso as a way to talk about the significant work of Texas prosecutors. And Frank spent quite a bit of time talking with Sarah Wolf, TDCAA’s Communications Director, to learn about Texas prosecutors, their work, and their stories. His column honors our profession, and he goes out of his way to name some of our best: Jack Roady and Kevin Petroff (CDA and First Assistant in Galveston County); Lauren Renee Sepulveda and Carisa Casarez (Assistant CDAs in Hidalgo County); and Erin Faseler (Civil Commitment Chief of the Special Prosecution Unit). It is great to have a friend like Frank leading our State Bar, and I can’t wait to read his next column!

Clay will train anywhere. Anywhere.
W. Clay Abbott is TDCAA’s DWI Resource Prosecutor and resident ethics specialist. I am in awe of Clay’s ability to spend long days—even weeks—on the road crisscrossing the state to train Texas prosecutors and peace officers under our TxDOT grant. (Thanks, TxDOT!) And much like a travelling preacher, Clay will set up his tent anywhere. Case in point: In the last couple years he has taken his show to both a doublewide trailer and a planetarium.
    I thought I had bested him on unusual training venues, having trained in a pigeon barn once (after sweeping up the remains of the bird show the day before), but Clay’s recent trip takes the cake. He recently got back from a training for our friends in Connecticut … at a hockey arena. To be fair, the ice was temporarily covered with plywood, but the venue was still freezing cold, and attendees sat at tables on the plywood for Clay’s presentation. His PowerPoint played as a video on the Jumbotron. Now that is good service to the crown! Thanks, Clay, for your dedication.

Thanks to a Texas legend
I know many in our profession and those at the courthouses in Houston were saddened to learn of the passing of Henry Oncken at the age of 78. Henry, a former ADA in Harris County and the first assistant under then-DA Johnny Holmes, Jr., went on to be a state district judge and the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Texas. Henry left the Harris County DA’s office before I got there so I never worked with him, but I felt like I almost did. He left such an impression we felt like we were travelling in his sizable wake. The best prosecutors in Texas praised Henry for being a true leader—honest, hardworking, and steadfast. He will be missed, but it is safe to say he had—and continues to have—a great impact on Texas prosecutors of today.